Friday, Oct 19, 2018
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Matt Markey

Mills Race a salute to Lake Erie history


Mills Trophy Race chairman Ron Soka points out the location of the Bicentennial Buoy marking the site of Commodore Perry's victory over the British in the Battle of Lake Erie. The buoy will mark part of the course.


In keeping with the tradition established during the past century, a colorful flotilla of vessels and their sailors will honor the history of the Mills Trophy Race this week, then set sail to write the next chapter.

The 90th running of the Mills takes place on Friday, with a staggered start from near the Toledo Harbor Light. The first boats are expected to reach the finish line near Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

As the different classes of boats cover the various marked courses out on the open lake, all of them will pass over the exact location of the Battle of Lake Erie, where Oliver Hazard Perry led the U.S. Navy to victory against the British 200 years ago.

“Sailing has a rich history, and sailors tend to gravitate toward that history. They love that stuff,” said Ron Soka, chairman of the 2013 Mills Race.

“So it seems to make perfect sense that we adjust the course so that all of the boats will sail over the battle site.”

Soka said the U.S. Coast Guard has placed a commemorative marker at the battle site, which is three miles east of West Sister Island. An inflatable buoy with a strobe light attached will be placed near the marker for the race, forming a gate that all of the boats will use as they race across the lake.

It was in September of 1813 that Perry, just 27 years old, engaged the British fleet under the command of Robert Heriot Barclay. The British prevailed early in the battle and took out Perry’s flagship, the USS Lawrence.

Perry then transferred to the USS Niagara, and as the momentum of the battle turned in the Americans’ favor, every British ship commander was killed or injured. Perry then outmaneuvered the British fleet, and by nightfall he had received their surrender.

It was then that Perry sent one of the most infamous dispatches in U.S. military history, telling Gen. William Henry Harrison: “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”

In another symbolic salute to the rich history of sailing and Lake Erie, Commodore Perry was named the honorary chairman of this year’s Mills Trophy Race after the move was sanctioned by one of his direct descendants.

“We feel that it is really essential to pay attention to this man and to this important period in the history of the lake,” Soka said.

He expects around 150 boats to take part in this weekend’s Mills Race, but the festivities associated with the event — sponsored by the Toledo Yacht Club — will begin in earnest on Wednesday. At a gala banquet at the Toledo Yacht Club that evening, close to 50 trophies won by last year’s participants will be presented.

The 2012 Mills Trophy Race champion, David Spiers of the Edison Boat Club in Detroit, will receive the top award — the Mills Trophy. The presentation ceremony will also include the unveiling of the recently returned Toledo Yacht Club Trophy, which dates to 1894. The first Mills Race was held in 1907.

On Thursday evening, there is a reception from 6-7 p.m. in the Maumee Room at Toledo Yacht Club for last year’s winners, members of the Mills Trophy Race committee, and invited guests. An open-to-the-public Mills Race party will take place on the grounds of Toledo Yacht Club on Thursday evening, with entertainment from the band 56 Daze.

The official start of the 2013 Mills Trophy Race will take place at 5 p.m. Friday, with 10-boat groups crossing the starting line at 10-minute intervals. A postrace celebration will be held Saturday in Put-in-Bay.

GREAT BLACK SWAMP: The Black Swamp Conservancy is hosting a “History of the Great Black Swamp” presentation at 7 p.m. today at the Way Library in Perrysburg. The session will be presented by conservancy founder and local historian Clint Mauk.

At 6:30 p.m., nationally renowned nature photojournalist Art Weber will be on hand to talk about the National Center for Nature Photography exhibit “10,000 acres: Preserved Forever.” These photographic images celebrating the family farms, woodlots, wetlands, and meadows that are permanently protected by the conservancy will be featured in the library gallery throughout June.

The evening events are free and open to the public.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.

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