The Journal travels to the Windy City for the Chicago Regatta, a boat race on Lake Michigan that sets sail for a good cause.
It’s 10:34 a.m. on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The weather is a perfect 70 degrees, with a modest gust of wind blowing in from the southwest. A group of five sailboats are lined up, waiting for their cue. A minute later, at 10:35 a.m., a horn sounds and the boat crews leap into action.
Within seconds, their spinnaker sails are donned and they’re sailing at full chat, northeast into the lake’s deep blue interior. Five minutes later, another 12 boats launch. Five minutes after that, another series of boats depart. By the top of the hour, Chicago’s iconic steel-and-glass skyline is blanketed in an armada’s worth of sails.
This is the Chicago Regatta, and now in its third year, the event continues to prove itself as a boat race of a different breed. While regattas are typically restricted to professional teams and specific classes of sailboats, the Chicago Regatta casts a wider net. It offers multiple courses and distances to a variety of boat classes helmed by professionals and novices alike — including a buoy run, a distance race and a “poker run” open to powerboats. All in all, nearly 100 boats took part in the races this year.
Sailing the nation’s “Third Coast”
“We believe we should share the water, so we have a lot of different things that people can do to get involved,” says Lou Sandoval, Commodore of the Chicago Yacht Club. “We have a casual race which allows us to bring people in who may not be as seasoned in the sport. And we want to take away the obstruction of having to start at the beginning of a crowded race line, so we have staggered starts.”
Sail racing is an activity usually associated with the saltwater coasts of New England or California, but the nation’s so-called “Third Coast” has carved its own niche as a freshwater sailing destination with its own character, one that can be unpredictable, lending itself to quick changes in wind conditions and tight races as a result — something Sandoval and his crew experienced personally during the Regatta.
“Our sea state here is very challenging,” says Sandoval. “When we were racing, we had very light conditions to start, but when we got into the south end of the course, there was a variable wind shift that came in. We adjusted for it, but our competition adjusted for it a bit quicker than we did, putting us from first into second place.”
Benefitting Chicago’s youth
But the Chicago Regatta is more than just a race. It was founded with charitable aims, donating proceeds from the event to UChicago Medicine’s Comer Children’s Hospital and SOS Children’s Villages Illinois, which places families of foster children together in homes.
“Sailing has the tendency to be very insular, and when people hear you’re a sailor, it has this certain perception that isn't always positive. Our goal with this event is to really show the big heart that our sailing community has and that we think beyond ourselves,” says Sandoval. “For this particular event we want to really make an impact on childrens’ lives.”
In addition to Comer Children’s and SOS Villages, the proceeds of the Regatta benefit the Chicago Yacht Club’s foundation, which funds children’s programs that provide formative sailing experiences to Chicago youth. For Sandoval, who grew up in South Chicago and learned to sail as a kid while earning his Eagle Scout Badge, that mission hits close to home.
“These programs can teach nautical skills that can, in many cases, be transformational. That in particular resonates with me, being from a neighborhood where kids generally don't grow up sailing,” says Sandoval. “The thing sailing really taught me was that nothing was totally insurmountable in life.”
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