CASTINE — Sixty-eight years after two old salts, one from Stonington the other from Bucksport, climbed aboard a couple of sailboats to settle the question of which of the towns produced “real” sailormen, a fleet of perhaps a dozen boats will sail Saturday, weather allowing, in the 67th edition of the Maine Retired Skippers Race.
The captain of each boat must have attained the venerable age of 65. The skippers and their crews are scheduled to gather on the Maine Maritime Academy waterfront for coffee and donuts at 9 a.m. A skippers meeting is set for 9:30 at the Payson Boat House.
The starting gun for the first boat is scheduled for 1 p.m. off the Castine Harbor entrance buoy.
First sailed on Eggemoggin Reach in the autumn of 1952, the inaugural race featured two genuine retired blue-water skippers, each taking the helm of identical Controversy sloops designed by E. Farnham Butler of the Mount Desert Yacht Yard.
Captain Frank Delano represented Bucksport in Controversy. Captain Phillip Haskell sailed for Deer Isle in Consequence.
Haskell won, and presented Delano with a clam hod, “so that he could earn his living digging clams,” as a consolation prize. Haskell himself won the Captain Henry Whitney Challenge Cup. To this day, the Whitney Cup and the clam hod remain the prizes for the first place and last place skippers in the race.
The first few races were sailed in different venues — on Eggemoggin Reach or Blue Hill Bay and off Mount Desert Island. Since 1960, the race has been sailed on Penobscot Bay and hosted by Maine Maritime Academy.
The Retired Skippers Race is sailed in pursuit race format, with the slowest boat starting first. Each skipper’s objective is to pass all those ahead and to be first to cross the finish line.
The course is a five-leg, 12-mile triangle, which begins at the entrance to Castine Harbor, heads for Turtle Head on Islesboro or a mark set of the Islesboro Ledge buoy, along the island shore, then back to Castine. The choice of direction for the first leg — a beat to weather — depends on the wind. The fourth and fifth legs, respectively, reverse and repeat the third leg.
Last year, lack of wind forced the race to be shortened to just three legs.
In its early incarnations, the race called for skippers to have been born in Maine, or at least to have lived in the Pine Tree State for 20 years or more, and have reached the age of 65. For the past several years, though, the only requirements for a skipper to qualify, other than having reached the age at which Medicare becomes available, is to possess sufficient expertise and strength to take the helm for the first and last legs of the race.
A dozen boats came to the starting line last year. In a race shortened by lack of wind, Cat’s Paw, under the command of Verona Island skipper and retired MMA sailing coach Butch Minson, won the day on corrected time. That marked the first time in several years that the winner was determined based on corrected time around the course. For his efforts, Minson, who died last fall, won the Henry Whitney Challenge Cup, the Gitana/Day Trophy and the Retired Skippers Race Committee Trophy.
Castine skipper Ed Miller won the Mace Eaton Trophy for his command of the New York 32 Falcon, the first planked wooden boat to finish, and the sixth to finish overall.
The Clam Hod, awarded to the last-place-finisher, was won by Castine skipper Don Pierce, who commanded the sloop Hilaritas.