Sailors Connect Through Time on Superior
Posted on: July 31, 2017

On the dock at Amethyst Harbour, Lake Superior, after completion of the 1947 race for the Crystal Beach Trophy. (Photo: Porter Bailey) 

The first picture was taken on a dock at Amethyst Harbour in 1947. Amethyst Harbour is some 35 km./21 mi. east of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior. The photo shows a group of sailors, surrounded by their boats, mostly home built, all smiles and clearly enjoying themselves. They’ve just come off Lake Superior after competing for the “Crystal Beach Trophy.” A hand scribbled note with the photo contains everyone’s names – like Jack Fryer, Jim Coslett, Porter Bailey, Bert Rowe, David and Sheila Burnford and Monty Mathews. To some people, these names would mean nothing. To others, they are easily recognized as some of the first recreational sailors in the Thunder Bay area, and by extension, the Canadian waters of western Lake Superior.

Turn the clock forward 70 years. The same race was held on July 22nd, in the same waters of Superior, starting and ending at the same dock. The intent of race organizers was to take the same picture, with today’s sailors, at this very same Amethyst Harbour dock. Plans sometimes go awry however and this case was no exception. It’s a nice problem to have but sailing the waters of Superior has become so popular that the whole group of present day sailors wouldn’t fit on the dock. Instead, after the day’s racing, sailors assembled on shore in front of the dock for a photo marking 70 years since that first photo and 79 years from the 1938 inaugural Crystal Beach event. Some of the same family names mentioned above are present for the 2017 photo. [Infosuperior is leaving out specific names as there are just too many people to mention].

As the photo was shot, sailors were asked who had more fun – those sailors from “back in the day” in their homemade vessels or the present day crowd with their fiberglass boats and modern rigs. The assembled 2017 sailors let out a cheer and strongly asserted that they were definitely having more fun than the 1947 crew. That assertion is doubtful but one thing is clear. The passion for sailing and the passion simply to go out and enjoy Lake Superior is as strong as ever.

There was definitely a feeling of history being made as this photo was taken, July 22nd, 2017. Same dock, same sailing event but 70 years later with Caribou Island in the background. This crew was simply too big to fit on the dock for an exact “retake” of the 1947 photo above. The joy for sailing Superior’s waters connect the two groups, through 70 years of time. (Photo: J. Bailey/
For 79 years, the Crystal Beach Trophy has been sailed for in the Crystal Beach, Amethyst Harbour area east of Thunder Bay. The trophy itself, shaped something like the bell portion of a trombone, is actually a “speaking tube” from a German sunmarine dock. The facility, along with the speaking tube, was surrendered to the Royal British Navy, in 1918.

Present day sailing races are typically around triangular courses with inflated buoys used as “marks” on the corners, each leg of the triangle typically being a couple of kilometers or miles. Back in 1947, no sailing races used buoys and races were run around local landmarks like a group of islands or by keeping a specific reef to port or starboard. In the case of the Crystal Beach races, landmarks like Caribou Island, Seagull Island and Temple Reef are easily recognizable local features. The race on July 22nd covered a course of approximately 12 km./7.5 miles and circled Caribour Island, a large area island, most of which was recently purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The event is the same now as it was back then – a softer approach to sailing, through beautiful surroundings, often trying to introduce a few new crew members to sailing. This year’s event saw moderate to strong easterly winds with waves of about 3 ft or so. While 19 ft Lightening class open sailboats form the backbone of the fleet, all sailboats are welcome and handicap rules apply in order to make the event as fair as possible.

A notable difference between now and then is that today, all of the smaller boats are trailered to the race start. In 1947, all of those boats would have sailed the 35 km/21 mi. from their local base at Chippewa, southwest of Thunder Bay, across the open waters of Superior to the start at Amethyst. This “delivery sail” would have been done on weekend one, as a group cruise, with the Crystal Beach event taking place the following weekend. This, followed by another long-distance sail to return to Chippewa. Sailing was in small open boats, no longer than 19 ft.

There are six masts in the upper photo. It’s impossible  to know whether this was the total number of boats. According to local sailors though, the sixties saw the largest number of participants, with up to 20 boats. There were 14 boats participating in the 2017 event. Most of these boats had at least a three person crew, some of the larger boats had many more.

The Crystal Beach trophy lists Monty Mathews as the 1947 winner. He’s holding the trophy in the upper photo. Seventy years later in the 2017 photo, Richard Walsh is front and centre as Crystal Beach trophy winner. Over the years, some families have had four generations of sailors inscribed on the trophy.

July 22nd, 2017 action as sailors complete for the Crystal Beach Trophy off Caribou Island. (Photo: J. Bailey/
Local sailors feel the race is in good hands and foresee no break in the event’s long history. In fact, the 2017 photo includes many young sailors, two of whom, Monica and Malcolm, are holding the trophy along with their dad Richard Walsh. Approximately 100 Thunder Bay young people between the ages of 7 and 15 are learning to sail on the waters of Superior this summer, using the Thunder Bay marina as home base. A learn to sail program for children has also run at Amethyst Harbour for many years.

The sailors of 1947 and 2017 share a common bond through their sailing experience – and every one of them, including the kids, knows they are truly blessed to be so closely connected with the lake. Here’s to another 70 cool, clear years.

More Pictures of Amethyst Harbour Sailing Weekend:

[Note for anyone interested in Thunder Bay literature. Yes, that is the Sheila Burnford, author of “The Incredible Journey” (later made into a movie) and other books. Infosuperior has it from those who actually competed against both Sheila and her husband, that she was an excellent sailor. It has also been hinted that her husband, Dr. David Burnford, a notoriously competitive sailor and something of a local legend in sailing circles, may have benefited more from Shiela’s crewing ability than his own skill as a skipper. We may never know whether this is true, but one thing is certain – Sheila definitely went on to usurp her husband, at least as far as literary fame. David and Sheila are sitting/kneeling, forward left in the upper photo.]



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