SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Friendship sloops from along the New England coast will converge on Southwest Harbor for the 26th annual Southwest Harbor Rendezvous on Saturday.
The gathering features a “friendly” race that starts between Clark Point and Greening Island and can be easily viewed from the shore. The gettogether is a precursor to the 58th annual Friendship Sloop Society Rendezvous to be held in Rockland July 19 through 21.
The distinctive gaff-rigged Friendship sloops are named for the Maine town where they were first built in the latter years of the 19th Century. They were originally used for lobstering but have long been popular with traditional sailing enthusiasts.
The Friendship Sloop Society was organized by recreational sloop sailors in 1961. Fourteen boats took part in its first race, sailed off Friendship. The annual rendezvous was held there until 1985 when it moved to Boothbay Harbor to accommodate a larger fleet. The event moved to Rockland in 1995.
Last November, Scott Martin of Tremont took over organizing duties from Miff Lauriat, who first orchestrated the Southwest Harbor gathering two and a half decades ago. Martin said the only change he may make to the event is a short parade to show off the boats prior to the race.
Lauriat is a veteran racer and has won the class for boats 25 feet long or less at the Rockland race 23 times with his Jarvis Newman-built fiberglass sloop Salatia.
Twelve of the more than 240 active Friendship sloops are moored in Southwest Harbor, with three more calling other harbors on Mount Desert Island home. This unusually high density made organizing a rendezvous easy, Lauriat said last year.
Martin owns Eden, which is moored beside Salatia in Southwest Harbor. Both boats will be on the line for this year’s race. Martin won the race in 2016.
As of last week, only six boats had registered for Saturday’s race, Martin said, but more are expected to register closer to the date. He expects 15 to 20 boats on the starting line.
Sixteen boats took part last year. Joe Neilson’s Hieronymous, launched by Ralph Stanley in 1962, was the winner.
Martin said the race is friendly, but still competitive. Every boat sets sail at the same time and there are no scoring handicaps. The only award is bragging rights and the blast of the cannon at the end.
“Miff’s idea and energy was to keep it a friendly race,” he said. “It’s basically to get all of the anxiety out.”
The Southwest Harbor Rendezvous and race does not have a formal relationship with the Rockland events. The race serves as a tune-up for local sloops before going to Rockland for the regatta. The boats based on Mount Desert Island that sail charters or regular passenger trips usually participate, too. These include Surprise, Alice E., Helen Brooks and Chrissy.
Martin said this race is the “deadline day” for getting his boat in the water.
“Thank God for this race or else I would never have my boat in [the water] in time,” Martin said.