Sunday Racing FAQ

How do I sign up?  How much does it cost?
You really don’t need to sign up; just show up to the race course in the middle of the lake at noon on Sundays in July and August.  Each Sunday we race 3-4 races and are usually finished by 3pm.The start/finish line is between a yellow inflatable buoy and a nearby “race committee” power boat that is anchored.  You should sail by the RC boat and “check in” by letting them know that you want to race, and give them your name and sail number.  Our race committee team is made up of volunteers that are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Racing is free, though if you make a habit out of it, you might want to donate to the Bow Lake Sailing Club, which provides the equipment (like buoys and flags) and awards at the end of the season, and also a great awards party in mid-September to wrap up the season.

If you’d like to try out sailing before racing your own boat, try being a crew member for an existing racer.  One Sunday’s crewing will teach you everything about the mechanics of sailboat racing on Bow Lake.  Sign up to crew on our Facebook Group.  We are often looking for willing crew members with no experience.


Do I need to be a really good sailor?  What if my boat is crappy?
If you can make your boat sail upwind and downwind without a motor, you can race.  Most of our racing is on “windward/leeward” courses, which means you sail upwind from the start, round a an orange mark (buoy), then downwind to the finish (or maybe to another mark).We are not boat-ist and won’t judge you on how your boat looks.  We do prefer your boat to have all of the registrations necessary (sailboats under 12 feet don’t need to be registered), and it definitely should have safety equipment, most importantly a life preserver for everyone aboard.

In addition to the Race Committee, there are often many volunteer “crash boats” that watch the racers and can help out in the case of any trouble, such as a capsize or equipment failure.


Aren’t some boats faster than others, and wouldn’t they always win?
We divide competitors into three “fleets” (groups) of boats that directly compete against each other:

  • Lightnings, a “one-design” daysailer/racer, of which a handful race on Bow Lake consistently.  We’re Lightning Fleet 493, and host annual Lightning-only regattas.  The Lightnings tend to be faster than other monohulls on Bow Lake, so they race a “full lap” (see “sailing in circles”, below)
  • Catamarans (multihulls) of all types, which are ridiculously fast on some points of sail and in the right conditions.  Catamarans also race a full lap– upwind, downwind, then upwind to finish.
  • Centerboarders, which constitute all of the other monohull boats out there, such as Sunfish, Lasers, Daysailers, Javelins, RSs, wooden boxes with sheets attached to a pole, or whatever is still stashed under your cottage that “came with the place”.  Centerboarders only race a half a lap– upwind to the windward mark, then downwind back to the finish line.  See “sailing in circles”, below.

All three fleets start together, and the first finisher of each fleet wins the race for that fleet.  Race committee will start the next race when all of the competitors from all the fleets have finished.


How does the start work?
The starting line is an imaginary line between the Race Committee boat on the right side, and a yellow inflatable mark on the left side.  Those sides are important: they tell you which direction you’ll be headed when you start: keep the committee boat on your right!At the sound of the starting horn, all participants must be below the starting line on the course.  And since our races usually start out with a windward leg, this means that all participants must be on the leeward side of the line when the starting horn sounds.

You’ll need a stopwatch or even a kitchen timer to know when the starting horn is going to sound.  The starting horn is actually the fourth horn in a sequence:

  • A start sequence begins about 5 minutes before the actual start. Usually, Race Committee begins the sequence with a number of short blasts on a horn (usually an air horn) to let competitors know to reset their watches.
  • Then, at exactly 5 minutes before the start, they will sound a horn and hold up a flag with the Lightning emblem on it.  That’s when you start your watch or timer.
  • At 4 minutes before the start, RC will sound another horn and put up a second flag (the “P” or “Preparatory” flag), and you can confirm that your timing is right.  (Or like most of us, start your timer because you missed the first horn.)
  • At 1 minute before the start, RC will sound another horn, and drop the P flag, but leave the Lightning flag flying.
  • At the start, RC will sound the starting horn and drop the Lightning flag.

Any boats that are over the line at the start may be individually recalled by the race committee.  Since we don’t use radios, this recall consists of the race committee– and possibly other competitors– yelling to skippers to let them know they’re “over early”.  An over early boat can “clear” by simply getting back down below the starting line and restarting, but they must keep clear of other racers.  If too many boats are over early, the race committee may issue a “general recall” by blowing the horn several times, and restart all three fleets.

Ideally, you’d want to position yourself as close to the line as possible, with as much speed as possible, when the starting horn goes off, without being over.  (In a competitive fleet, starting even a few boat lengths away from the line can remove you from contention.)  Unfortunately, everyone else wants to do that too.


What are the basic rules (i.e., how do I not crash)?
Bow Lake racing mostly uses the worldwide Racing Rules of Sailing, which are too long to discuss in detail here.  However, a few basic rules should let you know if you are the burdened vessel— that is, if you have to get out of someone’s way.

  1. A boat on port tack has to give way to a boat on starboard tack.
  2. When on the same tack and overlapped, the windward boat has to give way to the leeward boat.
  3. When not overlapped, the overtaking boat must stay clear of the overtaken boat.
  4. At a mark rounding, outside boats must leave “room” for inside boats if they overlap within 3 boatlengths of the mark.
  5. At the start, starboard tacked boats cannot attempt to squeeze between a close-hauled boat and the race committee boat, and port-tacked boats can’t attempt to squeeze between a close-hauled port tacker and the starting mark.  (Either of these this would break rule 2.)

A boat that breaks one of these rules and is called out by a competitor is required to “do circles”: get out of the way of other competitors and drive in two circles– a tack followed by a gybe, then another tack followed by another gybe, or vice-versa.  A boat that fails to do circles after fouling another boat may be disqualified from the race.

For novices, keeping clear when in doubt is a good policy.  Keep your eyes and ears peeled for competitors, as you’ll likely see them work through these interactions too.


You’re telling me that sailing in circles is fun?
Although a windward/leeward course seems simple, there are infinite varieties depending on wind direction and intensity, not to mention the interactions with competitors.For full-course boats (Lightnings and Catamarans), the course starts at the start/finish line, continues upwind to the windward mark, then downwind beyond the start/finish line to the leeward mark, then rounds up to finish at the start/finish line.  While sailing downwind, the line is “open”, which means you can sail through the start/finish line, but you don’t have to.

For half-course boats (all other centerboarders), the course starts at the start/finish line, continues upwind to the windward mark, then downwind to finish at the start/finish line.

Occasionally, too, we have enough wind and time, and RC will call for an “around the lake” race.  This course starts at the existing start line, proceeds around the windward mark, then behind Bennett Island, across the full width of Bow Lake, down to a leeward mark placed near the public boat ramp on Water Street, then back to the original start/finish line in the middle of the lake.  It can be a lot of fun navigating different points  of sail, or deciding to go north of Pine Island or through the channel to the south.


How do I know how I did?
We publish results for the weekly racing series here on this website– look for Weekly Results in the menubar.Even better, we usually get together at a competitor’s camp after racing to discuss the day’s sailing and eat guac and chips.  Tune into the Facebook Group to see where the trash talking will take place each week.


Other Resources

The Facebook Group is currently the best way to get in touch with anyone in the Bow Lake Sailing universe, including Race Committee and our fleet commodore.

For a little light reading, we highly recommend Getting Started in Sailboat Racing by Adam Cort and Richard Stearns.  It’s well written and very complete, touching on these basic rules but also discussing strategy and making your boat faster.

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