MOUNT DESERT — With the oddest summer sailing season in memory winding down, the Northeast Harbor Fleet put the wrapper on its 2020 racing season last Sunday with the annual Warburg Cup regatta. It was a doozy.
After a Saturday that featured torrential rain Downeast, Sunday brought blue skies and blustery winds to the waters around Mount Desert Island. According to the National Weather Service, during most of the morning and afternoon, a west wind averaged 12 to 15 miles per hour. Between 10 a.m. and the end of the afternoon, gusts steadily topped 20 miles per hour with frequent gusts in the 25-mph range.
Tempest notwithstanding, NEH Fleet sailing master Fran Charles was able to send a rugged, if reduced, fleet out to vie for the Warburg Trophy.
Most yacht clubs have a sailing master of some sort who oversees their on the water activities, but few have the background, or are as fluent writers, as Charles, whose “real” job is sailing master at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he started as varsity sailing coach in 1992. Charles has been the sailing master for the Northeast Harbor Fleet since 2009.
Now, just the fourth sailing master at the college in the past 85 years, Charles is responsible for MIT’s entire recreational sailing program with over 2,000 members using the fleet of over 100 boats.
Charles is a certified umpire for team racing and is often volunteering to officiate at U.S. National and World Championships. The organizers of junior, national and world level sailing events frequently recruit Charles to exercise his race management skills demonstrated for the past several years by the Fleet’s extensive and successful summer regatta program.
Here is a summary of what Charles described as a “wonderfully exciting day to be out sailing on the waters of MDI.”
Despite the forecast of “a memorable breeze,” proven correct in the event, six cruising sailboats and one Luders 16 daysailer came to the starting line for the day’s two races honoring the memory of Eric and Max Warburg.
Race number one was sailed pursuit style—with the slowest boat starting first.
After a downwind start near the Fleet facilities on Gilpatrick Cove, the boats raced to the green can northeast of Islesford, sailing along either shore of Sutton Island on the long run during which “we witnessed a spectacular wipeout by the scratch boat, Tio Loco, which must have had everyone hanging on for their lives with the rigging almost in the water.”
Surprisingly, the rugged conditions favored the smallest boat in the race, Domino, a Luders 16 sailed solo and without spinnaker by Ned Johnston.
“Ned was untouchable. Nobody could reel him in over the 11-mile course,” Charles said, and Domino won the pursuit race during which “sailors got washed overboard and retrieved and the tension on the lines and sheets felt like you were holding a pipe.”
Before the day’s second race, sailed using a time handicap rather than the pursuit formula, “there was plenty of wrangling as sailors tried to reduce sail area with a reef or two before starting.”
According to Charles, Ranger, a Morris 42X sailed by Ken Weg, made exactly the right choice in balancing a smaller headsail and the correct amount of reef in the mainsail and “hit the ball out of the park with an almost seven-minute victory on corrected time.”
Charles provided a colorful description of the race.
“All remaining boats sailed in a very strong breeze from Bracy Cove (between Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor) up to the entrance of Somes Sound, with Tio Loco doing their best to stay out of the strongly ebbing current in along the Northeast Harbor shoreline.
“A long run to Islesford saw the boats trying to sail low to keep their jib sails winging to windward. Nobody dared set a spinnaker. Dreadnought (a Taylor 49 built at Brooklin Boat yard and sailed by Joe Weber) had a bit too much sail up and was getting blown over frequently in the gale.
“A second windward leg into Southwest Harbor ended the race and the season for the cruising class sailors with lots of stories to tell during the short winter days and long nights which will be upon us soon.”
Domino, winner of the day’s first race, suffered a broken backstay and was forced to retire.