The Trans Superior International Yacht Race is not for the fair-weather sailor. Starting at the Gros Cap Light in Whitefish Bay, near Sault Ste. Marie, the race finishes at Duluth, Minnesota, an official race distance of 326 nautical miles—about 604 kilometres. Sailing the length of Lake Superior, one of the world’s largest and least-populated bodies of fresh water, is full of hazards even during the warm, usually stable-weather months. Superior’s water temperature averages 4 degrees Celsius. Sailing in open water can bring sudden wind changes and seas of more than four metres.
words: Ned Morgan photos: Andrew Jowett
The Trans Superior—the world’s longest known freshwater sailboat race—was first held in 1969 as a challenge between friends from White Pine, Michigan. Always held every odd-numbered year, the 25th running of the Trans commenced on Saturday, August 5, 2017, and photographer Andrew Jowett was on board the trimaran Areté, registered in Port Huron, Michigan, and skippered by Rick Warner.
“Areté is a unique boat,” says Jowett. “It’s a 60-foot trimaran which is about 60 feet wide as well which makes it essentially a big square on the water. The boat has foiling capabilities so ideally two hulls are out of the water at all times. (The less a hull is in the water, the less resistance, and the faster it goes.)
“The race has a reputation that follows along with the rest of Lake Superior. It’s brutal. It’s cold. You traditionally race with wind on the nose the entire time. It’s challenging. It’s not for everyone. That lake is mean. The reactions I received from people when I told them where I was going ranged from concerned, to severe head-shaking with no words.
“It’s brutal. It’s cold. You traditionally race with wind on the nose the entire time. It’s challenging. It’s not for everyone. That lake is mean.”
“I brought the right cold weather gear and I knew it was going to be frigid but I wasn’t prepared for the inescapable cold. Going into the wind, and having nothing but open water around you that doesn’t get warm even in the summer, is a different level of cold.
It was a very light air race and not the ideal conditions for Areté. There were times where the boat literally wasn’t moving. We just couldn’t catch a break. We’d chase and fight for wind but when we caught it, it seemed to leave and dissipate and we couldn’t quite catch the good lifts.
Our main competition in the race was the former Volvo Ocean Race boat Il Mostro. They were able to pull out the victory and reached Duluth first. They finished in 1 day 21 hours and 38 minutes. We were the second to reach Duluth. We finished in 1 day 22 hours and 48 minutes.
With my photographs I try to capture the relationship humans have with the Great Lakes. Sailing is the ultimate test of working with what Mother Nature gives you. There is a range of moments aboard a boat like Areté doing high-intensity racing over a long distance. There are moments of absolute organized chaos and there are moments where it’s calm and you can take that short window to appreciate being in the middle of our Great Lakes with no shore in sight.”