is a Season to Rekindle
12-meter start included included the Tiedemann's Northern
makes the most of history. Standing firm against the full force
of the Atlantic, 30 miles to sea, the small sandy island is a haven
of clapboards, cobblestones and Yankee charm. Lobster pots and catboats
dot the harbor with shoreline bleachers of widows' walks and salty,
shuttered captain's homes from the 18th and 19th century.
This Atlantic outpost
was hail to thousands of sailors who cruised the seven seas for
blubber and whale oil, carving their trophy's teeth on deck and
spreading the Nantucket name among the world's distant fleets.
This windswept island
still cherishes its historical role among sailors and in whaling
folklore. While whaling and the age of sailing commerce have given
way to vacationing tourists, islanders still take pride in the classic
sailing fleet that gathers each summer for the Opera House Cup.
Bringing history to life in this New England town, the fleet of
classic wooden yachts, 32 feet and longer, lures some of the most
glamorous, along with some of the most unusual, woodies from throughout
No, the Opera House Cup
has nothing to do with grand voices bellowing Italian on theatrical
stage... or any fat lady singing. It is a celebration of a local
watering hole and popular restaurant, known as the Opera House,
which welcomes locals to the narrow cobbled streets at the end of
the island's main wharf.
For 20 years Gwen Gaillard,
owner of the restaurant has hosted the longest running wooden boat
regatta on the East Coast, with entries vying for the trophy that
was once a champagne bucket from her restaurant. Sailed in good
humor and camaraderie, the Cup stands out as one of the most festive
of all the stops on New England's Wooden Boat Regatta Series and
as an important leg in the National Schooner Race Association.
At a time when fiberglass
boats were the growing rage, Gaillard and a few other Nantucket
residents, including Chick Walsh and
William Torpey, were
disappointed that the wooden boats were not recognized as a separate
class by the local yacht club. Spontaneously they organized 13 classic
yachts and staged the Opera House Cup in 1973.
"Since that time,"
says Bob Tiedemann, a four-time Opera Cup winner, "the Newport
Classic Yacht Regatta and several other classic East Coast regattas
were fashioned after Gaillard's original idea."
Nantucket Harbor, where
for almost a full century the waters were rail to rail with tall
ships, was again brimming with romantic teak and mahogany classics
of brass and boomkins, gaffs and gollywobblers.
Primarily a cruising
race, with no Kevlar, Mylar, spinnakers or other hot stuff allowed,
the dockside fleet looks more like a mutual admiration club with
appreciative boat owners examining classic trim details, traditional
rigs and glowing coats of varnish. Owners scramble over each others'
boats with glowing praise, leaving themselves just enough time to
dash back to their own yachts and parade out the harbor, past the
lighthouse and crowds of wooden boat fans waving from shore.
The bonhomie fades with
the starting gun, at least for most entries. While there is still
a handful of crews who dress in festive costume and bring a champagne
lunch, or simply are out to enjoy the summer breezes and witness
the fleet first hand, most sailors summon those competitive urges
to see what their classic boat, properly trimmed and raced, can
do against other speedsters of the era.
"These sailors come
for a lot of reasons-it's a great party and most of the sailors
have become friends through their wooden boat associations,"
says race organizer Chick Walsh, who runs the 21 Federal, a Nantucket
restaurant-bar which holds the Cup and display of the winners on
a carved quarterboard. "Nantucket is a seasonal sailing destination
for many of these yachts. The classics feel a kinship to these historical
harbors and it's a great place to sail, to bring the whole family,
and the town really welcomes the classics."
The fleet had arrived
in a raging 30-knot squall on Saturday, but by race time on Sunday
the breeze had all but died, and the rain filtered off until only
a flat grey sky loomed overhead. Sixty boats made the start, including
five classic 12-meters, Gleam, Intrepid, Valiant, Weatherly, and
American Eagle, the 137-foot Pride of Baltimore, the 97-foot Whitehawk,
Heritage, and others.
The 19-mile course began
in less than 10 knots and the breeze died from that point until
many of the yachts were forced to anchor just to hold position in
the turning tide. Several entries dropped out as ratings and handicaps
had little bearing on the water. Crews moved gingerly on decks,
hugging the leeward rails, scanning the glassy sea for any sign
of a breeze, while the shoreline was crowded with binocular-toting
spectators straining to see any trace of action.
All year long these gaffed-rigged
beauties had been snuffed to weather by those pop-out Tupperware
speedsters. This race was to be their chance, but the wind, or lack
of it, was no help to those eager to put their boats through their
paces off Nantucket. The dramatic back drop of Great Point light
and the fact of being adrift off this enchanting historical port
took the edge off the racing frustration.
Few sailors were disheartened
at the light airs. This was just another year with a sparkling fleet
on a breathless sea, and a post race party on shore, brimming with
fresh seafood and tales of previous years on the course. Already
sailors were planning on match or small fleet races to finally establish
whose yacht was the swiftest that season. For most, though, waiting
until the next Opera House Cup would have to do.