Sailing activity on Casco Bay has picked up over the last couple of weeks, with the series of regattas scored by the Gulf of Maine Ocean Racing Association (GMORA) now under way.

Last week’s Centerboard Regatta in Portland Harbor had all the ingredients: Winds that varied in both velocity and direction, a threat of rain that never materialized, foul currents, favorable currents, tactical challenges and the friendly, informal atmosphere for which the Centerboard Yacht Club is known.

More of the same is happening this weekend off Falmouth Foreside at Portland Yacht Club’s Pilot Regatta. Next weekend, the action moves to South Freeport as the Harraseeket Yacht Club holds its annual pursuit race.

After a break for the Fourth of July holiday, racing will continue most weekends through the summer and into the fall.

Cruising sailors might wonder why racers take such pleasure in going out and sailing around a bunch of buoys, only to come back in. It certainly isn’t fame; even Maine’s best racing sailors aren’t well known outside racing circles. There’s no fortune either; most of Maine’s racing sailors are amateurs, and the only fortune involved is the coin some boat owners spend on the latest and greatest high-tech sails and equipment.

This leaves only two things to draw sailors to racing — the competition itself and the party afterwards.

The competition is generally friendly. Most of the stories circulating about screaming skippers are urban legends and typically blown out of proportion.

Regardless of its intensity, the competition is sure to do one thing really well — it improves sailors’ skills.

One of the best things about yacht racing is that it’s as much an intellectual sport as a physical one. While being physically fit certainly helps, you don’t have to have three 7-footers on your team to be competitive. But racing sailors do need to develop a good understanding of weather, currents, strategy, the rules and of course, the characteristics of the boats on which they’re sailing.

Racing is also a great way for sailors to get to know like-minded people. Racing crews develop a strong sense of teamwork on the course. At the post-race party, competitors trade stories, offer tips to improve performance, and make connections with benefits that extend far beyond yacht-racing circles. Think of it as another networking opportunity.

Cruising sailors offer a host of reasons to stay off the race course. Among them are lack of a competitive streak, limited time to devote to the activity, restricted funding for racing sails and equipment, and difficulty in finding and keeping crew. Answers to the first two arguments are hard to come by, but the second two should not keep someone from at least dipping a toe into the water.

Performance Handicap Racing Fleet New England handicaps boats according to design characteristics, so even a moderate-displacement cruiser has a chance to excel on the course.

There are also ratings credits for equipment like fixed propellers, roller-furling headsails, and non-exotic sail materials — these help recreational boats be more competitive.

And GMORA is addressing the crew issue with a new series trophy. The new Ocean Planet Shorthanded Racing Trophy will be awarded to the yacht with the highest cumulative score, racing with two or fewer people on board in qualifying events.

Yachts need only complete six race days, with one race at least 65 nautical miles or longer.

The trophy is made possible largely through the generosity of solo sailor Bruce Schwab, who was the first American to officially finish the Vendee Globe around-the-world race aboard the boat Ocean Planet.

Schwab brought up the idea on an Internet racing forum and offered an artifact from Ocean Planet to be turned into a perpetual trophy. The GMORA board of directors took the idea and ran with it, and a subcommittee of interested racers developed the rules for the series.

So even sailors without a fierce competitive streak or access to skilled, experienced “rock stars” as crew should consider giving racing a try, even if for just one day or a weekend.

It’s a common belief that when two sailboats are within sight of one another and going in the same general direction, they’re racing. Going out to a real starting line just makes it official. 

Gail Rice of Freeport and her husband, Randy, race and cruise their Pearson 30 sloop on Casco Bay. She can be reached at:

[email protected]