CASTINE — Fifteen boats came to the starting line of the 64th edition of the Maine Retired Skippers Race on Saturday and, though the fleet was small, the skippers and their crews enjoyed some of the closest racing in years.
With a 10-knot southwesterly and an ebbing tide, just 35 minutes passed between the 1 p.m. start of the first boat, Bill and Caroline Zuber’s classic Friendship sloop Gladiator, and the last and presumably fastest boat in the fleet, Maine Maritime Academy’s newly acquired J/36 Breakaway.
By 4:14, the entire fleet had finished, with just 26 minutes separating the winner, Breakaway, skippered by Edmund C. Tarbell, who donated the boat to MMA this spring, and the last boat across, Hibou, sailed by last year’s winning skipper, John Gardner of Castine.
Gladiator finished eighth, about 13 minutes off the pace, but sailed a terrific race. The big, gaff-rigged sloop led throughout the first three legs of the five-leg race. It was only on the fourth leg, a beat toward Islesford Ledge in a softening breeze, that the 102-year-old classic lost the lead, race committee chairman Butch Minson said Monday.
Much the same fate befell Hibou and Gardner, who took home the Clam Hod awarded to the last place skipper.
Minson finished third overall in Cat’s Paw, four minutes behind Breakaway and just one minute behind skipper Gary Cran, second in Jabberwocky II for the second straight year.
Though the clear weather and moderate breeze made for fine sailing, this year’s race had its drama.
Driving toward the starting line, skipper Richard Wiken had a fitting let go at the base of the headstay on his 34-footer Morning Star. The air was light and the sloop was flying a large jib on a roller furling rig that was suddenly thrashing around in midair.
With some nifty boat handling, Wiken and his crew corralled the flailing headstay, reattached the furling drum and started just four minutes late.
Out on Penobscot Bay, skipper Bill Pickford’s Apogee lost about 10 minutes trying to get free from some lobster gear. Without that delay, Minson said, the 37-footer might have edged Cahoots for fourth place.
While the race itself was a winner, the size of the fleet was troubling. Just a few years ago, as recently as 2008, the entry list for the Retired Skippers Race numbered more than 40.
“The attendance was a little off,” said Jim Raber, who supervised the starts from the committee boat Hannah provided by MMA.
Some of the decline over the past few years, Minson said, might have been the product of a conflict with another large event, the PenBay Rendezvous, held on Penobscot Bay on the same weekend as the Retired Skippers Race. This year, though, there was no rendezvous on the racing calendar.
According to Minson, in recent years shrinking attendance has been a problem at large regattas all around Maine. Last year, he said, just 25 boats sailed in the Monhegan Island Race, long a major event on the Gulf of Maine Ocean Racing Association’s summer circuit. Twenty-five years ago, Minson said, more than 100 boats entered the event.
Among the 64th annual Maine Retired Skippers Race awards:
HENRY WHITNEY CHALLENGE CUP: first place captain, Edmund C. Tarbell.
GITINA/DAY TROPHY: first place yacht owner, Maine Maritime Academy.
CAPTAIN WILLIAM ABBOTT TROPHY: first woman skipper to finish, Ann Ashton.
MACE EATON TROPHY: captain of the first planked wooden boat to finish, Ann Ashton on Phalarope.
RETIRED SKIPPERS RACE COMMITTEE TROPHY: captain of the fastest boat in the race, handicap not withstanding, Edmund C. Tarbell.
CLAM HOD: skipper of the last boat to finish, John Gardner.
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