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The Canon Cup Regatta

by Ken Wheeler

One of the premiere annual northwest small sailboat races was the "Canon Cup". Held on American Lake, hosted by the American Lake Sailing Club, it was an annual event in the 70's and 80's anticipated by small boat sailors from California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. The 3 day event drew lots of skippers and crew. Scheduled for the late summer the event enjoyed light northerly breezes and lots of sunshine.

The popular trophies seemed to be the major drawing card and formed the basis for the regatta name "The Canon Cup." Casting about for appropriate trophies the trophy committee happened on the various sizes of small canons available for reasonable prices at the Fort Lewis Museum. Two of the club members, Bill Horn and John Furrer, had woodworking tools. They assembled the canons on varnished wood bases in sizes commensurate with first, second and third place for each boat class. It meant a lot of trophies! There were usually 5 to 6 classes with 4 to 12 boats per class including a Portsmouth Handicap class. Our largest regatta had 75 entries and was sailed out of the old Fort Lewis marina location at the south end of the lake - the predecessor to Russell Landing.

Most of the events where held out of the seaplane base at the north end of the lake when Dick White owned the location. Dick was an enthusiastic supporter of the lake sailing activity and made his facilities available for our use. He worked his aircraft around our launching and mooring activity without any problem.

To augment the moorage and float activity a team of club members would uncouple one of our large floats from in front of Harry Todd Park and slowly tow it across the lake. We would tie to a temporarily location between the seaplane launching ramp and the swimming beach.

After we built the Captain Cook we would power it around the lake (it had two outboard motors for propulsion and steering) to a suitable course location for the race committee. With the US flag, committee flag, class flags, start sequence flags and course symbols it presented an impressive display.

To put on such a race it took a lot of careful planning. We started early in the year by establishing committees for the race management, advertising, registration, parking and tie up for boats and cars, post race dinner and protest committee. The wives played a large part in all committee assignments. A file of sailboat clubs located through-out the northwest had been assembled over the years which provided an avenue for wide dissemination of information about the event.

Races started late on Friday afternoon with several scheduled for Saturday and a final race on Sunday. A dinner was scheduled for Saturday evening. An awards ceremony was held early Sunday afternoon.

It proved to be a very popular event. Participants viewed it as one of the best run sailing regattas they had sailed in.

When the insurance industry suddenly decided that sailboat racing was a dangerous sport and cancelled our liability policy and then reluctantly quoted an $1800 policy premium we had to "Fold up our tent." Pierce Country required that we provide a liability policy to cover them for any eventuality. Pierce County watercraft regulations stipulated we obtain approval from the County Risk Manager and the Pierce County Sheriff to hold the regatta on their lake. We always provided a policy and had excellent cooperation from the Sheriff, but when insurance costs escalated from $300 to $1800 we had to quit. The Sheriff's Department always had an enforcement patrol boat to assist in keeping our race course free of any intruding power or row boat.