by Cara Godlesky
The horizons of Nantucket’s oceans are often decorated with the silhouettes of sailboats traversing through the waves. The boats sailing in and out of the harbor is a familiar sight during the summers on the island. Come mid August, there’s an increase of boats on the water for the annual sailing event, Nantucket Race Week, brings sailors from across the country, and world, to compete in the regattas.
Nantucket Race Week, now in its fourteenth year, includes a dozen different regattas, award ceremonies, picnics, parties and community fun. From August 12 to 20, Race Week will feature a variety of races such as the kiteboard, women’s, open laser, International One Design, youth regattas, and the Nantucket Regatta and the Opera House Cup. It was created as a fundraiser for Nantucket Community Sailing and provides ten days of joy for sailors leading up to the “grand finale”: the Opera House Cup Regatta, the first all-wooden, single-hulled classic boat regatta on the East Coast.
In 1973, Gwen Gaillard, who owned Opera House Restaurant (a favorite among island sailors), started the Opera House Cup. According to the Opera House Cup website, the sailors wanted to put on a special event for Gaillard by creating a wooden boat race. Gaillard donated her antique silver champagne bucket to be “the cup” for the race winners. The champagne bucket is still used as the trophy and the winners’ names are engraved in the silver. Opera House Cup starts at 10:45 am on Sunday, August 20. In addition to watching the Harbor Start around 10 am, spectators can drive to Great Point between noon and 3 pm to watch the boats turn at a race mark in front of Great Point Light.
Nantucket Race Week provides the funding for a quarter of Nantucket Community Sailing‘s annual operating budget. Through the race and social event registrations, merchandise sales, corporate and individual sponsorships, the community sailing nonprofit is able to thrive.
One of the ways Race Week helps raise funds is through the International One Design (IOD) Celebrity Invitational Regatta. This event features 14 teams racing 33-foot long IOD boats. Five people man each boat. One of those sailors will be a celebrity tactician. A celebrity tactician is an all-star sailor. Some of these all-star sailors have competed in the Olympics, America’s Cup, and other high caliber regattas.
To raise money, the crews in the IOD Celebrity Invitational bid on their desired celebrity tactician to insure that they will get to race with a particular sailor in the event. As in any auction, highest bidder wins and gets that particular celebrity tactician as part of their crew. Not only is this regatta a fundraiser, but it’s also an opportunity for less experienced sailors to sail with accomplished ones.
“For these teams that are basically amateurs, for them to get to sail with those kinds of people, it’s very, very cool,” said Diana Brown, CEO of Nantucket Community Sailing. The 2017 IOD Celebrity Invitational Regatta, the thirteenth running, will be August 16 to 18.
Nantucket Race Week has social events open to the public throughout the week. The events, hosted by Nantucket Yacht Club and Great Harbor Yacht Club, bring together the sailors and community members to celebrate the sailing community and the day’s activities. Tickets for these events are sold on NantucketRaceWeek.org.
“When these sailors get together, a lot of times part of the fun for them is not just racing in the day, but getting to reconnect with their friends who they haven’t seen since last summer,” said Brown.
The events also allow families of different backgrounds to interact through the common ground of sailing. On Monday, August 14, Nantucket Race Week will hold their family cookout to celebrate the youth Opti and 420 regatta.
“The kids come up and get a medallion to hang around their neck and they’re so proud and happy. We will have the child who is the son or daughter of a carpenter on the island sailing with someone whose father is a hedge fund manager in New York City…on the water, they are all the same,” said Brown.
In addition to the social events, Nantucket Race Week has another special event, the Classic Yacht Exhibitionon Saturday, August 19. The exhibition features dozens of wooden boats along the docks of the boat basin. There will be between five and tenboats that are over 100 years old and many others over 50 years old. This collection may be “one of the best collection of wooden boats anyone will ever see.”
“Some of the boats that come to the Opera House Cup are some of the most beautiful boats in the world,” said Brown. “They are antiques that have been lovingly restored at a huge cost and the owners do that because they just love these boats.”
Brown says she does not know any other regatta that hosts an exhibition like theirs. Boats at the Nantucket Race Week exhibition showcase a part of sailing history. Tickets to the exhibition are available at NantucketRaceWeek.org and give participants the opportunity to go down below on the boats, talk to the captains, and learn about the historical boats.
“Nobody ever gets to go aboard these boats, so you get to see them on the water and they’re beautiful but to get to see them even up close at the dock is even more of an experience,” said Brown.
Another well-known event for the community is the Rainbow Fleet Parade. The Rainbow Fleet Parade, which attracts thousands of onlookers, is held Sunday, August 20 at 9:40 am at Brant Point. The parade is comprised of a fleet Beetle Cats, known as Rainbows, with brightly colored sails circling back and forth along the shores near Brant Point. If you go to the Brant Point beach, you can watch the boats sailing and parading through the waters.
The Rainbows have a long history on Nantucket. They are a type of boat that was used on-island since the nineteenth century. The Nantucket Yacht Club reintroduced the boats to Nantucket in the 1920s so children could learn to sail in safe, fun manner. The sails of the boats were all different colors so when the children were on the water racing, their families could differentiate one child from another. Today, the sails in the parade sport not only colors, but also stripes, clouds, stars and flag designs.
“Watching the Rainbow parade and the beautiful sailboats heading out of the harbor on Opera House Cup race day is truly a Nantucket tradition and a spectacle not to be missed,” said Maureen Crowley, co-chair of Nantucket Race Week. “The sight appeals to all ages, and will hopefully inspire people young and old to take a lesson from Nantucket Community Sailing and join in on the fun.” If you decide to participate, arrive early and walk to Brant Point because parking can be difficult.
With so many boats and visitors coming to the island for Race Week, eight years ago organizers implemented the Clean Regatta program to reduce the environmental footprint. Since 2010, Nantucket Race Week has been recognized as a Gold Level Clean Regatta. The Clean Regatta program, by Sailors for the Sea, has three main goals: generate less waste, reduce trash that ends up on water or the shore, and reduce pollution in the harbor.
This year, the Clean Regatta program will totally eliminate the use of plastic. Nantucket Race Week’s sponsor, Yeti, will provide big water jugs as well as individual water bottles for the participants in the events. There will also be a water fill station. Last year, the water refill station was so widely used that it eliminated the use of more than 4,500 plastic water bottles.
The Clean Regatta program also provides information about using eco friendly bottom paint on boats, gives free pump outs and free fuel spill pads to larger boats.
Nantucket Race Week, with the help of more than 400 volunteers, has become a large attraction on Nantucket with many different events, regattas and social gatherings. An island and sailing go together hand-in-hand and Nantucket Race Week provides an opportunity to let the maritime history of the community to shine.
“Many people contribute to the success of this event, as co-chair I greatly appreciate the effort of Nantucket Race Week volunteers, Nantucket Community Sailing staff, the Nantucket Yacht Club and Great Harbor Yacht Club. It is truly a community effort whose mission is to provide a world class sailing event enjoyed by competitors of all abilities and ages,” commented Crowley. You can drive to Great Point on the Sunday, August 20, to watch the Opera House Cup Race. There is a race mark right in front of Great Point Light, and spectators there between noon and 3 pm should be able to watch the boats turn around while viewing from the beach.
Looking for a place for lunch after watching the Rainbow Fleet Parade? Find a great restaurant at Nantucket.net.