CASTINE — If the Maine Retired Skippers Race committee wants to adopt some music as a background score to the event, it might want to consider the 1942 Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn classic “I’ve Heard That Song Before” as an appropriate theme song.
Sailing under gray skies and a moderate southeasterly breeze last Saturday, Bob Scott’s NY 32 Falcon cruised to an easy win in the 68th annual Maine Retired Skippers Race, finishing a full seven minutes ahead of Alan Krulisch’s Cambria 40 Crackerjack.
The front of the fleet is familiar territory for the Sparkman & Stephens-designed sloop, whether her owner or some other old salt is at the helm. The yacht, appropriately enough, was launched decades ago in 1936.
Falcon won last year with Castine summer resident Bill Light driving and in 2016 with Scott at the tiller. Before that, the Castine-based classic yacht won in 2008, 2009 and 2014 with Castine artist and ship model builder John Gardner at the helm.
Early on Saturday chances that the race would get underway as scheduled at 1 p.m. looked dim. Penobscot Bay was cloaked in fog, there was no wind and the forecast called for a chance of thunder storms throughout the day.
By midday, though, the fog receded down the bay well below the Islesboro Ledge turning mark on the triangular course and a southeasterly wind piped up enough for skippers in the 14-boat fleet to head for the starting line off the Castine Harbor bell buoy with the reasonable certainty that anchors would not be needed to hold becalmed boats in place against the ebbing tide.
The Maine Retired Skippers Race is run in a pursuit format, with the slowest boat starting first and faster boats starting successively behind it at intervals based on their calculated rating. The first boat to finish the five-leg, 12-mile event wins.
The first boat, Secret Water, crossed the starting line of the triangular course just after 1:13 p.m. The scratch boat (fastest by rating), Chris Jeffrey’s J-105 Restless, started about 31 minutes later. Falcon was sandwiched in the middle of the fleet, starting at 1:27.
With the wind out of the southeast, the first leg carried the racers up Penobscot Bay toward a turning mark set off Turtle Head at the northern end of Islesboro. The final three legs stretched between the Castine bell and the Islesboro Ledge mark.
Just two hours, 10 minutes after starting, Falcon crossed the finish line of the race she has come to dominate, finishing almost exactly seven minutes ahead of the second place yacht, Crackerjack. Four minutes later, the Sparkman & Stephens-designed Mermaid crossed the line.
About 33 minutes after Falcon, at the back of the fleet, the handsome L. Francis Herreshoff-designed ketch Prudence crossed the line and earned her skipper, Chip Angell, the coveted Clam Hod trophy, given since the race began in 1952 to the skipper of the very last boat to finish.
The first race, sailed as a match race on Eggemoggin Reach, featured two skippers who were genuine, Maine-born retired blue-water sailors 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, the winner, sailed for Deer Isle in Consequence.
Like Maine itself, the race has changed. Skippers are no longer required to have been born in Maine or even to live in the Pine Tree State, as long as they have reached the age of 65. Most of the boats now have racing skippers who are recreational sailors rather than retired professional seamen.
One exception this year was Rosa, a Finnish 27-foot H-Boat sailed by Captain Peter Wilcox, for many years a skipper for Greenpeace and captain of its ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985 when it was sunk in Auckland, New Zealand by a bomb planted by French commandos.
His crew was Captain Andy Chase, nearing retirement from the faculty at Maine Maritime Academy. His seagoing experiences were the subject of a book by author John McPhee.