A Beginner's Guide to the Local
Racing Scene on the Ottawa River


One-Design Keelboat Racing (evenings, weekly)

In a one-design race, all the boats are the same design or are in the same class. Since all the boats are more or less identical, there is no handicap formula which makes allowances for slower or faster designs. Boats finishing ahead of other boats will, except for protests and rule infractions, place ahead of the other boats in the final results.

One-design racing generally attracts the most competitive sailors because boats are actually competing with each other for the entire length of the race (unlike handicap racing, where a slower design can fall behind other boats and still win the race). One-design sailors also have a reputation for putting more effort into making their boat go as fast as possible with newer sails, good hardware, and slick bottoms.

One-design racing fleets on the Ottawa River include the Shark, Tanzer 22, Mirage 24, and the C&C 27 (although the Shark and Tanzer 22 are by far the most popular). Where applicable, boats are expected to be members of their respective class associations when racing in one-design (annual fee is set by each association).

When and Where:    BYC and NSC have joint a racing program with weekly one-design races taking place Thursday evenings from May to October (with starts for C&C 27s, Mirage 24s, Tanzer 22s, and Sharks).

There are also one-design starts (or scoring for one-desihn boats) in certain weekend races, regattas, and long distance races. These include the Nepean One Design (the NOD) in mid June (open to other clubs) and the BYC Hinterhoeller Regatta for Sharks in mid September (open to other clubs).   (more details below)

PHRF Racing Keelboat Racing (evenings, weekly)

PHRF allows for mixed fleet racing by giving slower and faster boats various handicap ratings which is suppose to give everyone a chance at winning. The final results of the race are determined by adjusting each boats's finishing time with its handicap rating. Making the necessary calculations takes a bit of time, so final results are usually read out at the clubhouse about an hour or two after the race (most racers stick around to have supper, have a beer, and to recount the race from their own individual perspective).

PHRF stands for Performance Handicap Racing Formula, and it is the handicap system that is generally used for mixed keelboat racing on the Ottawa River (there are other handicap formulas in the world of sailboat racing). In theory, a relatively slow sailboat designed for cruising is supposed to have just as much chance of winning a race as the latest go-fast design once their handicap ratings are taken into account.

Boats with lower PHRF ratings owe time to boats with higher numbers. A case in point: the Mirage 25 has a rating of " 228" and the Shark has a rating of "234", so the difference between the two boats is 6. This is taken to mean that the Mirage owes the smaller Shark 6 seconds for every mile raced. In other words, at the end of a 4 mile race, the Mirage would have to finish at least 24 seconds ahead of the Shark in order the place ahead of the Shark in the final results (the corrected results).

Because it is relatively easy to issue a PHRF rating for a wide variety keelboat models, it is a very popular handicap system for club racing throughout North America. Top PHRF sailors can be very competitive, but bottom half of the fleet usually includes a good number of boats that are just starting to get involved in racing.

Boats should have a PHRF rating and certificate in order to participate in PHRF races (an annual fee of $30 with PHRF-LO ). Applying for a certificate is very easy. The applicant provides some simple measurements of a few key sails to the PHRF Handicapper at his or her club. This information is then used in conjunction with the PHRF database of hundreds of boat designs to issue a certificate and rating. For more information about this handicap system, the PHRF-LO and SLVYRA web sites.

When and Where:    BYC and NSC have joint racing programs with weekly PHRF races taking place on Tuesday evenings from May to October with three starts: one for slower, and typically smaller keelboats; another start for faster, and typically larger keelboat; and a third for the really fast boats. The Club de Voile Grande Rivière runs it PHRF race every Wednesday evening with two starts, one for keelboat with spinnakers, and another for JAM (see below for more about JAM).

In addition to weekly club races, many of the weekend races and long distances races use the PHRF handicap system.   (more details below)

JAM Keelboat Racing (evenings, weekly)

JAM stands for "Jib and Main" (also referred to as "White Sails"). Basically, it is PHRF keelboat racing without the spinnaker (PHRF issues ratings for boats with and without a spinnaker).

Why JAM? Flying a spinnaker can be a major impediment for people who may want to get involved in racing if they; (1) lack a spinnaker and gear, (2) lack the skills to fly a spinnaker with confidence, and/or (3) lack large enough crew to handle the chute. For obvious reasons, JAM is ideal for people who may be interested in trying their hand at racing, but are unsure about committing themselves to the expense and trouble of flying a spinnaker. JAM also attracts husband and wife teams who want to race their boat without the need for additional crew to handle the spinnaker. The same logic applies to skippers of some of the bigger boats who otherwise spend an inordinate amount of time rounding up the sizable crew that is usually required to make effective use of a chute in a race.

JAM has its ardent followers, but it also serves as a good entry point for people who may just be starting to get involved in sailboat racing. Boats racing JAM should have a valid PHRF certificate.

