CHATHAM – While fog kept many folks onshore last weekend, there were some who were undaunted by it and the winds that whipped the waters off of Chatham into frothy whitecaps. To the members of the Monomoy Yacht Club, conditions might not have been perfect, but they were good enough to get in a Sunday afternoon sailboat race.
A little more than half a dozen intrepid sailors and their crew headed out of Stage Harbor just after noon on July 19, eager to capitalize on the strong breezes blowing inland, their excitement high given that the race had already been rescheduled.
As racers darted back and forth around the starting area, the committee boat sounded its warning horn, proclaiming the start to be moments away. Soon, the official starting blast sounded and a small parade of Beneteaus, Pearsons, Hunters, Tartans, and others cut through the chop bound for a bell-buoy a few miles away.
Some of the boat names were familiar, having competed in other area races, including the famed Figawi – Saylavee, Scooby, Heritage just to name a few. On board the Malabar, a Beneteau 393, captain Frank Messina offered a bit of Sailing 101, explaining a bit of the strategy involved in such races, as well as offering a bit of history on the yacht club.
The Monomoy Yacht Club, tucked into the shores of Stage Harbor, was founded in 1937. Now a non-profit organization, the club’s goal each season is to offer activities and fellowship for people with a shared appreciation for water and water sports, which includes sailing and kayaking.
Although day-to-day operations have been altered by the pandemic, with various events being canceled or postponed out of necessity, sailboat races are able to continue since they involve little to no contact between those on their respective boats. While crews might be challenged to socially distance in the smaller space near the wheel, sailing generally allows for a good amount of space between captain and crew, making it an ideal sport for these times.
“Monomoy Yacht Club has a strong boating – power and sail – community and program,” Messina said. “Also, a great social program. Most of the special get-togethers are on hold right now, so sailing and boating programs are filling the need to get out and enjoy beautiful Cape Cod.”
As Messina explained, being able to get on the water is freeing.
“For those of us who enjoy sailing, the ability to get on the water and have a fun, informal race with fellow sailors in this crazy time is the best,” Messina said.
Messina said that it’s common among those who sail, especially larger boats such as most in the July 19 race, to engage in friendly banter about how easily one boat might beat another. The Sunday races are a great way to put that to the test.
“This is a chance to show what you can do,” Messina said. “The Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) handicapping system makes a fair race and gives all boats a chance to show their sailing/racing skills.”
Messina was referring to is a handicapping system that allows boats of different classes to compete against each other, canceling out the specific advantages or disadvantages of each class. This way, the results are about crew skill rather than boat size or type.
“It’s not about who has the best boat,” said Messina. “But how the skipper and crew use the boat to their best ability, reading the winds and tides, etc., tacking efficiently, and finding the best strategy to make use of it all.”
In the case of Sunday’s race, the first boat to cross the finish line was also the first overall, Saylavee captained by Peter Soule. Next was Scooby, captained by Kent Richardson; Rapture, captained by Walter Dray; Hav Bris, captained by Rick Webster; Heritage, captained by Bill Westdyk; Speculation, captained by Greg Kelly; La Petite Bateau, captained by Bill Riley; and Malabar, captained by Messina. Because they were smaller boats, Speculation and La Petite Bateau had an earlier start time, with the overall finish calculated mathematically.
But really, it wasn’t about the finish so much as it was about getting on the water and enjoying the thrill of sailing.
“What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?” said Messina.