Marblehead Season Centerpiece >> Scuttlebutt Sailing News
It’s late July in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and the deep harbor mooring ground is packed from shore to shore with boats and crews preparing for the biggest regatta of the summer: the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series at Marblehead Race Week.
This annual race week, established in 1889, has a long tradition of fierce competition between local sailors, and many of those rivalries will continue this weekend when more than 150 boats take to the waters east of Marblehead Neck.
“This regatta is the centerpiece of our season,” said reigning Rhodes 19 class champion Kim Pandapas. . It’s really hard to come out of there with a win.
What makes it particularly difficult for Pandapas and his wife Christina is the high level of experience of its Rhodes 19 division, which has 25 depths and is full of crews who have spent decades mastering this boat with a deceptive simplicity.
“A lot of teams are sailing very well at the moment,” Pandapas said, citing rivals Peter Frisch and Seamus Hourihan. “They won our East Coast Championship [in nearby Manchester] in June and they not only won it, they dominated it.
This pair, says Pandapas, have been sailing together for eight years and “sail very fast and sail very smartly”. But there’s Nat Taylor and his dad Jim, who started the season late and were dominant in local races. “They too are going very fast,” says Pandapas. “They are late, but they arrived in their mid-season form and we won’t count them, that’s for sure.”
Pandapas and his wife have a lighter combined weight than many other teams and they prefer lighter winds, so they can hope the weekend forecast for sunshine and 10-knot breezes hold true. But even a favorable forecast is not enough to put him at ease.
“This fleet has always been tough,” he says. “There are two ways to win a regatta: one is to be the last man standing and the other is to simply go out and take it. Race Week is different because it has always been more of a war of attrition. I expect that to be the case, and like last year, it will come down to the final race. It’s four days and people are starting to get tired and it’s impossible not to shoot themselves in the foot once.
Local professional sailor, Tomas Hornos, competing in the 13-boat Etchells fleet, shares a similar sentiment as one of the key factors is always the weather.
“No two days are ever alike,” he says. “That’s what’s unique about Marblehead. This is an open ocean site so we are looking at longer range wind patterns – what will be the trend throughout the day. What is important is to have a good understanding of the probability of the wind and to look for the trend in the forecast models.
As an advice to visiting teams, of which there are many in the regatta, Hornos says there is generally more wind further from shore, particularly in the morning races, but keep a close eye on the right (near shore) later in the day.
Current is also an important factor, he adds. “People have the hardest time understanding it, but it’s actually quite simple: there’s a lot of water moving from Boston and Gloucester, so there’s not really a tidal effect, it’s just always tearing up.”
The Etchells fleet will be filled with top locals, as well as some top crews who have been training all winter in Florida and will compete in the Helly Hansen World Sailing Regatta for a coveted spot at the upcoming Etchells World Championship in England in September.
The same goes for the regatta’s J/70 fleet, in which 31 teams will compete for a place in the class World Championships in Monaco in October. As has become the norm with J/70 class racing, the fleet is rich with professional teams – only eight current teams currently qualify as amateurs (Corinthian) in what will also serve as the J/70 New Championship England.
While the J/70s have attracted a large national contingent, Marblehead’s Town class continues to be the fastest growing one-design fleet in the region. Each year, the class grows by one unit thanks to loyal shipwright Bart Snow who seeks out abandoned towns (or ones that need a little basic TLC), repairs them, and brings them back into action.
With Marblehead’s mooring waiting list stretching back decades, Town-class moorings in the harbor’s shallow waters allow sailors new and old to take part in weekend races.
“It’s amazing that the class continues to grow one by one,” says Berit Solstad, Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta class champion from 2021, “a lot of it is because of Bart and all the things that people do to bring new sailors into the class, run clinics, and get everyone to up their game and sail their boat better.
The International One Design class, which has nine entries and produced last year’s winner (Bill Widnall’s Javelin), will continue its long tradition of following Widnall, a magician on the racetrack.
The IODs and Rhodes 19s will kick off the regatta early with races on Thursday 28th July, while the remaining keelboat classes (J/105 and Viper 640) will begin racing on Friday 29th July. The ILCA Dinghy Race is only held on Saturday and Sunday (July 30-31) and Saturday also includes the North Sails Rally Race, a one-day distance race.
All shore activities, registrations and parties will be hosted at the Boston Yacht Club and the on-water races are supported by the best race management teams at Eastern Yacht Club, Corinthian Yacht Club and Boston Yacht Club.
The race culminates in the selection of the overall winner of the regatta to compete in the Helly Hansen Sailing World Caribbean Championship, hosted by Sunsail, in October in the British Virgin Islands.
Formerly known as NOOD, the National Offshore One Design Series was founded in 1988 and continues as the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in 2022 at five venues:
• February 18-20: St. Petersburg, Florida
• March 25-27 – San Diego, California
• May 13-15: Annapolis, MD
• June 10-12 – Chicago, IL
• July 28-31 – Marblehead, MA
Source: Sarah Renz, Bonnier