By Alan Burke
---- — MARBLEHEAD — Oh, Canada, here we come.
On Sunday at 1 p.m. more than 75 yachts, varying from 30 to 100 feet, will set off from this sail-crazy town on a race to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Marblehead to Halifax Open Ocean Race is an event that’s been held bi-annually — with time off for world wars — since 1905. And it’s only grown in popularity.
In part to address that popularity, race officials have altered the configuration of the starting line in the outer harbor at Half Way Rock, making a kind of U-turn in order to send the yachts closer to shore and give landlubbers an opportunity to see the contest begin. This will be the second year, says spokesman Ed Bell, that you can get a good look at the excitement from Marblehead Neck.
“The best place to watch,” he says, “is from Castle Rock or Chandler Hovey Park.”
Up to 250 pleasure boats are expected to be bobbing around hoping for an even closer look. Bell requests that such spectators respect the starting line and the organizers, who might come along to tell them to get out of the way.
Of course, the yachts in the race are soon out of sight, but thanks to modern technology you can still watch them. Each contestant is now issued a transponder that will make it possible to chart their progress online, according to Bell.
The best racing times in the past have just exceeded 30 hours, while the slowest competitors might show up in Halifax as late as Thursday. Handicaps are assigned according to which vessels have a material advantage.
All this is no lark for those competing, says race director Jeff Smith. “The crews that race together in this sort of contest take it very seriously,” he says. They enjoy the sense of self-reliance that comes from moving about on the open ocean. And they like competing with other people to see who can drive their boats the fastest.
The route to Halifax is considered relatively safe, says Smith. But canny boatmen are wise to figure in their route the vagaries of the current coming into and out of the Bay of Fundy, which features the largest tides in the world. Cancellations on account of weather are rare.
“It would take a hurricane to stop the race,” says Smith, “or a real severe weather event.”
The Boston Yacht Club co-sponsors the race, Smith explains, but you don’t have to belong to it or any yacht club at all in order to compete. Many of the racers participate in contests up and down the Eastern Seaboard and even race to Bermuda. Also sponsoring are the folks at the Northern extreme of the race, the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.
The yachting communities at both ends of this competition are famous for their hospitality, Smith indicates. And impressive celebrations can be expected before and after the event.
Race no. Yacht Owner Home port
6 Avocet John Slingerland Beverly
15 Catch 22 Andrew Lippman Salem
31 Heat Wave Gary Weisberg Gloucester
52 Resolve John Doub Marblehead
53 Saga Kris Kristiansen Marblehead
59 Snow Cat Bart Snow Marblehead
61 Southern Dream James Flanagan Marblehead
67 Valiant Gary Gregory Marblehead
69 Walkabout Leonard Bertaux Prides Crossing