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The Mills Race's silver lining

06/01/2014, 12:00am EDT

Trophies tell the story of Toledo’s rich sailing history

They sail through the night, through wind, waves, and weather, just to be part of one of yachting’s premier events. It is a severe test of sailor and craft, and a challenge that demands a balance of skill and smarts, with a place etched in the rich racing history of the Great Lakes going to the victorious.

The Invitational Mills Trophy Race is a revered treasure of the sailing season, dating back to 1907. Besides the signature Mills Trophy, there are four dozen other cups and awards now attached to the race, going to winners in various classes and on different race courses.

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“Because of all the history behind these trophies, it’s a very proud moment for a sailor to have their name engraved on one of these,” said Ron Gabel, who is compiling a detailed history of the trophies associated with the race. “They are very conscious of the importance of that.”

As Mr. Gabel puts it, the sailing trophies are as much “pieces of art” and antiquities as they are awards. Some of them date back to the late 1800s, and the detail in the silversmithing would be difficult to replicate today.

Most of the artwork on the sailing trophies was done on the East Coast, some by the craftsmen at Tiffany or Reed & Barton.

“They are really art museum pieces,” Mr. Gabel said. “And every one of them has a great story behind it.”

“Many of these trophies came from famous individuals in sailing, prominent businessmen, or well-known politicians,” said Ron Soka, chairman of the 2014 Mills Trophy Race. “Those trophies helped give the Mills the status it has now. It’s a real history lesson just looking at the names on each trophy, and the people that made that trophy possible.”

The Mills Trophy itself was a gift from Commodore Merrill B. Mills in 1907 to encourage “proficiency in the art of navigation ... by means of popular contests in yachting.” It is a stunning bowl that sits on a broad, black, circular base. Skipper George Craig of Toledo Yacht Club won that first race in August of 1907 aboard the sloop “Shark.”

The President’s Trophy was presented to TYC by William Howard Taft, while the Governor’s Cup was a gift from former governor Judson Harmon, who led the Buckeye State from 1909-1913.

The Toledo Blade Trophy was gifted to the TYC in 1909 to advance competition in the 21-foot racing yacht class. It was crafted in New York, and adorned with large, ornate handles, and a cluster

of wild roses. The Blade Trophy now goes to the fastest sailing yacht in the Jib and Main class over the President’s Course.

“The Blade Trophy is a beautiful piece, so detailed and so intricate,” said Mr. Soka. “The fine engraving on many of these is actually a work of art.”

At an awards banquet later this week, the winners in the various classes and race courses will be recognized and see their names on the trophies for the first time. Mr. Soka expects it to again be a proud and emotional moment for the local sailing community.

“Sailing has been around for so long, and the history means something to the people who love sailing,” he said. “They tend to gravitate toward that history and the symbols of our rich racing past, such as these trophies. There is really a special reverence for these magnificent trophies.”

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Tag(s): Pro  Matt Markey