BROOKLIN — Since its start in 1985, the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta has grown into the highlight of Maine’s summer yacht racing season.
For nearly 30 years, the WoodenBoat School has served as the base for the race’s shoreside activities: a gathering place for crew members joining boats in the racing fleet anchored off the school’s dock in Great Cove, site of the pre-race skipper’s meeting and, perhaps most important, the scene of the post-race party and prize ceremony.
This year, the show will still go on, but thanks to the coronavirus pandemic things will be different at the ERR and at several other sailing events at yacht clubs and sailing venues up and down the coast.
In a letter sent to potential race entrants last month, the regatta organizers delivered the news.
“We will race the familiar course, but all shoreside activities are canceled,” and spectators, picnickers and racers are asked to stay off the school’s property, the letter said. That means no use of the school’s bathrooms, no camping or vehicle access, and no crossing school property to walk to town.
“We have committed to stay entirely off WoodenBoat’s campus and shore,” the ERR organizers wrote. “Plan to be onboard the boats both nights or to sail to another harbor after racing.”
The Brooklin event is the capstone of a four-day celebration of classic yacht racing that was slated to begin the preceding Wednesday, July 29, in Castine Harbor with an exhibit at the town dock and a symposium at Maine Maritime Academy as precursors to the 21st annual Castine Classic Yacht Race down Penobscot Bay to Camden on Thursday. Things have changed, according to race chairman David Bicks.
The Castine-to-Camden race is on, he said, but because of the pandemic, the usual MMA symposium, town dock exhibition and the cocktail reception at the host Castine Yacht Club have all been canceled.
“COVID will eat into our fleet,” Bicks said Monday morning. “I anticipate that we will have about 20 yachts,” down from the usual fleet of nearly 40. “But we’ll still have great competition,” including Spartan, a 72-foot Herreshoff gaff sloop built in 1913 and still racing on the classic yacht circuit.
Many of the yachts that sail in the Castine Classic also race in the ERR. Traditionally, those boats have sailed on the intervening Friday in a Camden-to-Brooklin “feeder race” hosted by the Camden Yacht Club.
That event is still on the schedule but the two-race series that immediately precedes the feeder race, the fifth annual Camden Classics Cup regatta, has been postponed until next year. The Friendship Sloop Regatta also has been canceled this year due to the pandemic.
Like its counterpart in Castine, and many other yacht clubs along the coast, Camden Yacht Club has adopted a comprehensive set of rules for sailors — visiting or otherwise — to reduce the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus.
In Castine, all race participants will have to comply with any state quarantine rules in effect and social distancing and masks are required everywhere on the CYC premises. Yachts visiting the club are prohibited from rafting up — tying up alongside one another — at anchor or on a mooring in the harbor.
The pandemic affected Hancock County’s yacht clubs in different ways.
At the Bucks Harbor Yacht Club, visiting sailors won’t be allowed to come ashore, although the club may have a guest mooring available.
Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club in Blue Hill, the Northeast Harbor Fleet, the Winter Harbor Yacht club and others between Penobscot Bay and Schoodic Point have adopted policies aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing requirements, the use of masks and limiting the number of people on the docks at any one time.
All the clubs continue to maintain active racing schedules and most have also found ways to continue their junior sailing programs.