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Sailing at CORK, in Kingston, Ontario

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Kingston, Ontario has a number of claims to fame: a brief stint as a colonial capital, the home of prestigious universities, and a massive, limestone penitentiary that opened back in 1835.

Wind is another resource - one that brought windmills to near-by Wolfe Island in the last few years.

Each August, sailing enthusiasts from around the world come to Kingston for something called CORK: Canadian Olympic-training Regatta, Kingston. Top-level races that create lovely views of sails gliding back and forth across Lake Ontario.

Last year, Lucy Martin spent an overcast day at CORK and got a taste of what that's like, with or without wind.

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Reported by

Lucy Martin
Ottawa Correspondent


Rob Garvin: “We're known as, sort of, as the fresh water sailing capital of the world. Just because of the wind conditions, and the way it works with Lake Ontario, and the wind machine, as they call it.”

CORK's communication chief, Rob Garvin was keeping tabs on a busy Sunday of sailing, in a little radio booth in the parking lot of Portsmouth Olympic Harbor.

Rob Garvin: “We've been doing this since, just before the, I think about  two   years before the Olympics in '76, the Olympics were in Montreal. And they made this site.  And then the city has kept it, to be maintained as a sailing venue and every August we have CORK.”

Event Chair, Tim Irwin, said it takes all year to wade through the meetings, grant writing and organization that promotes racing here, and not just between Canada and the U.S.

Tim Irwin: “We have people here from New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, France, you know, all the big power-house nations are here.”

The different age groups participate in a fairly confusing mix of classes and acronyms. Terms like: Opiti, Byte, 29er, 49er.  For simplicity's sake, picture categories that range from windsurfers, and one-person dinghys, up to sleek yachts with huge sails. Serious sailing, taking advantage of that wind machine Rob Garvin mentioned.

Rob Garvin: “Most of the time we'll generate wind, because the land heats up further and because we're at the west end of Lake Ontario, (a race countdown can be heard on the radio in the background) the wind gets drawn up onto the land, so we do get a breeze from the lake.”

Reporter: “Big funnel.”

Rob Garvin: “Yeah, and it works really well. And it's, it's amazing.”

Reporter: “Can you count on it?  Always wind, or?”

Rob Garvin: “Well, pretty much.  Pretty much there's usually wind.  There's been very few days we, but there are days we don't have any!  Unfortunately, but that's the way the weather goes.”

Brunner: “We've got to give you the proper safety gear....” more thumps)

I was invited to see it first-hand.  In nothing flat, Rob number two collected me at the dock.

Reporter, getting into life vest, “OK, very good. Thank-you” Brunner: “Just let me move stuff around here.” Reporter: “Alright, I am legal.”  Starts engine.

Navy Reserve Lieutenant Robert Brunner was there as a volunteer.  He zipped up in one of the safety boats – a small, maneuverable zodiac, on loan from Ontario's Sea Cadet Corps.

Reporter: “Where are we going Rob?”

Rob Brunner: “We're going to go out to alpha course, which actually happens to be basically straight out of the mouth of the harbor.  Today we're running the laser radials, and there's about 90 of them out there — It'll be a pretty full course. They're a class of boat, a single-handed boat. Men or women sail them.  Built for, basically, someone around 150 pounds.”

Reporter: “What kind of course are they going to sail and how long will it take them?”

Rob Brunner: “Ooooh.  Well, according to the wind, it could be extremely a long period of time, actually! We don't have very good wind right now.”

Brunner pulled out a map and launched into a slew of explanations: trapezoid course, start boat, start line, windward mark, splitting the fleet, jibing back and forth, pennant signals and shifting sides. 

Rob Brunner: “So, essentially what you have out there, is a bunch of marks, but there'll be boats everywhere! And it's absolute chaos!  It's great!  You always want to be up at, like, the windward mark, or any of these ones where they have to come around?  Because the boats are all spread out, all spread out, all spread out and then they all have to get to that windward mark! I'd like to say it'll all become obvious when we get out there, but, you know, it won't.”

Reporter: “Not to me!”

Rob Brunner: “And that is our race committee boat.  It's got a whole bunch of halyards on there, with a whole bunch of different flags, and such, and that tells all the sailors what's actually happening.  Which is – at this point of time – a whole lot of nothing. We're waiting for wind.”

And we kept waiting, for a good little while.  Finally.... (SFX: race boat PA counting down “...six, five, four, three, two one, mark!”  Starting cannon booms.)

Reporter: “Great! We're going to have a race!”

Rob Brunner: “We'll see!” 

The boats set out at little more than a crawl.  This 'race' demanded making the most out of not very much.

Rob Brunner: “...let me just point out.  Right, there?  Right ahead?  There's another mark?  (Reporter: “Yes.”) OK, that's where they're going. (Reporter: “OK.”) ”

Reporter:  “And, that's a turn.”

Rob Brunner: “In sailing terms, that's a big lead.  That's huge lead.  (engine shuts off) Yeah. It ought to be much more crazy. (quiet sound of water lapping)  Honestly. There should be people yelling, there should all sorts of stuff happening.”

But it never got crazy. We had tons of time to drift, to watch and to chat.  High clouds blocked most of the sun. The rays that could break through just made it all more beautiful.

Reporter: “Wow, this is a great view.”

Rob Brunner: “Yup.  See, if he touches that mark?  It means he has to do another turn, he has to do like, a spin around.  They're not allowed to touch that mark.  You see the real good guys, can actually, they can judge it properly.  They'll be up more windward, and they can just cut around and go right, right around the buoy.”

(Radio chatter: “Forty-four boats in the second start.”)

Rob Brunner: “Yeah, so there's eighty-eight boats and... (radio: “Roger, thank you, 14-44”)...(watching a turn)... Awwwwww!  Nice! That's when they turn 'em, that's the biggest time they turn them over, is when they tack around?   And, you know, they've got to get out on that weight, lean out, so they can stabilize the boat again.  And you see what I mean about getting hit in the head by the boom?”

Reporter: “Wow, we are in the best spot! Can't beat this view.”

Rob Brunner: “Nope.  Oph!  Nice,  Oh, oh! Keep!  Awww!  Look at that!  Snuck right underneath that guy!  Um, speaking of which...” (starts engine, to move zodiac)

As much fun as we were having, the afternoon dragged on and on for the so-called racers.  Finally, that event was called off, for lack of wind.

A cancelled race was still my spectacular afternoon – one for the memory books.  What's that bumper sticker say?  A bad day on the water beats a good day at the office?

For North Country Public Radio, I'm Lucy Martin, on Lake Ontario, in Kingston.

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