Hieronymous, left, built by Ralph Stanley in Southwest Harbor, and Black Star split tacks off the northwest corner of Greening Island before the start of Saturday's Friendship sloop race. ISLANDER PHOTO BY STEPHEN RAPPAPORT

Hieronymous wins Friendship race

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — For the past 25 years, Friendship sloops have gathered on Mount Desert Island in July before heading to the westward to participate in the Friendship Sloop Society’s annual Rendezvous and race days.

That event, which brings together dozens of the elegant gaff-riggers, has been held in Rockland since 1995. It was started in 1961 in Friendship and moved to Boothbay Harbor in 1985 in search of more room for the growing fleet.

Last Saturday, 16 sloops were on hand for the 25th annual Southwest Harbor race, which usually takes the fleet from a start off Greening Island out into the Eastern or Western Way and possibly around Sutton Island before passing along the north shore of Greening to finish where it began. The race can last two or three hours, more or less, depending on the breeze.

Depending on the breeze was a mistake this year. The morning was gray, showery and still with a forecast for winds of five knots or less. The forecast was spot on. As the boats left their respective moorings and docks to head towards the starting line between Greening Island and the Claremont Hotel on Clark Point, the wind barely stirred. Some of the Friendships arrived on the scene under “iron topsail,” engine power.

With the wind “spotty” at best, according to rendezvous organizer Miff Lauriat, the race committee chose a short course “that did not exceed the boundaries of our own private breeze” west of Greening Island. From a starting line off Sand Point, the northwest corner of the island, the fleet ghosted along close-hauled to the red nun buoy marking the ledge at the southwest corner of the island and returned to the start, a distance of a little more than a mile.

With skipper Joe Neilson at the helm, Hieronymous, a 33-footer launched by Southwest Harbor boatbuilder Ralph Stanley in 1962, won the truncated drifter with an elapsed time of 18 minutes, 22 seconds. Gladiator, launched in 1902 and one of the oldest Friendship sloops still sailing, was just two seconds behind the winner.

“Our race was faster than an America’s Cup race,” Lauriat said in a Sunday email.

This year’s race committee included two Southwest Harbor boatbuilders, Don Ellis and Stanley, who is often credited with resurrecting the Friendship sloop from obscurity.

In addition to Hieronymous, another Stanley-built Friendship sloop, the 25-footer Endeavor launched in 1979, sailed in this year’s event and took third place.

The top three finishers in this year’s event all were wooden boats. The last boat across the line, the fiberglass Helen Brooks launched in 1970, won the event in 2012.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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