”Marianne,” one of the Museum’s Log Canoes
How do you get a hundred or so independent-minded skippers to sail their boats in a tight formation in the same general direction for a few miles?
Tell them it’s a race.
After lunch on Saturday is the annual sailing race. For many, this is the highlight of the whole Festival every year. In truth, it’s more a glorious parade than a race, but no one would show up for a parade. Still, it’s very, very low key. There are crude groupings of somewhat similar boats for awarding prizes and bragging rights, but the categories seems to change at the whim of the Race Committee before, during and after the race. In other words, it’s just too informal to get worked up over, so everyone has a blast. There are no protest flags, no Portsmouth Numbers, and no rules beyond “Start here. Go there as fast as you can. Don’t hurt anybody. Have fun.” The result is enough beautiful traditional canvas in a small space to blanket a football field.
Still, there are some longterm, unstated rivalries between sailors to keep things exciting. Everybody has somebody they want to beat. And there’s something about a race that taps into a deep-rooted instinct in each of us to try and go faster than the next guy. In the days of sail-driven fishing schooners, getting to port first meant the difference between bringing home the bacon or not. In a still more primitive era, it made the difference between becoming the bacon or not. After a few thousand years it’s just genetic. Let another sail approach over the horizon on an otherwise empty sea, and adrenalin levels automatically spike in every sailor, and a race is on.
The weather has been perfect each of the last three years we’ve been. The wind usually flattens out around mid-day, before a shift that comes toward evening. Two years ago, the wind suddenly died completely just before the start. All the boats were clumped together bumping at the starting line when the gun went off, and everyone sat stunned for a moment in confused silence while nothing happened. Then a shout went out as crews of boats in the back of the pack began clawing their way hand over rail to the front, pushing other boats aside and pulling them back. Mayhem ensued. Some crews even formed boarding parties and changed boats. It was quite entertaining.
This year we had a nice steady, gentle breeze. That’s when chaos at the start takes another form, as boats of every size and shape (and skill level) crisscross rapidly in very close proximity, jockeying for the best possible position when the gun goes off. It can be very exciting, and even in a light breeze there are often close calls.
We had planned to go out with Kevin Brennan on his Navigator Slip Jig for the first time, again, but couldn’t find him in the confusion before the race. We also had a peg-legged crew mate who couldn’t stay ashore alone and needed to come along in his personal ditty bag. Doug Oeller, camping next to us, also happens to be a vet, and pet friendly, so offered once again to take us on.
He insists that his boat is the ideal place from which to view and photograph the race, because if we start out near the front, eventually you have good views of every boat, from the front and the rear, as they all pass by on the way to the finish. His Marsh Cat Comfort is also a wide, dry, stable platform, ideal for working a camera. I believe he may be prone to boasting, however, because there were, in point of fact, a few boats behind us when we crossed the finish line.
Still, we shot a lot of photos and a fair amount of video during the race. The gallery, already mentioned, is here:
The video is below. We couldn’t get everyone, since some of the more spry, strategic craft began ahead of us and we never saw them again. However, boats that came alongside at any point in the race received a salvo of camera shots and footage.
Thanks again, Doug, for a great time.
I’m still trying to figure out how I’ll juggle a camera next year, when I’m the one who has to tend the tiller and sheet, and still maintain an acceptable number of collisions.
melonseed skiff, mellonseed skiff, melon seed, mellon seed