“Half-past six on a July morning! The Mariposa Belle is at the wharf, decked in flags, with steam up ready to start. Excursion day!”
The excitement of the narrator in Stephen Leacock’s The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias belies the soon-to-be-realized fate of the Mariposa Belle on Lake Wissanotti (perhaps based on the Enterprise steamship that, in real life, sank in Lake Simcoe).
Inspired by the tale, a group of local sailors have been keeping the memory of the Belle alive since the 1970s. Unlike Leacock’s story, one of many found in his 1912 book, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, the annual Mariposa Belle Race has yet to end in catastrophe.
The event can, however, be just as quirky.
Rick Swinton won the trophy one year, but don’t ask him the secret to his success.
“I don’t know how I won it,” admitted the member of the Champlain Sailing Club, which hosts the race.
Few people do. It’s a secretive system to determine the winner.
"The winner is chosen through a complicated handicapping process that involves pulling a number out of an old straw hat," the late Jay Cody, former curator and director of the Leacock Museum, and founder of the race, wrote in a contribution to Pete McGarvey's The Old Brewery Bay: A Leacockian Tale. "What happier way to spend a summer afternoon in Mariposa?"
The race will return to Pumpkin Bay Sunday and the host club is hoping for an impressive turnout. It is open to both members and non-members of the sailing club, at 145 Cedar Island Rd.
“Sailing’s a wonderful sport and we like to encourage it,” club member Nils Peterson said of why it’s important to open the race up to anyone with a wind-powered vessel. “And who knows? Maybe they’ll want to join the club.”
It’s referred to as a race, though that is a somewhat dramatic description.
“The racing aspect of it is fairly minor,” Peterson said. “It’s just a fun, social thing.”
While sailors win for who-knows-what reason, one objective is clear: round Sanson’s Shoal, where, as Cody explained, “the old steamer Enterprise once foundered.”
Since the race’s inception, some have run their boats aground on the shoal, but not with disastrous consequences.
“Not in recent memory, anyway,” Swinton said.
Being at the mercy of Mother Nature, who may or may not decide to power the sails, makes the race a bit of a crapshoot, and while the reason for determining a winner is a mystery, it’s clear why one award is handed out.
The Michael Greenspoon Memorial Trophy, named in honour of the late member of the Champlain Sailing Club, goes to the first person to cross the start line.
The trophies will be awarded as participants enjoy a barbecue dinner at the club.
The July 22 event will get underway with a skippers’ meeting at noon to review the course, wind conditions and rules of the race. Registration will be accepted until noon on race day. The race will start at 1 p.m. Dinner will be served at 5:30 p.m.
The race is open to anyone with a sailboat, big or small. The registration fee is $5.
The course takes the boats out between Chiefs Island and Horseshoe Island, around Sanson's Shoal and then back to the sailing club.
For more information, contact Greg Auger at 705-955-0235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.