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What a SHOW they put on!

By Mark Pillsbury

The Castine Classic Race Committee boat was staffed last year by David Bicks, Kevin Coady, George Murnahan, Cam Brien, and John Bicks. Photo by Kathy Mansfield

About the third week of July, an armada of classic sailing yachts will make its way along the Maine Coast, first to Boothbay Harbor, then on to Camden. From there, under billowing sails, they’ll fly to Castine for an afternoon and evening of pre-race festivities and then trade tacks the next morning back to Camden before a final dash to Brooklin for the granddaddy of them all, the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta.

For sailors, it’s a three-week festival drawn straight from a Golden Age of sail. Black Watch will be there. Marilee and Gleam, too. As I write, the scratch sheets remain works in progress, but organizers at the various venues are preparing for bustling starting lines, of that you can be assured.

It all begins with the two-day Boothbay Harbor Yacht Club Regatta and Shipyard Cup Classics Challenge on July 20 and 21. Peter Neidhardt, who was recruited last summer to join the three-member committee planning the event, said some 65 sailboats turned up last year, and they’re hoping for a few more this summer.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the BHYC Regatta, which attracts a wide array of sailors to compete in several one-design and Performance Handicap Racing Fleet divisions. Charlie Willauer, also on the organizing committee, said in terms of racing, there’s something for everyone: Vipers for the younger sailors, Boothbay Harbor One Designs, a whole host of fiberglass boats from the 1970s on, and of course the classics.

Several years ago, he said, Hodgdon Yachts organized the Shipyard Cup as a way to get some of its bigger sailboats and owners together. That series ran its course and about four years ago, the Cup got reprised by the yacht club in conjunction with the Classic Yacht Owners Association series of regattas that are held up and down the East Coast. About a third of the boats racing in Boothbay are CYOA members, Neidhardt said.

To pull off the regatta and shoreside festivities, Neidhardt said they rely on 25 or more volunteers, who collect tickets, help with parking, and direct boats to moorings or docks.

On Friday night this year, Shipyard Brewing-sponsored around the world racer Ronnie Simpson, whose boat was dismasted in the just-finished Global Solo Challenge, will be on hand. And Saturday night’s the big party, where after a day of racing crews gather to swap stories and enjoy an assortment of appetizers and chowders, and 2,000 oysters.

The following week, July 25-27, sailors will regroup in Camden for the eighth running of the Camden Classics Cup, presented by Lyman-Morse and supported by the CYOA. Based on years past, it will be a true gathering of the tribe: PHRF and one-design classes, several Classic Yacht divisions, and a youth regatta on Friday, July 26 for kids 12 to 18.

Racing for the big boats begins on Friday. Saturday there’s a harbor parade in the morning, racing in the afternoon, and a big bash at Lyman-Morse that night.

“We’re not a true classic event,” said Holly Paterson, a veteran race organizer and the behind-the-scenes ringleader for the Cup. She said the overall goal, after spirited racing, of course, is to get non-sailors to participate as well. Toward that end, there’s a Community Shore Clean Up on tap for Thursday morning and shoreside events, including a car show, are planned throughout the regatta. The classic yachts get priority when it comes to the docks, so they can be viewed by anyone who cares to stroll past. As of mid-May, more than 60 skippers had registered. She said she hopes to have 90 to 100 boats on the line come race day. 

Paterson said running the race is pretty much a year-round job involving both volunteers and the staff at Lyman-Morse. As the band packs up to leave after the party and awards Saturday night, she said she’s already busy booking them for next year. Her biggest challenge? “We really want the community to be involved,” she said.

With a few days in between to regroup and repair, the next match-up on the classics calendar comes on Wednesday, July 31, when yachts begin arriving for the Castine Classic Yacht Race. Kevin Coady, race committee chair of the event, says the harbor gets lively in the afternoon as skippers begin to arrive. He expects 30 to 40 wooden boats this year, most of them visiting yachts, so they need help docking or finding their moorings. “We like to get six or eight of the real nice ones tied up at the town dock. It’s a big draw for the town,” Coady said.

