Fifty years ago this week, the Lindsay Park Sailing Club was preparing to hold its 12th Polar Bear Regatta on the Mississippi River. The annual sailing race was advertised in the September 26th, 1971 edition of Davenport Times-Democrat with these images:
The “action-packed three day classic event” promised spectators the chance to watch “skilled sailors put their crafts through thrilling bends and spills.” The view could be taken from down at the docks or high above the river in Prospect Park.
The very first Polar Bear Regatta was held in 1960, when the skippers of the Club’s eleven-boat Lightning fleet organized a special fall race for local sailors on Lake Davenport. A similar event was held the following year, the course running from the Club’s dock at Lindsay Park Yacht Club to Campbell’s Island.
It was in 1962, just after the completion of the new clubhouse at the foot of Bridge Avenue (the site of the Boat House, now Bare Bones BBQ, restaurant), that other regional clubs were invited to compete with Davenport: Crab Orchard, Decatur, Alton, and Springfield. Now an “invitational” and growing larger every year, the Polar Bear Regatta soon required an enormous food service operation planned and managed by the women of the Club.
Barbara Clough Spargo tells amusing stories from the Polar Bear Regattas of the 1960s in The Log of Lake Davenport Sailing Club, 1878-1970, v.1, including that of a 1966 race on a short course requiring six laps to complete. Both participants and judges lost count, so that one Lightning sailor who resumed his laps mid-race after stopping for a beer was mistakenly declared the winner. The 1969 winner of the C-scow race jokingly shouted “I’m dropping out,” as he crossed the finish line far ahead of the other sailors — and the judges did disqualify him!
Both Volume I and II of The Log of Lake Davenport Sailing Club are available at the RSSC Center (SC797.1 Spa) for those interested in more detail about the Club’s history. The drawings of the clubhouse and the Lightning boat, above, are illustrations from the work, also by Spargo.
This year, the 61st Annual Polar Bear Regatta will be held next weekend, October 8-10th.
For more information about boating on the Mississippi from Davenport, check out The First 100 Years: A Pictorial History of Lindsay Park Yacht Club by Connie K. Heckert (SC 797.1 Hec).
(posted by Katie)