Thriving When Other Regattas Struggle

Published on July 30th, 2017

For Chester Race Week, organizers are focused on continuing the event’s strong history when the 2017 edition gets underway for four days of racing on August 16 to 19 in the picturesque and historic seaside Village of Chester, Nova Scotia.

With a documented history that goes back to 1856, Chester Race Week continues to thrive when other national and international annual keel boat regattas are struggling or, as is the case with Florida’s Key West Race Week, being cancelled due to rising costs and falling registrations.

Patricia Nelder is Chester Race Week 2017 on-water chair and executive director of the Atlantic Marine Trades Association. Nelder, the voice of the recreational boating industry in Canada’s Maritime provinces, has observed the changes.

“In the aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, if owners, skippers and crew feel they are no longer enjoying themselves at a particular regatta, then they will take their time and money to other regattas or explore other recreational activities,” she said.

“Competing in a regatta at any level requires an investment in time, money and energy for owner, skipper and crew: as competition levels rise, so do the demands on these people’s resources,” she added.

According to Nelder, one principle has guided Chester Race Week’s organizing committee for years: listen to your customer, give them the racing and land-based options they want, cultivate loyal sponsors, and use local and international talent to run a fun, tight program.

According to Dan Conrod, 2017 co-principal race officer (PRO), some regattas lost track of their customer and stopped being fun.

“Some regattas can be too intense, demanding too many races, too much time on the water, and they can lack diversity in their course design, fleet composition, and land-based recreation,” said Conrod, one of the annual event’s youngest PROs, a Sail Canada-certified race officer and member of Sail Canada’s Race Management Sub-Committee.

“But recreational sailors and hard-core, competitive racers alike love Chester Race Week because we have a race course for every skill level and boat class, in a beautiful setting known for great racing conditions that make results unpredictable and fun,” said Conrod, who is sharing the PRO position with veteran race officer, Brian Todd.

“Every morning during Race Week we strive to set courses that are challenging, scenic and fair while avoiding boats from other race courses, and the many islands and shoals of beautiful Mahone Bay.

Famed Canadian Olympian, Soling World and America’s Cup champion, Andreas Josenhans, returns to the dock this year with his excellent racing seminars. A seasoned sailor himself, Conrod says he’s always learning something new from Josenhans.

“Those looking to get an edge or fix a chronic problem are on the CYC deck each morning at nine to take advantage of Andreas’ racing seminars. Listening to him can give racers a competitive edge in key areas from working with today’s wind and rigging for super-light or super-heavy conditions, to crew communication and local course quirks.”

Named one of Sailing World magazine’s 14 greatest sailing events in North America, 1,200-plus sailors arrive in Mahone Bay on Nova Scotia’s scenic South Shore to compete in one of 15 fleets racing simultaneously on five different race courses (121 entries in 2016).

Courses range in size from a 0.5 nautical mile windward-leeward course for the Bluenose class in front of the Chester Yacht Club, to the 20-plus-nautical-mile-long, off-shore distance course for big boats. The fleets can accommodate everyone from competitive one-design hulls to classic wooden boats and cruising boats racing without spinnakers.

“We don’t finalize course designs until race day when we know the actual conditions and have confirmed our competitors’ interests,” said Conrod, a Halifax native who takes the customer-service aspect of his job seriously. “We are constantly talking to our sailors so we can produce the kind of competitive courses they want to race.”

Perhaps unique to Chester Race Week is how the public is welcome to watch the races from the dock or from inside the Chester Yacht Club, which is open to the public from 9am to 9pm daily. After 9pm, the live music continues inside until 1:30 a.m. Wristbands are available for $20 to those 19 and over.

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