Sailboat racing series begins June 26

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PROVINCETOWN – There may be tacking duels in Provincetown Harbor this summer. This is when two or more sailboats move side by side, jostling each other to position themselves towards the end of a race. Tackling duels, as well as other navigational maneuvers, are nothing out of the ordinary in the Provincetown Yacht Club’s summer racing series.

After a slack year in 2020, there will be a full racing season on Saturday starting June 26 at 1 p.m. and ending September 11. The course in the harbor ranges from 2 to 12 miles, depending on the wind conditions.

Racers are usually club members or friends of members who have been invited to enter a boat in a race. The two classes of boats are dinghies (less than 20 feet) and keelboats (more than 20 feet).

Provincetown Harbor is “ideal” for racing, says a member of the Yacht Club. (Photo Nancy Bloom)

“We have a mix of fairly experienced runners and some who are just newbies,” said Jack Peak, the club’s vice-comodore. He and a buddy started the show 8 or 10 years ago, he said.

Ray Tobias, who spends his summers in Provincetown, has been sailing for over 60 years. He joined the Yacht Club six years ago because of racing.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I have personally participated in international races, regional races and club races. This city has a great history of sailing and it’s just fun. The port is ideal.

Each boat must have a handicap number. Performance Handicap Racing Fleet New England is an independent authority which issues fleet numbers according to the type of boat. All boats entered in the Provincetown Race Series must be approved by the Yacht Club Race Committee.

A very fast sailboat will have a low handicap; a slower sailboat will have a higher one. The skipper of the faster boat has less time to complete the race than the skipper of the slower boat. The time allotted varies depending on the specifications of the boat.

“It gives people a chance to win a race who don’t have a fast boat,” Peak said.

Thus, a boat with a low handicap could finish first but still lose if a boat with a higher handicap finishes in some time behind her. The handicap system puts all boats on a relatively even playing field. The races come down to which skipper makes the fewest mistakes and runs the cleanest race.

Peak said he expects eight to ten boats on the water for each race this season. It can become competitive.

“The caliber of racing here is good,” said Tobias.

There are certain things that have to happen before a race starts. A race committee on the water determines the best course of the day depending on the wind conditions. The first leg of the course, said Tobias, is still upwind. The committee determines a starting line perpendicular to the wind.

There are permanent markers in the water that indicate where sailboats can travel, but the race committee can add markers depending on the course of the day.

A warning flag is hoisted five minutes before the race, when the boats are lined up for the start. A second preparatory flag is hoisted four minutes before the race. Then the two flags are dropped just one minute before the race.

“The boats are fighting for the position at this point,” said Tobias. “The idea is to be on the starting line. You don’t want to cross the line before the start, because if you are, then you have to turn around and start over.

Running is like a game of chess, said Tobias. Following the rules of the course and judging how to position your boat to better take the wind are important factors. The most important rule is to learn which boat has right of way in the close positions during the race to make sure there is no accident.

Anyone interested in learning to sail is welcome to attend club classes or even help a boat crew during a race. The club organizes running seminars; dates to be announced.

“We take people out to races if they’re interested in being part of a boat crew,” said Tobias. “People are learning what running is.”

For more information, visit provincetownyachtclub.org. Captains can register for the race at PYCraceregistration.com.

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