The annual Alta Lake ‘Regretta’

For many people, the Labour Day long weekend marks the end of the summer; school holidays are over and the days are getting noticeably colder and shorter. Knowing the warm days are coming to an end may bring a sense of sadness to some. This feeling was even more palpable in the community of Alta Lake, where the population increased in the summer months and life revolved around the lake – fishing, swimming and sailing. The biggest community celebration ran over the September long weekend and was named the ‘Regretta’ because the community regretted that summer was coming to an end.

The Alta Lake Sailing Club ran out of Cypress Lodge and regattas were held each long weekend throughout the summer. Opening the sailing season was the Jelly Fish Race held on the May long weekend, then the Dominion Day Derby was held on July 1, and the biggest event of them all was the annual Regretta held on Labour Day weekend starting in 1965.

Many different sailing craft participated in the annual Alta Lake Regretta. Petersen Collection.

The Regretta was a day-long celebration that incorporated sailing races, as well as fun contests and activities for children and adults alike. Alta Lake became a colourful display of sailing craft with Sabots, Davidson D12s, Flying Juniors, Enterprises, Hobie Cats and Catamarans all popular. Sabots were the first boat of choice as the 8 foot sailing dinghies were light enough to carry up the bank for storage at the end of the summer.

Along with the regular regatta races, fun races and obstacle courses kept both participants and spectators entertained. ‘Repel all boarders’ was an obstacle race with up to five people on board vying to get through the course the fastest without any ‘pirates’ boarding the boats or losing any crew members. There were also ‘free-for-all races’ that allowed splashing and tipping – any tactics to delay the other racers were encouraged.

There were many amusing activities for the “landlubbers” too, often organised by Florence Petersen. In a recent oral history with Carol Fairhurst, whose parents owned Cypress Lodge, she remembered fondly, “We would have the three legged race where two people tie their inside leg together and you have to run. The sack race where you’d get in a potato sack and you had to hop. Then there would be egg-throwing contests, pie-eating contests, tug-of-wars where they had two wharves and two teams and the losing team got pulled into the water. The pie eating contest was always huckleberry pies so it was hilarious because people would end up with blue faces. It was a good time. The sail boat races were a big deal.”

A pie-eating contest in front of Cypress Lodge, an important part of the summer regattas. Fairhurst Collection.

Another activity from the Regretta that should definitely be brought back in the interests of entertainment is the Alta Lake pole vaulting contest. The aim of this competition was to launch yourself high into the air over the lake and land in an inner tube.

Prizes and trophies were presented for both the serious and not so serious competitions. Renate Bareham, née Ples, grew up in Alta Lake and remembers winning a hand mirror in the log rolling competition.

Karen Gow (left) and Renate Ples (right) during the log rolling competition in 1967. Bareham Collection.

This celebration of summer brought as many as 100 residents and weekenders together for a day in the sun, which was quite the turnout for a small community. Throughout the ten or so years that the Regretta ran it certainly left an impression on all those lucky enough to take part.

One response to “The annual Alta Lake ‘Regretta’

  1. In 1961, aged 11, I bought what was then the only sailboat on Alta Lake from Sala Ferguson, who lived next door to Cypress Lodge, for $50. I saved the money from collecting pop bottles for the return deposit, and Sala wrote out a very official-looking bill of sale, which I still have around here somewhere.

    The boat was about 10 feet long, made of plywood, with a tiller and a steel daggerboard which you could lift up and down for balance. The boat did not point very well into the wind, so progress tacking against the wind was slow. Hoping to remedy this, I built a short bowsprit so as to add a jib, which my mother duly sewed for me, along with a new mainsail. Still, the boat did not point very well, but just to be sailing was thrilling for me (I was a great fan of the Arthur Ransome books, about a group of children sailing on the English lakes).

    A couple of years later, Dick Fairhurst acquired a sailboat that was considerably faster and more agile than mine, and a lot more fun to sail, so I eventually began borrowing that boat to sail instead of mine. It was a wooden boat, built of planks, with a cockpit and deck to sit on. I believe it came without a mast, and Dick stepped a long, straight tree trunk that served the purpose, with iron mast hoops to carry the sail up and down.

    Maybe another couple of years went by, and then suddenly, the Sabot craze began. The Sabot was a small, snub-nosed dinghy that a lot of people built at home and sailed single-handedly. Ray Dove (“Uncle Ray”) had one and there were others. Soon, other designs appeared and it was not long before Alta Lake saw a flotilla of small sailboats of all kinds.

    Such is the history of sailing on Alta Lake as I know it. I’m sure there must have been earlier sailboats on the lake (Sala’s boat, being built of plywood, cannot have been that old), but if so, they had all disappeared by the time I came on the scene.

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