Good Reason to Sail

After two days of racing, Valiant takes to sea once again, this time with patients and doctors as crew.


After two days of racing, Valiant takes to sea once again, this time with patients and doctors as crew.Courtesy of Richard Groome

On even a quiet summer weekend, the harbor in Marblehead, Massachusetts, is a pretty busy place, what with three yacht clubs providing starting lines enough to keep a protest committee busy for a month of Sundays. But on this particular Saturday in early August, “nuts” would be the word I’d use to describe the scene unfolding in the shadow of Chandler Hovey Light. Cruisers were daysailing; Town Class sloops were in town for the nationals; another starting line off to the side attracted little raceboats like a back-porch light beckons moths; far off in the distance, the International One Designs were grouping up; sport-fishing boats roared past; and right in the midst of it all, drop-dead gorgeous sailboats awaited the noon start of the Panerai-sponsored Corinthian Classic Yacht Regatta.

I'm sure there were ample rules of the road to keep order, but as we motored out of the harbor and I took the helm of the 37-foot Sea Robin—Ted Hood's first foray into fiberglass and originally launched as Robin Too—to give owner Russ MacPherson a chance to sort out equipment and crew, my creed was a simple paraphrase of the Golden Rule: "Give way to others as they would give way unto you."

All around us, crews hoisted sails on this splendid morning. Old wooden sloops and gaff-rigged cutters, in a class of their own, sailed by as the 65-foot schooner Juno raised its canvas. Nearby, the mast of the 12-Meter Valiant, in the Spirit of Tradition class, tilted gracefully on the horizon as she reached back and forth; she'd be the last to start, nearly an hour later than the first boat in this pursuit race. Other classes included ours, for Classic Plastics, and the IODs, which would join us Sunday.

The first leg took us south, to a buoy near Boston Harbor. As we rounded, near the head of the pack, the faster boats were catching up quickly; by the next mark, with the leaders headed back to Marblehead, we had our hands full as Juno barreled by us with a full press of sail and several of the other gaffers on her heels. Racing on the second day took place along the same roughly 15-mile course, and conditions again guaranteed a spirited parade of sail, with Juno winning top honors and her skipper taking home a distinctive Panerai watch for his efforts.

This regatta was the first in a three-race series that this year included the Opera House Cup in Nantucket and the Museum of Yachting’s Classic Yacht Regatta in Newport. For lovers of beautiful boats, the eye candy couldn’t have been better.

But what I found more intriguing than all this was Panerai’s charity of choice for the events: Sail 4 Cancer, an organization that arranges respite sailing and cruise trips for cancer patients and their families. On Monday following our regatta, several patients and their doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital spent the day out on Valiant, and for a few tacks and reaches, they were simply sailors rather than cancer fighters.

After a long week at work, noted the charity’s Richard Groome, sailors enjoy their boats because they can set sail and think about other things. He said that Sail 4 Cancer “is all about improving the quality of life in the here and now” for those in a diffcult place in their lives.“If your day job is cancer,” he continued, “you get the chance to go out on the water and forget about everything else.”