Royal St. John’s Regatta: North America’s Oldest Sail Competition

ST. JOHN’S, Canada — Sailing regattas are held almost weekly in Southern California, but did you know the oldest boating competition in North America might actually date as far back as the late 1700s?

Royal St. John’s Regatta hails itself as the oldest single sporting event in North America. The actual origins of this regatta, which is held annually in St. John’s, Canada, have not been fully traced. An issue of the Royal Gazette, however, mentioned a regatta arriving at St. John’s port on Aug. 6, 1816. Six boats arrived at the finish: a sloop, a schooner and four brigs.

Organizers held the 1818 regatta on Sept. 22 to coincide with the anniversary celebration of the official coronation of King George III; the monarch took his throne on Sept. 22, 1761.

Whether the regatta actually launched in 1816 or was held annually for years ahead of that year has remained unanswered. The regatta’s organizers, however, hinted the event’s origins could trace back into the 1700s.

“St. John’s, with its magnificently sheltered harbour, had become a growing centre of activity and early settlement in the early 1700’s,” race organizers stated on the regatta’s website. “The fishing and trading season generally lasted from May to September. This gave the transient and local population only a few months to form summer friendships and raise a challenge to each other’s sailing and rowing skills. The boat racing, which later became our regatta, came into existence as a natural form of friendly competition among a seafaring people.”

The regatta was originally held on St. John’s Atlantic coast, but later moved a few miles inland to Quidi Vidi Lake. More than 50,000 people attend the regatta now, according to sources. St. John’s coincidentally, is Canada’s – and North America’s – easternmost city.

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