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Vokoun, Matt (ed.) / Wisconsin engineer
Volume 102, Number 1 (November 1997)

Pierpont, Dan
Superior sailing,   pp. 20-22

Page 20

Superior Sailing
By Dan Pierpont
W         ind and water bombards your
face as the captain screams,
"Hoist the number two and reef
the main." With your fingers numb and your
arms exhausted, it takes your full concen-
tration to stay aboard let alone carry out the
orders. As you embark on the longest fresh-
water sailboat race in the world, more com-
monly known as the Trans-Superior, you
wonder what adventures lie in store.
The Trans-Superior is run every other year
in late July and generally lasts between 3 and
5 days. Beginning 28 years ago, this historic
race starts in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and
ends some 380 miles later in Duluth, Minne-
father by participating in the 1997 Trans-Su-
perior. This year's race began like all others,
with the whole fleet crowding into the locks
below the Sault Ste. Marie dam. The locks
proceed to fill with water and float the boats
up to the height of the lake. A handful of
sailors shimmy up the masts of their respec-
tive boats to get a better look. Then through
the mist someone begins playing bagpipes.
A majestic feeling runs through each sailor
as they prepare for the days that lie ahead.
The sheer size of Lake Superior is incred-
ible. If you took all the other Great Lakes and
put them together, they would still not equal
the size of Lake Superior. If you took Lake
Superior and dumped it over the entire con-
tinents of North and South America, water
The longest freshwater sailboat race in the world, more commonly known as
Trans-Superior, starts in Sault Ste. Marie, Ml, and ends 380 mi. later in
Duluth, MN.
sota. The original founders of the race in-
cluded my grandfather, Dr. John Pierpont,
and his friend, Jack Soetebier. Practically a
living legend in the Lake Superior sailing
community, my grandfather, his seven sons
and one daughter have competed in many
races on the Great Lakes. Of the seven sons,
the youngest remains in charge of the fam-
ily sailboat, a C&C 35 named the Chanterelle.
The second youngest, Mark Pierpont has been
in every Trans-Superior race held to date.
With such long family tradition in sailing, I
set out to follow in the footsteps of my grand-
would cover the continents to a depth of one
foot. When you sail on the Trans-Superior
you may not see land for up to two days.
The weather conditions on the "Big Lake"
are subject to change within minutes. It could
be sunny and hot out in the morning, but by
lunch time you are fighting a driving rain
and thunderstorm. After all, remember the
Edmund Fitzgerald which sank as a result of
the crazy Superior weather. With the high
probability of fierce weather, a "superior"
sailor always has to be ready for the improb-
able because it will happen on the "Big
The Chanterelle sails under full
spinnaker toward the finish line.
Since the Trans-Superior generally occurs in
the last week of July, one would think prepa-
ration includes a T-shirt and shorts. Fortu-
nately, I knew from hearing countless sto-
ries that I would need much more. At some
points during the race, I was wearing two
shirts, a sweatshirt, a life preserver, a rain-
jacket and an insulated life-preserver jacket.
Despite all that gear, there were still times
when the cold penetrated the layers. One of
my uncles has even been known to bring a
snowmobile suit on the race.
Throughout the race, it constantly struck me
how sailing technology has changed from
when my grandfather raced across the "Big
Lake." For example, we had a Global Posi-
tioning System (GPS) installed aboard the
boat. It is about the size of a small calculator
and determines your exact latitude and lon-
gitude, by linking with eight satellites. In
addition, the GPS can relay your speed and
direction. The GPS enabled the crew to know
their exact location at all times during the
It constantly struck me how
sailing technology has
changed from when my
grandfather raced across the
"Big Lake"
Cellular phones have also added to our cur-
rent technological capabilities. My uncles
were able to call home to check in with their
wives and kids when the sailboat was 75
miles from the nearest harbor. Some of the
boats were even equipped with lap top com-
puters. Using the computers, sailors can
20 NOVEMBER 1997

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