Clean Regattas Spotlight: LOWISA 56 Regatta - Sailors for the Sea

Clean Regattas Spotlight: LOWISA 56 Regatta

 June 22, 2023  | By: Jennifer Brett

The Lake of the Woods Sailing Association’s (LOWISA) annual regatta isn’t your typical sailing event. Now in its 57th year, the regatta features seven days of racing or cruising through the Lake of the Woods, which straddles Minnesota, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba. Sailors for the Sea Skipper Elizabeth Harries started sailing the LOWISA regatta in 2015, and never looked back. She has since developed the event’s sustainability program, achieving Clean Regattas Gold Level Certification in 2021 and Platinum in 2022. We recently reached out to Elizabeth to find out how they did it and learn about the unique sustainability challenges the regatta faces.

The LOWISA 56 Regatta achieved a Clean Regattas Platinum Level award.

Sailors for the Sea: LOWISA went from Gold in 2021 to Platinum in 2022. What areas or best practices did you focus on to achieve this?

Elizabeth Harries: LOWISA’s first attempt at certification was in 2021 after having extra time to plan and prepare due to COVID cancellations. What helped in achieving both gold and platinum was the ability to plan ahead. Our Board of Directors and the Commodores were very supportive of the initiative, which was also helpful to the execution. By laying out some of the foundation for sustainability in 2021, it gave our fleet time to adjust to the new ways of operating and we focused on easy wins. When looking at best practices, we started with what was easiest and most relevant to achieve. In 2022 we were able to build off of the foundation laid in 2021, while celebrating our Gold Certification we continued to build and aim higher for 2022. Again we looked at all the best practices and tried to figure out how our event could incorporate those objectives or something similar. We also brought in the element of competition to take it to the next level, making it fun, engaging, and desirable for the fleet.

SfS: What were some of the keys to your success?

EH: LOWISA is extremely grateful to all our Sustainability Partners, namely Volvo Cars Winnipeg who sponsored our Sustainability Award offering a brand new sail from North Sails. We also had Pemberton Haven Farms, Patagonia, Tilley’s Pharmasave, Oceans North, Nautical Coffee, Norwex Winnipeg and North Sails offer amazing support and prizes which allowed us to make sustainability exciting, cool, and something to strive for. Our Sustainability Award was based on the Sailors for the Sea best practices, awarding points to various undertakings with the highest scoring crews winning 1st-3rd place prizes, and everyone reaching a certain minimum of points was entered into a draw for a chance to win the sail. By creating the award in this way, it provided an avenue for all crews to participate in the best practices alongside the organization. 

SfS: The LOWISA is a pretty unique event! What were some of the challenges or roadblocks you faced in running Clean Regattas?

EH: LOWISA is different from most events as we aren’t racing the same course location each day and docking at the same place each night. Our challenges revolve around having upwards of 50 boats living on the water for a week outside of civilization and services. Sustainability for LOWISA goes beyond what the event organizers are able to do and really needs to involve the participation of all crews. Adopting sustainable practices is more than saying no to straws at events, but fundamentally changing people’s habits and how they live on the water. This type of change is challenging as most people are resistant to changes especially if it’s not inwardly driven. We’ve focused on making sustainability fun, exciting, and sharing as much information as possible to encourage folks to choose change.  

To go single-use plastic free, participants brought their own cups to all of the social events.

SfS: Which of the Clean Regattas Best Practices did you have the easiest time implementing, and which were more difficult?

EH: We were already doing some of the best practices, but I think the best change we made was going plastic free. Our Commodore in 2021 was super supportive to make everyone bring their own cups to all the events, so in order to get drinks anywhere on LOWISA you had to bring a cup. In 2021 there were a few red solo cups being used on some boats, but it had dramatically decreased, and in 2022 I don’t think I saw a single one! 

The hardest best practice I think is the paperless event management. We tried to go completely paper free by making the Sailing Instructions and Registration Booklet available online, and although we do, due to various things like people not having anything more than a phone on board, electricity and power on some boats being very precious (operating on batteries), in storms people not wanting to pull out electronics, and many parts of the lake not having service, it’s been highlighted as a safety issue to not provide critical information on paper in the registration packages; however, we use FSC certified paper. Also our competitors really like having paper results at the end of the day to take home, there’s been some resistance about sharing results digitally from folks who are less technologically inclined. 

SfS: What’s the next sustainability goal for LOWISA?

EH: In 2023 we’re going for Platinum again, I hope to smooth out the operations of last year, as some of the initiatives took a lot of manpower. There were some definite lessons learned and notable ways to streamline and make it better for the Green Team and the participants. I think it’s really important to ‘perfect’ and stabilize the foundation we’ve started in order to continue to build on the program. The main goal this year is to increase participation in the Sustainability Award and invoke innovation amongst the fleet as to how they will each embrace sustainable ways of operating. 

The LOWISA 56 Regatta featured beautiful handmade trophies.

SfS: Do you have any advice to any regatta organizer or club that is interested in hosting a Clean Regatta for the first time?

EH: Just do it! Start with a goal that seems achievable to you, and then work through each of the Best Practices brainstorming how your organization could tackle it. My biggest advice is start planning early. There are also a bunch of Sailors for the Sea Skippers such as myself, that are happy to help support you! 

Visit the LOWISA website for more information on the regatta and their sustainability initiatives. For more information on how your regatta can be a Clean Regatta, contact Sailors for the Sea program manager Emily Conklin.