Pandemic touches a variety of summer boating events

BROOKLIN – It’s no secret that the coronavirus—besides killing some 100,000 victims in the United States so far—will touch almost every element of summer including many of Maine’s iconic maritime activities. 

In Brooklin, the WoodenBoat School, for the first time since its founding in 1981, will not open for the summer. 

According to a statement from Rich Hilsinger, the school’s director, posted on its website, the restrictions imposed by Gov. Janet Mills to reduce the spread of COVID-19, particularly those relating to reduced occupancy and the 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state visitors, make it “irresponsible” to operate the WoodenBoat School, described as “part hotel, part campground, part summer camp (for adults!), part RV park and part shop ‘classroom’,” this summer. As a result, the school is postponing all on-site activities until next year. 

Lobster boat racing is as much a part of summer in Maine as lobster rolls and mosquitos, but this year things will be different at the races. 

Last week the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association released its calendar, with a photograph of boats racing off a starting line, announcing the dates for this summer’s 11 scheduled races and giving notice that the traditional season opener at Boothbay Harbor in mid-June and the Harpswell race originally set for July 26 had been canceled. The rest of the schedule—now opening at Rockland on June 27 and closing Aug. 16 with races in both Portland and Pemaquid (a rare twofer)—was still “subject to change.” 

Jon Johansen, president of the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association, reported on Facebook that talks were underway to combine the Rockland races with the Bass Harbor races currently scheduled for June 28. As of last weekendit appeared the effort was still a work in progress. 

As of Memorial Day, the Stonington race committee still had not announced whether it would hold the races on July 12 as scheduled, but the decision had already been made to eliminate all shoreside activities associated with the event that could draw a crowd. On Facebook, committee member Genevieve McDonald reported that the race organizers decided not to ask sponsors for contributions this year, so it appears there will be no prizes even if there are races. 

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic are having an impact on the sailing world as well. 

Each summer, Penobscot Bay and the Blue Hill Peninsula play host to a trio of classic sailing races around the first weekend in August: the Castine Classic Yacht Race; the Camden to Brooklin feeder race; and, largest of all, the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. 

The Castine race, frequently drawing a fleet of some 30 or more classic sailing yachts, is usually preceded by some sort of display of classic yachts in Castine Harbor and a seminar of interest to sailors at Maine Maritime Academy. 

The ERR, first raced with a handful of boats in 1985, now regularly attracts 100 or more wooden sailing yachts—and their crews—to the anchorage off the WoodenBoat School on the first Saturday of August. The school has traditionally served as host for the shoreside elements of the event—pre-race skippers meeting and post-race barbecue—that attract hundreds of sailors, their family members and friends—to the school grounds. Not this year. 

We are holding the ERR this year, but there will be no shoreside events at all,” Brooklin Boat Yard owner Steve White said last week. BBY and Rockport Marine are joint organizers of the event. 

WoodenBoat understandably doesn’t want anyone on their property at all, so we will probably move the finish line,” traditionally at the entrance to the harbor that is home to the school and its spacious anchorage, “to encourage boats to spent the night somewhere besides Great Harbor. 

White said that Center Harbor, where BBY is located, and the Benjamin River both offer good alternative anchorages for the racing fleetThe pre-race skippers meeting will be held by radio at the starting line to the west of Torrey Island just before the race. 

According to White, both the Castine Classic, racing down Penobscot Bay to Camden and Camden Feeder, racing back to Brooklin for the start of the ERR, will be run the same way. 

David Bicks, the principal organizer of the Castine Classic Regatta and its attendant events concurred that summer racing was likely to happen, but that it would be different from past years. 

“All the Classic Yacht Owners Association race organizers are talking, but I think everyone plans to do their races,” even if the fleet is smaller than ususal because of quarantine rules, Bicks said in an email last week. “The question is what we will do by way of shoreside festivities.” 

According to Bicks, Castine is unlikely to host its usual seminar, often devoted to classic yacht designers and featuring a panel of experts, but it is “likely” the race committee will organize “some kind of outside get-together with masks and distancing.” 


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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