The Scotch Bonnet Light Race is among the oldest and longest invitational regattas on Lake Ontario. For more than 4 decades, the SBLR has been one of the most engaging sailboat racing traditions on Lake Ontario. It is a rite of passage for south shore sailors.
Each year in June, around the time of the Summer Solstice, an intrepid group of sailors embark from the Port of Rochester on a race across Lake Ontario. They make passage across an offshore expanse of clear water and into sight of Canadian shores. These hearty sailors then round the legendary lighthouse on Scotch Bonnet Island at the north central shore of the lake - and return to Rochester non-stop. They experience challenges and rewards. The challenges of getting a team together, preparing the boat and equipment, of facing the elements, of dealing with navigation, time and distance. The challenges of a competitive race. They also share the rewards: knowing they can and have met the challenges, being part of a team with a common goal, and sailing offshore, over deep water, in one of the most beautiful fresh water lakes in the world.
The GYC also provides friendly, fun and delicious social events, including a Sunday Scotch Bonnet Awards picnic. Each year’s event also brings custom regalia for participants as well as Flags and Trophies for the winners.
Mid-June often sees a transition from spring to summer lake conditions, resulting in quite a variety of weather, even in a single race! As we sail into the sunset on our first leg to Wautoma shoals, the weather can vary from a nice reach with a warm southerly breeze on our beam, to a cold, wet bashing into a stiff northwesterly that can result in sharp 4 to 6 ft wave conditions when the wind blows at 25 to 30 knots along the shore.
Lake crossings are an exciting experience. The night crossing brings air temperatures that match lake surface temperatures. A humid 40-degree temperature challenges sailors' ability to stay comfortable. Good foul weather gear and proper use of layering are tested in these conditions. If too many layers are added, sweat in your clothing can bring on the shivers. We also have years where sailors can race start to finish in shorts and t-shirts.
Not only do temperature and sea state vary a lot, so do the sights, seen some years in pea soup fog or in overcast skies and no moon, when it is so black there is nothing to see beyond the rails of the boat. Some years, all one sees is the navigation lights of the competing boats. Sometimes the star viewing is an astronomer’s dream, with the Milky Way painted across the sky and more shooting stars than you can count. Sometimes we see the Scotch Bonnet Light in all of its decaying glory, and other times, it is only a partial gray-on-gray silhouette. Every year the mystery of what each race will bring draws many of us back to experience the challenges and rewards that are the Scotch Bonnet Light Race.
Scotch Bonnet Island is a low-lying two-acre outcropping of limestone, that lies about a mile south of Nicholson Island, which itself lies less than a mile southwest of the mainland of Canada's Prince Edward County.
Erected in the early 1850's, the Scotch Bonnet Light’ was first illuminated atop its 54 foot high stone tower in 1856. Originally an oil burner, the light was converted to acetylene in 1907, and finally extinguished forever in 1959. Today, a flashing white light atop a 72-foot metal skeleton tower stands nearby.
The crumbling ruins of original tower still stand today, but little remains of the attached keeper's house. Scotch Bonnet Island supports one of the largest cormorant nesting colonies on Lake Ontario. Herring gulls, greater black-backed gulls, and black crowned night herons also nest on the island. They are believed to favor hatching their eggs by the radiated heat of the sun-baked rocks. To protect the nesting birds, public access to the island is prohibited between March 15 and July 31.
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