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Scuttlebutt News:

Buzzards Bay Regatta, August 4-6, 2006
Story by Gordon Livingston - Photos by Anne Converse

(Marion, MA - August 7, 2006) What makes a great regatta? Weather, efficient management, and a high level of competition are three obvious answers. Throw in a beautiful locale in an exceptionally friendly place and you have the ingredients that for 34 years have made the Buzzards Bay Regatta one of sailboat racing’s premier events. Sailed in one of the most scenic venues in the country, the Beverly Yacht Club and the New Bedford Yacht Club alternate years in taking responsibility for regatta management with the assistance of the two other clubs on Buzzards Bay. With a volunteer staff of 270 and many people for whom this is a nearly year-round planning process, the event attracts the cream of New England racers in 17 classes.

The setting is exquisite. The BYC is in the picturesque coastal Massachusetts village of Marion, as yet unspoiled by chain stores or fast-food outlets. A former whaling town, it has the requisite Union soldier atop his monument bearing the names of those who served, the Congregational Church, the 1891 music hall. Real estate is pricey but the citizens are exceptionally friendly and unassuming.

Sippican Harbor is packed with moored boats, some of them designed by such fabled names as Burgess and Herreshoff. How the town, apparently effortlessly, accommodates the influx of 1200 racing sailors each year is a mystery? (The Lasers sail in three classes in New Bedford).

This year things started slowly with a flat calm on Friday morning leaving everyone lying about their motionless boats, except for the odd trimaran that somehow found enough breeze to dart about the becalmed fleet. (Why is it, by the way, that multihull sailors complain of too few regattas that include them, then turn out only five boats for an event like the BBR?) Anyway, by 1 PM the wind had filled in from the north at 5-10 knots and every one of the 14 classes over 5 race circles got a race in. Then the organizers heard from the NWS that a cell was headed in their direction and, hoping to prevent a 400-boat pileup, cancelled racing for the rest of the day, which became, naturally, cloudless.

In the clubhouse after the race there was on display a novel bit of technology from Having put transponders on boats in the Newport-Bermuda race this year, they were testing the technology for the first time in an around-the-buoys event. All nine J/105’s had the transponders on board and it was fascinating to watch the race replayed on a big-screen TV at the club. Jim Feeney of Horizon Marine in Marion was generous with his time in explaining his hopes for the teaching potential of this tracking system, offshore by satellite or in regattas with local receiving stations. It certainly will settle future OCS controversies. Who knows? Sufficiently refined it might reveal overlaps.

The second day had breeze from the start that freshened to 15-20 knots as the day went on and three good races were enjoyed by all. One untoward incident occurred near the end of racing. On their way back to the dock, the entire 19-boat Shields fleet, led by one of America’s best-known sailors, sailed through dozens of still-racing 420’s. When questioned about this later, one Shields skipper responded, “What did you expect us to do, wait 20 minutes until they cleared?” Well, given recent discussions in Scuttlebutt about the attitudes of big boat sailors toward their smaller brethren, and given the fact that 420’s are raced by a younger generation, perhaps some sensitivity to what this scene looked like (and felt like to the kids) might be in order. One Shields sailor that I talked to was mildly apologetic: “We tried not to blanket them.”

The third day found the fleet again waiting for wind with several crew taking dips in the warm waters of the bay before a brisk northeasterly filled in about 1 PM allowing most classes at least one race.

One measure of a club‘s regard for competitors is the way in which protests are heard. This often contentious process can bring out the worst in human nature: anger, differing memories of the same event, wishful thinking. One is reminded of the old saying about academia: “The feelings are so strong because the stakes are so small.” As with other areas of race management, BYC, with the leadership of International Judge Barbara Farquhar, excelled in dealing with protests. Those observed by this correspondent were resolved with fairness, compassion, and good humor.

One of the more amusing regatta events took place at the press table each day. The winning skippers in various classes were interviewed by non-sailing reporters who wondered about the secrets of their success. A typical response: “We made good starts at the pin end, stayed in phase with the windshifts, and the crew did a great job with sail-handling.” Or, “We varied the length of our forestay about 1.5 centimeters depending on wind velocity, and it seemed to make a big difference in speed.” I tried to imagine Jascha Heifitz’ response to reporters’ questions after a particularly good concert, “The violin was really in tune and the fingering was going well, so all I had to do was move the bow back and forth across the strings.” Somehow explanations for sailing talent turn out to be similarly unrevealing.

Among the regatta winners, the most impressive accomplishment was that of 17 year-old Taylor Canfield from St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, who defeated 119 competitors to win the 420 class. Other results can be found at

Dan Clooney, the cordial and unflappable Regatta Chairman, deserves all credit for a professional-quality all-volunteer organizing effort. Wendy Cullum ably saw to the needs of press representatives (read “herding cats”) including daily rides on Ben Baker’s lovingly rebuilt 1931 Herrreshoff power cruiser, Ariel II. Do NOT miss future iterations of this regatta if you and your boat can reach it.

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