A fleet of sailboats will be taking to the Mississippi River next week for the 63rd annual Polar Bear Regatta.
The race is hosted by the Lake Davenport Sailing Club, and will begin with a welcome party on Friday, Oct. 6. More than a dozen skippers are expected to travel to Davenport for the race, said club member Dan Allebach.
“They come from six or seven states around and travel to different races,” he said, adding this year boats are coming as far as Flint, Michigan and Kansas City.
In the Midwest region, there are a list of annual regattas. Each community hosts theirs at a different time. Davenport’s happens to be in October when weather conditions are typically colder, hence, the name “Polar Bear,” he said.
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“The Polar Bear, lots of times, has been freezing,” he said. “Hopefully it won’t this year.”
Allebach said Friday is primarily for setting up the boats, then the fun begins Saturday morning with the annual race beginning at 10 a.m. Weather pending, there will be two races in the morning, a break for lunch, then two more in the afternoon.
“They’ll do whatever they can get in,” he said. “Sometimes it’s really slow, sometimes it’s really fast. It just depends on how the weather treats us.”
Following the races Saturday, the club will host a dinner and raffle to benefit the sailing school. Lessons will pick up again in May, 2024, and are offered throughout the summer. They are geared toward first-time sailors who want to learn a new sport.
Sunday morning, another race will begin at 9 a.m. and a trophy presentation will follow. For those who won’t be on the water, parking is available near the club, 1225 E. River Drive, and the community is welcome to come watch all weekend, he said.
How it works
Saturday morning, the race committee will place buoys in the water, about a mile away from the starting line. Boats will gather around the starting line and prepare for the starting sequence. All sailors will be paying attention to the wind and waiting for the horn to sound, signaling it’s time to race.
“Once it’s go time, your goal as a sailor is to be on the start line at the horn, and off we go,” Allebach said.
From land, it can look like a cluster, he said, as all the boats are fighting for their own space. Once they take off into the wind, the boats will head toward the previously placed buoy, round it, and head back. The boats will continue that back-and forth pattern before finishing into the wind and crossing the finish line.
From land, trying to understand what’s going on can be a challenge, Allebach said. But plenty of sailors will be at the club, ready to answer questions and help introduce people to the sailing world.
“It wouldn’t hurt if they really want to know what’s going on, to stop at the clubhouse and ask questions,” he said.