RACE WEEK: Diverse boat classes showcase sailing traditions in Marblehead 

Generations of sailors have gathered in Marblehead Harbor for over a century, drawn back each summer to one of America’s longest consecutively-run regattas.

A diverse range of boat classes, from classic to modern, competed during Marblehead Race Week July 27-30. COURTESY PHOTOS / BRUCE DURKEE.

The 130th Marblehead Race Week tested veterans and newcomers alike as winds shifted over four days of racing from July 27-30. Hundreds of sailors, young and old, competed in 145 boats during the classic New England regatta hosted by the Boston, Eastern and Corinthian Yacht Clubs. Some traveled from as far as California and Canada.

The fleets included sleek International One-Design sailboats, the classic Town sailboats with their large sails and the compact Rhodes 19 sailboats. Ten modern J/105 sailboats with their large jibs were also there, as well as Etchells sailboats and nearly 20 J/70 sailboats, popular for their speed and handling.

Racing commenced Thursday in a welcome 12-16 knots of wind — a lively, if challenging breeze for smaller boats sailing the course. But Mark Luckes, a 25-year sailing veteran from Marblehead, said lighter winds require just as much skill to harness.

“When the breeze disappears, it’s frustrating but you really have to keep your patience and adjust,” said Luckes, who skippered Menace, an Etchells. “You have to drive the boat fast, even in very light air.”

Sailboats align at the starting line on Sunday, July 30, poised and ready for the day’s race during the 130th Marblehead Race Week. COURTESY PHOTO / BRUCE DURKEE

True to New England’s moody coastal weather, winds diminished over subsequent days before thunderstorms forced organizers to cancel all races July 29. Lighter 5-10 knot winds returned for the final day of competition July 30.

“It was a challenging week weather-wise, but we got in some good racing and people really made the most of the changing conditions,” said race official Suzy Schneider. “We heard sailors had a great time both on and off the water.”

According to organizers, among the J/70s were several professional teams training for their upcoming world championship tournament in the nimble boats.

Closer to shore, there were single-person Laser sailing dinghies for youth and adults — a recent addition to the event, and a welcome one for sailors of the small, agile boats in the area. There was also the long-awaited return of the iconic Lightning sailing boats at Race Week. The Viper 640 class of high-performance boats had the most boats registered out of any class, with 23 boats registered for the Viper 640 New England Championship.

Schneider credited race officials, volunteers and yacht club staff for managing logistics like launching hundreds of boats daily. She also observed a resurgence in young blood getting involved.

Sailors of varying experience levels navigate the challenges of fluctuating winds and weather patterns at the regatta. COURTESY PHOTO / BRUCE DURKEE

“It was wonderful seeing so many young people involved this year,” said Schneider. “We’re definitely returning to pre-COVID numbers and welcoming a new generation to carry on traditions here.”

Young Marblehead sailors Pearse Dowd and Dylan Balunas were happy just to get on the water. The amateur youth and their crew took Locomotion, a J/70, to a mid-fleet finish.

“We just tried to keep our heads out of the boat, watch for wind on the water and shift gears quickly without getting frustrated,” Dowd said of light air tactics. “No race is ever the same. The conditions will never be identical. There’s always some component you’re not expecting.”

He and Balunas have honed skills sailing various boats over the years through local yacht clubs.

“It was challenging, but the variety is what makes sailing so much fun,” Balunas added. “No two races are ever identical.”

Joan Thayer of Marblehead competed on an all-female Rhodes 19, Garuda, a design dating back to 1949 when it was built locally in town.

“We really just go out and sail for fun,” Thayer said. “You have to relax when the wind totally dies and just enjoy being on the water.”

Find the regatta’s results at https://bit.ly/47eLs6k

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