Winter Comes Knocking

As winter pushes into New England, Mark Pillsbury looks back at an idyllic summer summer regatta. "Editor's Log" from our December 2011 issue.

eggemoggin reach regatta

Billy Black

Just about the time you pick up this month’s_ CW_, old Mr. Sun will be kissing the Tropic of Capricorn hello. I hate when that happens, but as winter sets in, at least I can cross off one adventure that’s been on The List way too long. This past summer, I got my chance to sail in the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta.

The Reach is an idyllic slice of Maine’s Penobscot Bay, and each year since 1985, wooden boats have gathered there for what’s turned into a legendary race, parade, and beauty contest. Organized—and still orchestrated—by Steve White, the owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, 13 boats showed up that first year. The idea was to host an event where wooden-boat owners could get together, joust, and enjoy each other’s company at the party afterward. In the years since, both regatta and party have grown, and so too, I’d wager, has the size of the bank accounts backing many of today’s entrants.

Festivities now begin midweek in Castine, with a race to Camden, and from there, it’s on to Brooklin. By Friday night, the anchorage out in front of the Wooden Boat School is termite heaven, filled with exquisite sloops, ketches, yawls, and schooners, some launched a century or more ago.

This year, 103 boats were present for the start on Saturday morning, and thanks to a call made to Steve White, I was aboard Wild Horses, one of the two 76-foot W Class boats that would vie for a trophy in the Spirit of Tradition class. I'd joined owner Donald Tofias and his crew the day before in Camden. The ride to Brooklin had been spectacular. A moderate breeze slowly filled in as the fleet left the harbor. With the Camden Hills behind us, we wove through pine-covered granite islands, past Stonington and Merchants Row, holding off a challenge by Donald's W 76 sister ship, W_hite Wings_, and the latest entry to his W fleet, the 37-foot—and very quick—Race Horse.

With many of the spars now too tall to fit under the bridge at the far end of the Reach, the present-day regatta has for several years followed a fixed set of marks and rocks out into open water. With nearly no wind for the start on Saturday morning, the several classes piled up near the committee boat. The Ws were among the last to start, and right ahead of us in the starting sequence was Spartan, the just-refit New York 50 and the belle of this particular ball. As the breeze piped up and her clouds of sail filled, she was off, as was the rest of the fleet, including Wild Horses.

Our closehauled course became a reach as the wind clocked, and soon we were rolling past the shorter waterlines, our sails full and rail down. Donald, at the wheel, delivered an endless monologue on racing, wooden boats, their owners, and the crews he’d invited aboard from local sailing programs in Castine, Camden, and the Maine Maritime Academy.

Me? I was a kid in a candy store, determined to take in enough sweet treats to last a long New England winter.