For a race that has been around for just under 60 years, the Sandusky Islands Race-Stein Hospice Cup keeps things fresh.
The race, which kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday from the Cedar Point Pierhead, ends for the first time in the history of the event, at Middle Bass Island.
“This is the 59th running of the race; it was started by the fathers of two of (the Sandusky Sailing Club’s) current members — Bryan Huntley and Eric Winkel,” said Steve France, the race’s chair and the club’s rear commodore. “And it’s gone through several alterations — it was, I think, originally a race to Huron or to Vermilion or something like that, and in recent years, it’s been a race that starts off the Sandusky Pierhead and goes around Kelleys Island, and winds up finishing back where the start was.
“And oh, about 15 or 20 years ago, it was an even longer race, that went up around Pelee Island and the Bass Islands and back,” he added. “Sometimes people didn’t get in until midnight or 1 a.m. the following morning. This year we’re doing something different — we’re actually going to end it on an island. We’ve never done that before. There are several different courses, depending on the boat. We’ll start at Cedar Point Pierhead and we’ll actually finish with a party on Middle Bass Saturday after the race.”
With the latest permutation of the race, France said it has generated increased interest among racing sailors from clubs other than the Sandusky Sailing Club.
The idea to change the race was championed by France and the club’s current commodore, Mike Fishbaugh.
“Both of us, for several years, have been trying to persuade the rest of the club to look at this,” France said. “We did some actual market research on it. We sent questionnaires to a sample of racing sailors from clubs in the western basin of Lake Erie — Lorain through Toledo and the Monroe Boat Club — and asked what they would rather — to keep the race the way it is or end it on an island, and in the event it ended on an island, what island would they prefer to end it at. And it was pretty unanimous, although not completely unanimous, I should say. But the great majority of those who responded to that questionnaire said ‘We’d love it to end on an island,’ and Middle Bass was the winner.
“We thought maybe South Bass, with all the bars, and Put-in-Bay, would be the more popular venue, but it wasn’t,” he added. “So we said, ‘By golly, we’ll end it at Middle Bass Island.’ So that happened a couple years ago, and this is the first year we’ve actually done it.”
The race has different divisions — there’s the PHRF (Performance Handicap Racing Federation), JAM (Jib and Main), Multihull, T-10 and Cruising fleets — and three different course lengths (23, 28 and 32 nautical miles). While the races will go on, rain or shine, wind is the biggest factor in determining how long the race will last.
France reeled off the day’s forecast with winds of 7 mph our of the southeast, with partly sunny conditions and a high of 82-to-83 degrees. There will be a slight possibility of rain in the afternoon with a chance of isolated thunderstorms.
The Sandusky Islands Race is run by the Sandusky Sailing Club along with Stein Hospice, and as such, the race is the Lake Erie Hospice National Championship qualifying race, which means the race’s overall winner will qualify for the championship as part of the National Hospice Regatta Alliance.
The weekend’s events start tonight with the Islands Race/Stein Hospice Cup Party and Stein Hospice benefit dinner, with proceeds benefiting the hospice.