Pandemic racing: Fiasco on the Rocks – three start points and live streaming

course map


Sept 9, 2020

By Joanna Suan

The three rounding marks on google map

To say 2020 has been an interesting year is an understatement.  Provincial guidance around Ontario’s reopening had the fate of the 2020 racing and regatta season up in the air. One by one, regattas in western Lake Ontario were cancelled as the months of June, July and August rolled by. While the various stages enabled increased sailing activities, large social group gatherings, which are an integral part of the racing community, remained out of reach due to COVID-19 precautions. Individual marina policies on the number of transient boats also affected any external club participation levels when racing was eventually able to resume.

Labour Day long weekend traditionally holds the annual Bronte Rocks Regatta, an event that draws one of the largest gathering of course-racing keel boats to Bronte Harbour Yacht Club (BHYC). Earlier in June, the Fiasco Regatta at Fifty Point Sailing Club (FPSC) had been cancelled and it was a race that was dearly missed by many.   

Happy CrewCrew on Stigaro

Inspired by the Three Bridge Fiasco Race in San Francisco Bay, the Fifty Point Fiasco Regatta began on Lake Ontario in 2018. This unique format of a long-distance pursuit race, rounding three marks, in any order, offered a new flavour of racing to the lake. In 2019, FPSC partnered with Burlington Sailing and Boating Club (BS&BC) to change the race course and leverage the combined resources between the two yacht clubs. In true Fiasco style, this race has never been the same twice and 2020 would offer a very special evolution of this regatta.

rounding the markTardis and fleet at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters (CCIW) Spider Mark off the Burlington Bridge

United by the goal of enabling all sailors to participate in a regatta safely, representatives from BHYC, FPSC and Royal Hamilton Yacht Club (RHYC) coordinated what would be the largest event in 2020 on western Lake Ontario: Fiasco on the Rocks.

Innovation for the times

The Fiasco Regatta would normally have one start line, but to facilitate the ability of participants to remain berthed in their home ports, three rounding marks closest to the three host clubs were chosen to also serve as start and finish lines. This essentially created three identical race courses of approximately 24 nautical miles each.

Sailors selected the starting point closest to their home ports which removed the need to deliver their boat to a location outside of their sailing “bubble”, encouraging more boats to join in. On September 5, this collaborative regatta brought out on the water nearly 70 keel boats from 9 different yacht clubs spanning from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to the Niagara Falls region. A one design race course for local Etchells was also offered by the Oakville Club and Oakville Yacht Squadron.

The day of racing with steady 12 kt winds truly created an experience that will be treasured by all who participated, because it was the one race we could all do together, even in the time of physical distancing. The nature of the Fiasco format also lends itself to the opportunity that any boat from any fleet can be an overall winner. Amongst a fleet of competitive and technically outfitted 30+ foot keelboats, the 2020 winner of Fiasco on the Rocks was Kohana, a 24 foot Shark from Royal Hamilton Yacht Club  skippered by John Whitmore.

live streamingFacebook streaming brings crews together when they can’t congregate

And speaking of the awards, we all know the post-race gathering and trading of war stories over a beverage is what truly brings the community in this sport together. Unfortunately, this is something we won’t be able to do for a while until our collective efforts can curb the effects of COVID-19. Virtual meetings have become an essential norm in continuing to stay connected in a physically distanced society and it was a first, for a regatta here in Ontario, to not only live stream the racing results and awards, but to do so from each of the host clubs one after another. Utilizing the tools from the Facebook Live platform, Fiasco on the Rocks connected all of the regatta participants to one another in a safe and virtual manner by live streaming a bit of each part of the lake to everyone.

It may be a while before we can hug our friends from other yacht clubs, or share a beer together in a cockpit with new friends, but if Fiasco on the Rocks can serve as a living example to everyone – the message here is that if we work with one another, to find a solution collaboratively, we can weather through this storm, and any coming storms, together.

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