CASTINE — Early Saturday morning, it looked like the Maine Retired Skippers Race was going to be a washout.
Thick fog made Penobscot Bay invisible from the Maine Maritime Academy waterfront to the crews of the dozen boats registered for the event who were gathered for the pre-race skippers’ meeting. The forecast also called for thunderstorms throughout much of the day.
By late morning, though, the threat of storms that would have kept the MMA-supplied committee boat at the dock had passed, a building northerly breeze began to push the fog out to sea and despite the damp weather the race was on for the 67th year.
A little more than three hours after the start, the winner was Bob Scott’s Sparkman & Stephens-designed NY 32 Falcon, skippered by Castine summer resident Bill Light.
Scott and Falcon have been there before. The boat won the Retired Skippers Race in 2008, 2009 and 2015 with John Gardner at the helm and again in 2016 skippered by Ed Miller.
For many years, the starting line for the 12-mile, five-leg triangular course on eastern Penobscot Bay ran between the bell buoy at the entrance to Castine Harbor and an anchored committee boat. More recently, the line has been set between a pair of soft, floating racing marks to reduce the risk of racers struggling with light airs and strong tides colliding with what one race committee member called “relatively immovable objects.”
This year, as the 1 p.m. start approached, a building northerly gave the fleet plenty of push for a reaching start heading down the bay, against a coming tide, toward the first mark off Isleboro.
Following the pursuit format, the slowest boat in the race, Northern Light, started first, at 1 p.m., followed at intervals determined by a handicap rating formula by the faster boats. Falcon started third, 17 minutes later.
With only 11 of the 12 entrants actually racing, the entire starting sequence lasted just over 31 minutes, and the race didn’t last especially long either. The winner crossed the finish line just over 3 hours 20 minutes after starting and only 26 minutes separated the first and last boats in the fleet.
In some past years that interval has been measured in hours.
The Retired Skippers Race — in which the captains must be at least 65 years old — regularly attracts interesting boats, but this year the fleet was joined by the historic schooner Stephen Taber.
Launched in 1871, the Rockland-based windjammer is the oldest documented sailing vessel in continuous service in the United States, and is a National Historic Landmark.
With skipper Pamela Pollak at the helm, the 115-foot schooner finished last, sailing the course in just over 3 hours, 46 minutes in conditions not really suited to her. Pollak won the coveted Clam Hod, awarded to the skipper of the last boat across the finish line.
The Retired Skippers Race offers a plethora of awards, but one that was not handed out this year was the Willard Kane Trophy, given to recognize “all skippers who have competed in 10 races.”
No one qualified this time around, a reflection, perhaps, of the demographic the award is aimed at.