A celebration for the record book

By Dodge Morgan
OpSail Maine 2000 weekend transformed Portland Harbor and western Casco Bay into a confusion of scenes spanning a century of time and a myriad of seagoing pursuits. The full-rigged ships and schooners of the Tall Ships parade harked to the 19th Century. A spectator fleet of upward to 1,000 ranged from kayaks to gold-platter yachts. Coast Guard vessels and working tugs and draggers and trawlers and tour boats portrayed the working waterfront of today. The weather pleasantly defied the forecasters.

The mass of floating hardware on Tall Ship parade day was astoundingly well behaved. In fact the entire event came off as if it had been extraordinarily well planned and well orchestrated. Which it was. Of the many people deserving of credit, Adm. (retired) Richard Rybacki stands alone in the front rank.

If Friday July 28 was Rybacki Day, then Saturday July 29 was Hallett Day. Merle Hallett of Handy Boat in Falmouth Foreside put on his 19th MS Regatta and 112 boats were entered in races.

I had three very good nautical friends in this regatta. American Promise, the Hood design I sailed around the world solo non-stop in l985-86, was entered by her current owner, the United Slates Naval Academy. Wings of Time was sailed by Hallett, and I sailed my Eagle.

One characteristic of the MS Regatta is the eclectic nature of the sailors and their boats. You have the testosterone-loaded racing crowd, the wine-with-lunch cruisers and the unwashed traditionalists, all on the same racecourse at one time or another. There is much internally and externally directed yelling from the racers, who all know the rules but keep telling one another what they are anyway. Cruisers tend to give way even when on the starboard tack and their hand waving is the happy hello kind rather than the middle finger up kind. The traditionalists don’t admit to any rules that could interrupt a straight wake and say absolutely nothing to anyone while under sail but will nod acknowledgment to those who call out “pretty boat!” to them.

Weather for the race was not bad, except there was no wind. Over a course of about 10 miles total on rhumb lines between the turning marks, Eagle was sailing for nearly four hours. The major hazard of the day for all, however, was the too-close attention given by enough roaring powerboats to have consumed the cargo of the Exxon Valdez. These blasters barreled a continuous web of wakes through the sailing fleet. And each 1-foot wake would bounce the smaller boats like Eagle to a stop.

Eagle was essentially sailed by two lovely ladies while I watched. Excepting I was at the helm when we, at 30 feet in length, tried to luff up the 145-foot schooner Californian and passed barely under her bowsprit. We were the privileged path, not considering the other was not racing; but California sailors, it appears, rank bulk over burden tactically. Perhaps the Californian skipper was complimenting Eagle for sailing higher on the wind when he called out “Welcome to Maine” to us.

There are four courses of differing lengths in an attempt to bring all together for the post-race free beer and barbecue. This seldom works, largely because of the casual nature of cruisers and traditionalists. Some drop out of the race early simply to assure themselves ample supplies and others without timepieces finish long after the free stuff is consumed. I personally had to do with a hamburger I located in the grass under the empty grill, which I stuffed into a stray hotdog roll, but did get the last free Shipyard beer because I knew the bartender.

It was a grand old time, grand enough in fact to make the return to Quahog Bay a blessed event.

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he single-handed American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86. He lives on Snow Island in Brunswick, Maine.