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Saturday, September 30, 2023
Shark! NOTL hosting 2023 world championships
Rod Gardner is the regatta chair for the 2023 Shark World Championships. The championships are being held in NOTL from Aug. 18 to 25 at the NOTL Sailing Club. (Somer Slobodian)

The Sharks are coming home to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The 2023 Shark World Championships in NOTL are just a few days away and there’s just one thing Rod Gardner is waiting for.

“The first signal horn to start the first race,” said the regatta chair for the competition, hosted by the NOTL Sailing Club from Aug. 18 to 25.

About 150 sailors from around the world, plus their families, will descend on NOTL for the races on Lake Ontario. 

The planning for the competition at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club has been in the works since 2018, said Gardner, since the championships were originally scheduled to take place in NOTL in 2021.

However, COVID-19 had other plans and the competition was postponed to this year. 

As well, having the championships in NOTL is a homecoming of sorts – because the Shark sailboat was invented in town.

“(There’s) a lot of pride to putting on the world championships in Niagara-on-the-Lake because this is where this sailboat originated,” he said.

The Shark, a 24-foot racer, was first built in NOTL in 1959 by George Hinterhoeller, whose son Richard Hinterhoeller will be the race director out on the water this year, along with his daughter.

For Gardner, when the regatta hits the water, kicking off that first race will be special, “because it’s been so long in coming together.” 

The world championships were last held in NOTL in 2009. 

Along with leading a group of about 50 volunteers, Gardner also will be competing along with his two daughters, Georgina and Kate. 

Gardner said this will be his first time competing with his daughters in a world championship and he’s excited at the prospect. 

His two sons, daughter-in-law, wife and his wife’s sisters will also be out on the water.

“It’s kind of a real family affair,” he said. 

Racing Sharks is deeply ingrained in many sailing families.

For some, “this is the third generation owning the boat. And a lot of people take pride in restoring the boat (and) bringing it back to a new condition,” said Gardner. 

His Shark is from 1971 and he’s excited to be competing using his own boat this year, since they had to use borrowed equipment at last year’s competition in Austria. High costs made it prohibitive to bring their own boats.

“Just having your own equipment around you definitely gives you an advantage,” he said. 

Rob Vanderperk agrees, adding that when you need to use a loaner boat, things might not be exactly the same. 

He’s part of the organizing team and will be in charge of loaner boats for European teams this year. 

He also competed in Austria last year, finishing fourth, and will be competing with the same team this year. 

“We’re hoping to be a little better than that this year, but that being said, it’s really good competition. So it’ll be very difficult for us,” he said.

“We’ll see what happens.” 

Gardner said out of the 11 or 12 crews competing from the NOTL Sailing Club, there are a handful of teams that could win this year.

“That part’s pretty exciting, to see if we can finally get somebody from Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club to win the world championships,” he said.

For landlubbers, the ideal spots to watch the competition from shore will be at Ryerson Park in Chautauqua or along the waterfront path near Fort Mississauga. 

“Racing starts at 10 a.m. every day, from Monday to Friday, and you’ll get a profile view of the boats down that shoreline,” Gardner said.  

However, if you’re able to, the best way to catch the races is out on a boat, he added. 

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