CASTINE – The Castine Classic Yacht Race has been part of competitive sailing on Penobscot Bay since at least 1999 and so it will be this year too, though the COVID-19 pandemic has already had an impact on the event.
“We’re running the race as ever,” event chairman David Bicks said Monday morning, “but there will be no shoreside festivities.”
For the past several years, Bicks and the host Castine Yacht Club have organized a series of pre-race lectures at Maine Maritime Academy featuring noted yacht designers, historians and sailors, as well as waterfront exhibits of classic boats. There will be none of that this year. Instead, the first official event will be a skippers meeting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the yacht club, with the first of the race’s four scheduled starts—one for each of four classes—set for noon near the Castine bell buoy off Dice’s Head.
Besides a lack of shoreside activities, the Castine Classic will, at least as of Monday morning’s tally, lack the large fleet the event usually attracts.
Last year, 36 sailing yachts crossed the starting line. At least three were more than a century old. Mashnee, a 47-foot Herreshoff Buzzards Bay 30 first launched in 1902 was the oldest boat in the fleet followed by Alera, a 43-foot Herreshoff New York 30 launched in 1904. This year, Bicks said, as of Monday morning only 14 boats had registered for the race. Of those, four sail in the Spirit of Tradition class for modern boats designed to reflect a traditional aesthetic.
This year’s Spirit of Tradition entries include Vortex, Outlier and Rascal, all built by Brooklin Boat Yard, and Restive, launched in 2006. According to Bicks, few if any of the largest and oldest classic yachts will be on hand.
The Castine Classic course runs down eastern Penobscot Bay, then across the bay to finish off Camden. On Friday, many of the boats from the Castine fleet will race from Camden to Brooklin to be on hand for Saturday’s 36th annual Eggemoggin Reach Regatta.
Last year, 108 classic wooden boats signed up for the race that starts off the Torrey Islands in the reach, sails out into Jericho Bay, and finishes between Naskeag Point and Little Babson Island at the entrance to the harbor that is home to WoodenBoat Magazine and the WoodenBoat School. About 100 actually crossed the starting line and 98 finished the race.
As of Monday morning, 60 boats had entered this year’s race.
For the 36th edition of the ERR, a few things will be different than at past events.
The biggest change is that the WoodenBoat campus is strictly off limits to racing sailors and spectators. That means no onshore skippers’ meeting and no onshore activities—post-race party, crew swaps, strolls to the Brooklin General Store or anywhere else. Race organizers have already advised entrants that, while they may anchor or moor in the WoodenBoat Harbor, rafting of two or more boats is prohibited. That could mean that some boats will have to spend the night anchored in Center Harbor, the Benjamin River or even farther afield.
The actual race will, weather permitting, get under way at 10 a.m. Saturday with the start of the first two classes in the racing fleet. The remaining six classes are scheduled to start at 10-minute intervals with the biggest Spirit of Tradition boats going off at 11:50 a.m.
This year, like the 9 a.m. skippers’ meeting, the scheduled 6 p.m. awards ceremony will be held via VHF radio on channel 65A.