CASTINE — It was still warm in the middle of the month as 10 collegiate teams, including one from Maine Maritime Academy, met in Annapolis to contest the McMillan Cup aboard the U.S. Naval Academy’s fleet of Navy 44 sloops on the weekend of Oct. 19 and 20.
The two-day event offered significant strategic and tactical challenges to the sailors but, at the end of the weekend, the Middies came out on top and the Mariners finished at the bottom of the fleet.
According to Naval Academy sailing coach and regatta chair Jahn Tihansky, while Saturday’s forecast was for a tough day of light air, a southerly wind built slowly throughout the day and the fleet sailed in shifty winds with speeds that increased from the mid-single digits to the low teens.
The University of Rhode Island won the first race of the day but was one point behind Navy at the end of the day.
On Sunday, the wind started out at 14 knots and slowly built to the mid-20s as the remnants of Tropical Storm Nestor passed through the region unleashing significant rain.
By the last of the day’s three races, the breeze piped up into the low 20s and the soaked and weary crews were happy to see the no spinnaker restriction imposed along with no genoas. Most teams also tucked reefs in their mains to keep their boat manageable.
Sailing in really rugged conditions, the Middies had three bullets to cement their McMillan Cup win. The Mariners finished the day with three last-place finishes — a testament to the pluck of a very inexperienced crew sailing an unfamiliar big boat in tough conditions without flinching.
The Mariners are slated to return to Navy this coming weekend to again race Navy 44s in the two-day Kennedy Cup regatta.
First sailed in 1930, the McMillan Cup Regatta is the oldest collegiate sailing event. Originally an intercollegiate large yacht racing event for the New England and Middle Atlantic states, it was sailed on the East Coast.
After World War II, it became apparent that the competing colleges would have difficulty in obtaining sufficient boats to carry the McMillan Cup. In 1950, the Naval Academy offered its 44-foot Luders yawls for Intercollegiate Yacht Racing Association (ICYRA-now ICSA) competition. Since then, the regatta has been a Chesapeake Bay event.
For the first nine years of its existence, Ivy League colleges won the McMillan, Princeton taking four of the events. It wasn’t until 1939 that a non-Ivy school, Williams College, won the regatta, but it was a non-Ivy win only by degree.
Williams is one of the “Little Three” colleges, with Wesleyan and Amherst, that formed the “Triangular League” athletic conference in 1899 and are often referred to as the “Little Ivies.”
In 1943, Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the first non-Ivy winner and in 1945 the U.S. Coast Guard Academy was the first service academy winner. It wasn’t until 1970 that a non-Ivy school that wasn’t a service or merchant marine academy, the University of Rhode Island, won the McMillan Cup.