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Niagara Falls
Saturday, September 30, 2023
Sailing ‘sharkies’ take over NOTL to compete in world championships
Shark sailboats on Lake Ontario for the world championships. (Dave Van de Laar)
A flotilla of Shark sailboats race on Lake Ontario. (Dave Van de Laar)
Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa with his crew on Watershape. (Somer Slobodian)
The committee boat out on the water at the beginning of Tuesday's race. (Somer Slobodian)
Rob Vanderperk, Cameron Smith and Chris Russell sail their Shark Toga Party! to the start line. (Somer Slobodian)
Shark sailboats on Lake Ontario for the world championships. (Dave Van de Laar)
Shark sailboats on Lake Ontario for the world championships. (Dave Van de Laar)
The Sharks competing this week in the world championships add a spark of colour to Lake Ontario. (Dave Van de Laar)
About 48 sailboats are out on Lake Ontario this week competing in the world championships. (Dave Van de Laar)
Mark Shantz from the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club guides his Shark, Amicus, out to the starting line. The boat placed first in the long race on Tuesday. (Somer Slobodian)
Jennie Gordon from NOTL with her crew on the Red Dwarf. (Somer Slobodian)

It’s no easy feat to sail a 24-foot racing sailboat – but for the competitors taking place in this year’s Shark World Championships, the challenge is only outweighed by the fun.

Resident Paul Kocsis took his boat out on the lake to watch the competition on Tuesday morning at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club.

“It’s a riot (and) it’s a workout,” he said.

The participants who are part of the Shark racing world – meaning they race using a Shark sailboat – are called “sharkers” or “sharkies.”

The sharkies were off to the races on Aug. 18 and will be going head-to-head – or bow-to-bow until this Friday.

The Shark sailboat was first built in NOTL in 1959 by George Hinterhoeller. His son, Richard Hinterohoeller, is the race director for this week’s competition.  

There are 48 boats with competitors from across North America and Europe participating in multiple races throughout the week, including as many as 10 course races and a long-distance race.

Tuesday’s long-distance race required sailors to travel 20 kilometres from start to finish.  

Though the end destination was the same for everyone, the boats looked like they were going in all different directions. 

This is because, when out on the water, sailors have to look for “clean air,” said Kocsis.

“If there’s a boat ahead of you, that wind is being interfered with by their sails and when it hits your sails you’re not going as fast,” he said. 

“Boats are constantly looking for clean air. You never want to be sailing behind someone,” he added. 

Many sailing competitions across North America use a Performance Handicap Racing Fleet rating system, which allows different classes of boats to race against each other.

They race on time, said Kocsis, so even if a boat crosses the line first, it could still lose the race. 

Sharks, however, race boat to boat — whoever finishes first is first. 

“They call it a one-design fleet, so it’s all the same design. They don’t do time, it’s all about first, second, third,” said Kocsis.

Emily Chan and Bryan Milne, first-time world competitors from Kincardine and Hamilton, respectively, said Monday’s three races were very tough.

“First race was really intense, then the wind kind of dropped a little bit for the second and third races, but the mark roundings were really chaotic,” said Chan.

Milne said there were “major pileups” at the mark during the second and third races, with some boats getting hooked on the mark.

“It was a very interesting day,” said Josh Wiwcharyk, one of the organizers and competitors from the NOTL Sailing Club. 

He’s competing with Chris Clarke and Alex Letchford on the boat Crunch.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Crunch was sitting in second place overall in the world championship, ahead of Niagara-on-the-Lake brothers Levi, Jacob and Malcolm Harper who were in third place.

“We’re just so happy that there’s wind – it looks like – for most of the week,” said Wiwcharyk.

“You never know at this time of year you could get shut down,” he added. 

In addition to the races, the NOTL Sailing Club held a Caribbean-themed night on Monday and will continue to do fun social activities in the evenings for the competitors.  

Friday is the last day for races and the day will end with dinner that requires competitors to dress up in the era their Shark boat was made.

The competitions start every day around 10 a.m.

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