When & Where:    BYC and NSC have a joint racing program with weekly JAM races taking place on Thursday evenings from May to October (on the same evening as the one-design racing, but on a different course). The Club de Voile Grande Rivière has a start for JAM as part of its regular PHRF race every Wednesday.

In addition to weekly club races, many of the weekend races and long distance races under PHRF allow boats to participate without a spinnaker under their JAM rating (a PHRF rating is adjusted for no spinnaker).   (more details below)

Women's Keelboat Racing (evenings, weekly)

As the name indicates, this is women only PHRF keelboat racing (with the spinnaker).

Women's Racing has been going strong for a number years, and they regularly get a dozen or more boats on the start line every week. Like most racing fleets, the top half can be pretty competitive, while the bottom half consists of a number of women who only recently decided to take the helm and put together an all women crew. Local women sailors in the Ottawa area have put together an effective network to help get more women involved into sailing and racing. For more information, see their website.

When & Where:    BYC and NSC have joint women's PHRF racing (with spinnaker) which takes place weekly on Monday evenings from May to September (one start for the entire fleet).   (more details below)

Dinghy & Catamaran Racing (evenings, weekly)

Regrettably, the authority of this web site is not well versed in dinghy or catamaran sailing. Nevertheless, dinghy and catamaran racing is extremely popular on the Ottawa River. Many of the clubs have weekly mixed fleet racing with a separate starts for catamarans and dinghies. Mixed fleet racing relies on a handicap system based on an adapted Portsmouth Numbers for each class.(Time is divided by Portsmouth Number to determine how much time boats own one another at the finish line, or something like that).

When & Where:    The Lac Deschenes Sailing Club has mixed fleet (handicap) racing for dinghies and catamarans Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoons. The Kanata Sailing Club runs its competitive races (mixed, handicap) on Monday evening, with less serious (social) races on Wednesday evenings.

BYC and NSC each have their own dinghy racing program with weekly races taking place on Wednesday evenings from May to October. BYC offers races for both sailboards and one-design dinghies. NSC offers racing for handicap dinghies, catamarans, and one-design dinghies (with three starts, one for 505s, another for other dinghies, and another for the cats). Note that the Nepean Sailing Club is home to active 505 and Fireball fleets.   (more details below)

Weekend and Long Distance Races

Races, regattas, or long distance competitions taking place on weekends vary throughout the sailing season (but there is usually some sort of event every weekend). The exact schedule is determined by the organizing club. It is necessary to read the "Sailing Instructions" (the SI's) and/or the calendar of events to determine what races may be taking place on any given weekend.

A sampling of some interesting "open" or "interclub" weekend events include:

    The NOD (the Nepean One Design). A major two-day regatta for various one-design class sailboats. Hosted by NSC, traditionally takes place in mid-June.

    The National Capital Regatta. A major two day dinghy regatta hosted by BYC in mid-August.

    Midnight Madness Race. A not too serious race (a fun race) organized by NSC which takes place at night towards the end of August.

    Mohr Island Weekend Race. This race is organized by BYC and tends to take place in late July. Boats head up to Mohr Island for the first leg of the race. The fleet anchors at Mohr Island for the night, during which time some (many) crews have been known to have a bit of a party. The following day, everyone races back to Lac Deschenes.

    The 100 Mile Race. Holding a 100 mile race on a segment of river (between the dam and the rapids) that's only 25 miles long is quite a feat. Needless to say, participating in this race means sailing legs of the river several times over. This can be a demanding race. Organized by BYC in September.

    The Turkey Trot. A not so serious race organized by NSC in October. The boats with the best finishes have the greatest chance of winning - you guessed it - a turkey.

( Additional Notes)

Most weekday evening races start sometime between 6 to 6:30 pm (It varies from club to club, and even with the time of year. For example, the joint BYC/NSC races start 15 minutes earlier during the fall months because days are growing shorter. Most boats leave the dock between 5:15 and 5:30, and are back from the race about two to two and a half hours later (it depends on wind strength on the evening in question). It should also be noted that many racers stick around afterwards to eat supper, have a beer, brag or make excuses, and generally to recount the race from their own unique perspective.

Most of the evening races take place on or near Lac Deschenes in the vicinity of the related club. JAM and one-design racing takes place on the same night - the JAM course tends to be at the eastern end of Lac Deschenes, while the one-design course is a little further to the west towards the middle of the Lake. Women racing Monday evening usually takes place in the eastern part of Lac Deschenes.

There are regattas, long distance races, or other competitive events just almost every weekend during the summer. The exact schedule is determined by the organizing clubs.

Information provided above is based what has been the case for the past couple of years, but the situation could change from year to year (and even during the racing season). Information should be verified by reading the "Sailing Instructions" (the SI's) for the various clubs.

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Text and web page by Michael McGoldrick.
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