Story & photos by Rick Bannerot/OntheFlyPhoto.net
Q: What do you do when you’ve agree to hold a centennial regatta on Martha’s Vineyard in the middle of July?
A: You invite and organize a spectrum of sailboat fleets (and sailors from ages 6 to 86) including Zim Prams, Optimists, Club 420s, Shields, Rhodes 19s, J/70s, Herreshoff 12.5s, Wianno Seniors, and a passel of different catboats all racing to celebrate Edgartown Yacht Club’s 100th Annual Regatta.
Situated in the middle of Edgartown Harbor, the 118-year-old Edgartown Yacht Club (EYC) did not stray from their mission statement, “to bring together those who have an abiding interest in yachting, sailboat racing, seamanship and competition in the highest Corinthian spirit.”
The very first EYC Regatta took place in 1924 from a rented cottage on the Edgartown waterfront. Over a hundred boats, many of them gaff-rigged catboats, took part in a colorful parade of sails and nearby racing along the sandy shores around town.
To celebrate their 100th Annual Regatta, EYC hosted nine classes on various racecourses with a host of committee boats, mark boats, coach boats, spectator boats, and on-the-water judging (with three of four judges US Sailing Certified National Judges). It’s been said that takes a village to raise a child, but that’s nothing compared to running a 9-ring circus in a 5-day window, with some very sketchy weather thrown in.
Watching Regatta Chair Elizabeth “Tot” Balay in action, you’d think she’s a great fan of Yoda and that funny little green guy’s philosophy: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Tot put her own stamp on this event with the kindly, encouraging mantra, “Why, you ask? To which I say, ‘Why not?’ Oh, and let’s put on an ice cream social for all the kids ages 86 and under!”
The first two days focused on junior sailing with over seventy Optis on various courses, thirty-nine C420s and eight Zim Prams. “The Opti Green circle was for young sailors, focusing not so much on winning as on having fun and learning how to ‘regatta,’” said Tot. “We also added a Green “coached” class, which accommodated an even more beginner echelon. These were kids from our yacht club who wanted to be involved, but weren’t ready to sail upwind and downwind around marks by themselves. We set them up in our colorful Zim Prams and had coaches helping them learn how to manage a rudder, sail, boom and a centerboard, in a controlled environment just off the beach. They had a blast.”
The bigger boats took over, with the Shields class racing for their New England Championships in gray, occasionally damp, and breezy conditions with gusts to 20. They managed to get three complete races before weather again made its presence keenly felt.
Saturday dawned gray, with some ominous afternoon weather promised for the other centerboard and keelboat classes. After a 90-minute delay to let the electrically-charged early weather roll through, the harbor start gun sounded, the sun broke through the now-scattered clouds, and the intrepid EYC Race Committee flotilla headed to their respective assigned courses.
In a nod to the first event in 1924, an organized parade of catboats promenaded past the Edgartown waterfront to the delight of the residents and tourists drawn to Edgartown for the Centennial festivities. Many of the participating Wianno Seniors, Herreshoff 12.5s and catboats came over from the Massachusetts mainland for the historic event.
After the harbor parade, eight vintage and modern catboats, in two respective classes, set out on a distance race from an assigned EYC Race Committee boat anchored just outside the harbor. They sailed around Squash Meadow government mark and back to Edgartown Harbor, with many enjoying the freshening breeze right by hugging the beach in their shallow-drafted hulls.
Nineteen Wianno Seniors got in two races and twenty Herreshoff 12.5s sailed three races Saturday. Both fleets enjoyed near-perfect racing conditions in 14- to 17 knots along with some fetch building to the delight of the shutterbugs (if not bowmen). Racing was characterized by many lead changes throughout the afternoon, especially in the Herreshoffs.
The crew of Carol Childs’ Wianno Senior Rebel reveling in the conditions
Unfortunately, the intended three-day regatta was shortened when more inclement weather arrived Sunday, with gusts over 30. “That’s a gear-buster, not a gear-tester, especially for the classic Herreshoffs and Wiannos, said Tot. “They are like racing fine furniture, many of them antiques, and it becomes time-consuming and expensive to fix them after racing in these conditions. The classic boats were a grand sight and we loved having them race at Edgartown for our Centennial.”
Fittingly, during Sunday’s award ceremony, George Eberstadt, skipper of the winning H 12.5 Persephone, said, “A special thank you goes to the EYC race committee and the whole EYC team. They are all at the top of their game and ran the races beautifully.” ■