Jan 19, 2022
By Roger Renaud
The Canada – US border cuts directly though Lake St Clair, with about 1/3 on the US side, and 2/3 in Canadian territory. That imaginary line runs down the middle of the St Clair River leaving Port Huron, then in a straight line across Lake St Clair, and down the middle of the Detroit River into Lake Erie. Lake St Clair gives all sailors from both sides of the border a place to enjoy racing crowd and cruising.
Covid has had a real impact on the usual cross-border participation sailors of the area have always enjoyed. This past sailing season, Americans were allowed to sail in Canadian waters, but Canadians could not enjoy the cruising spots or participate in the many open regattas or weekday races offered by the American sailing clubs. This is true for sailing on the Detroit River and western part of Lake Erie as well.
There are six Canadian Sailing Clubs surrounding Essex County, ending just east of Point Pelee at Wheatly. There are four clubs on the south shore of Lake St Clair, one in the Detroit River, and one on the north side of Lake Erie.
Clockwise starting at Kingsville
- Cedar Island Yacht Club
- LaSalle Mariners Yacht Club
- Windsor Yacht Club
- South Port Sailing Club
- Clair Sail Club
- Thames River Yacht Club, just north of Tilbury
There are also three public marinas along the Essex County shoreline: the Lakeview Park City Marina next door to Windsor Yacht Club, the marina at Colchester just west of Kingsville, and the Leamington Municipal Marina, in the big bay on the west side of Point Pelee.
The eastern shores of Lake St Clair are primarily a wetland area. Because of the geography, it’s great for fishing! The Walpole Island Indian Reserve also occupies territory on the eastern shore.
Lake St Clair is basically 20 miles across west to east, and about the same north to south, give or take. The western and northwestern shores of the lake are American home to 20+ clubs and marinas. Due to Covid, Canadian sailors for the past two seasons, have not been able to enjoy the hospitality found at the variety of clubs and marinas there are to visit. Along the south shore, you will always find many dozens of sailboats enjoying their day out.
Cruising around the western end of Lake Erie presents a lot of open water, and there are a handful of islands along the south shore to sail to for an overnight stay. Pelee Island is a Canadian island, with a marina for guests to tie up. This area of Lake Erie is shallow, so a chart-plotter is a requirement for navigation. Eastward along the north shore of Lake Erie there is Erieau and Rondeau Park as a destination, with a large well protected harbour and a few restaurants to enjoy.
All sailing clubs, as a part of their summer programs, offer weekday around the cans racing. South Port Sailing Club has racing two nights per week. Thursdays-nights are course races using Essex County PHRF Association class rules, with Monday-nights for more relaxed racing with no spinnakers and more suitable courses while maintaining competitiveness through the use of a rolling handicap system.
The Windsor Yacht Club hosts an “international” Wednesday night series where over 90% of the participants come from the American Clubs. There are typically upwards of 45 boats participating. The races are held at the mouth of the Detroit River, where any given course direction incorporates a set of any 6 fixed marks. These courses are a great workout for the crew due to the course configurations.
The weeknight racing out of the LaSalle Mariners Yacht Club, located on the Detroit River, is the most challenging. They race in the river, inside the shipping channels where there is enough water depth for keelboats. They call themselves “the river rats”, and host a year-end season’s final race appropriately named.
LMYC’s Annual Regatta is a race around Fighting Island. As a visiting participant, not familiar with the water depths, one cannot wander outside the marked channels, where as the locals know where corners can get cut.
The sailing inside the River can be described as “sailing in a rain gutter”.
South Port Sailing Club and Cedar Island Yacht Club, operate sailing schools offering both junior and adult classes, taught by certified Ontario Sailing instructors.
The Detroit and Region Yacht-Racing Association (DRYA) is the organizing body for the more serious racing on Lake St Clair. Their schedule includes 12 regattas, hosted by clubs on the American side of the Lake. These DRYA regattas include both point-to-point and windward/leedward formats, with upwards of 10 divisions each, grouped into a spring and fall series. Windsor Yacht Club is the only Canadian participant, hosting a long distance race called the Canadian Club Race.
Lake St Clair is only about 15 feet deep, and is shaped like a saucer. Because it is so small and so shallow, it replentishes itself every seven days. The lake has currents, especially strong in the shipping channels, which are cut 40 feet deep. The perspective to keep in mind is that, all of the water that flows into and out of Lake St Clair, the is same volume of water that flows over Niagara Falls. Many long time racers call the lake “Lake St Stupid” because they say the weather is very unpredictable.
About Roger Renaud
At the Beneteau First 36.7 NAs hosted by Bayview YC on Lake St Clair
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Roger moved to Toronto for work where he sailed a Hobie off Cherry Beach. Eventually joining ABYC, he owned a Thunderbird 26s for years crewing on 8-meter, Etchells 22s, Laser 28s, CC27s, CC30, CC34, CC99, Beneteau F36.7 and Nelson Merick 36 (IMS). Since returning to Windsor, he has been winning locally and in DYRA PHRF divisions.