Unlike other regattas that hold their parties after the race, in Castine, the land-based entertainment comes first. This year, the Castine Yacht Club will again hold its annual builder symposium, starting at 4 p.m. at the Maine Maritime Academy. Participants will be on hand from Artisan Boatworks, Brooklin Boat Yard, Front Street Shipyard, John’s Bay Boat Company, Lyman-Morse, and Rockport Marine. 

Holly Paterson, Camden Classics event director, relies on the team at Lyman-Morse and many volunteers to put the regatta together. Photo courtesy Camden Classics Cup The Castine Classic is the first of two feeder races that will take a fleet of wooden beauties on to Brooklin. The start is right off the Castine Harbor bell, and it can be seen from all over town, Coady said. 

Once the last sailboats are off, the committee boat, with a handful of volunteers aboard including Coady, hauls the anchor and makes a run down Penobscot Bay to set up again on the finish line. The race boats are handicapped ahead of time, so Coady is able to get the result to shore in Camden pretty quickly.

“What’s become more and more important is to make it a terrific experience,” Coady said when asked about his committee’s biggest challenge. “That’s our job, to make it a fun two days. Castine is a beautiful town. People like it there.”

When the classics arrive in Camden on Thursday, August 1, an informal cocktail party at the Camden Yacht Club awaits skippers and crews, said Dennis Gunderson, who was first introduced to Maine’s wooden boat regattas more than a decade ago when he arrived as crew on Ticonderoga. “I absolutely fell in love with the Maine racing scene,” he said, and he’s been racing ever since. This year he’ll be aboard the 12-Meter Gleam, of which he’s a part owner.

In 2019, he was recruited to help organize the Camden-Brooklin Wooden Boat Race by regatta founder Tom Kiley. Gunderson’s Race Committee counterpart is Peter Clapp. Together with a volunteer crew and some of the yacht club staff, they expect they’ll send off 45 to 60 boats after a hearty breakfast at the club Friday morning. One thing that makes the Camden-Brooklin race unique is that all boats are required to tow a tender. It’s a throwback to the days when there weren’t launches in Center Harbor.

Gunderson said the biggest challenge for him is to keep the Camden Area Youth Seamanship Program at the forefront. The program teaches 6- to 17-year-olds boating skills, and race proceeds help fund it. Gunderson said they raised about $9,000 last year. 

By Friday night in Brooklin, Sam Chamberlin expects there will be 100 or so boats anchored in anticipation of the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, an event that’s been held annually since 1985 when it was launched by Steve White and his crew at Brooklin Boat Yard. Billed as the largest wooden boat race in the world, these days it’s run by Rockport Marine, Brooklin Boat Yard, and WoodenBoat. The staff at Rockport Marine has been responsible for the regatta’s administrative duties for the past several years.

Chamberlin runs the design office at Rockport, and has been sailing the ERR for 20 or so years. For several regattas he helped out as a volunteer, and last year began to take over race committee duties from Richard Stetson, who’ll be retiring.

Chamberlin said the crew in charge—20 or so staff and volunteers—believes running the regatta shouldn’t be all that complicated. “We run this race as a pretty bare-bones effort, relative to the modern regatta. Our philosophy has always been we can run a simple operation with a minimal amount of logistical work. That being said, we average probably about 100 boats on the line every year, so it’s no small feat.”

On the water, the race committee will again this year have stylish accommodations aboard Taylor Allen’s sardine carrier the William Underwood. And after the race, there’s the party and awards ashore on the grounds at WoodenBoat that will attract 700 to 800 happy sailors.

“Having the three-weekend series of Boothbay, Camden, and then the feeder races and the ERR has been a great thing in making it more compelling for boats from other areas to make the trip up here,” Chamberlin said. 

Indeed. Let the racing begin.

Mark Pillsbury is editor of  MBH&H


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