People who like to race sailboats for longer distances haven’t always had a lot of choices when they were looking for competition in Maine. There have been even fewer opportunities for those who liked to race shorthanded to test their skills against like-minded sailors.

But distance racing is making a comeback. And this year, the Gulf of Maine Ocean Racing Association (GMORA) has come up with a way to give shorthanded racers the recognition they deserve.

What makes the long-distance racing scene even better is that some races give participants a chance to get a jump start on their summer cruise.

One of the best examples of a racing/cruising/shorthanded combination is the Northeast Harbor Race, which takes off from Casco Bay on Aug. 27. In its third year, the race is competitive, but in a low-key way, with an emphasis on camaraderie and the cruising amenities at Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island.

“The race takes place later in the summer, with a better chance of consistent winds,” says Tim Reilley of Centerboard Yacht Club, one of the race organizers and two-time participant. “You leave the Portland area one day, and are up in Northeast Harbor the next, instantly ready for your sailing vacation.”

Instant is, of course, a relative term, as it will likely take most participants a good 24 hours to complete the 100-mile course. But the race is a great way to get a boat to the heart of Maine’s best cruising grounds in relatively short order.

Hosted by Centerboard Yacht Club and sponsored by Maine Yacht Center, Bayview Sails and Rigging, and the Kimball Terrace Inn, the Northeast Harbor Race will offer classes for both racing and cruising (non-spinnaker) boats.

It will also offer a class for double-handed racers competing for GMORA’s new Ocean Planet Shorthanded Racing Trophy. The trophy will go to the boat with the best score over six race days with a crew of no more than two. At least one of the races must have a distance of 65 miles or greater. The perpetual trophy will include an artifact from the racing yacht Ocean Planet and was donated by Bruce Schwab, the first American to complete the Vendee Globe solo around-the-world race.

Maine Yacht Center will offer free slips to visiting boaters on Thursday night before the start, and boats will finish over the course of the day Saturday. On Sunday, participants will enjoy a brunch at Kimball Terrace Inn in Northeast Harbor. Then they can enjoy some of Maine’s best cruising grounds. An added bonus: along with more reliable winds, the summer crowds thin considerably by late summer.

Participants in previous Northeast Harbor Races have not been disappointed. Steady winds, frequent sightings of wildlife and great camaraderie after the finish make the race a favorite among those who like to combine friendly competition with cruising. More information on the race is at www.gmora.org/media/2010NOR/NHRNOR2010.pdf.

For those who can’t wait until late August to race long-distance, there are the 76th annual Monhegan/Manana/Seguin Trophy Races, with a start off Falmouth Foreside on Friday. The deadline to sign up is approaching fast — entries will not be accepted after Wednesday.

Founded in 1928, the Monhegan, as it is known, is the largest of Maine’s offshore distance races. It offers multiple courses ranging from 67 to 128 nautical miles for boats of all shapes, sizes and speeds, and includes two double-handed classes. More information can be found at www.regattapromotions.com/portland-yacht-club-race-series/monhegan-island-race.html.

Last but not least, the Rockland Yacht Club will host the third annual Maine Rocks Race on Sept. 18 and 19. then, the brisk fall winds should be well established, making it a near-perfect time to sail the 112-mile course.

True to its name, the Maine Rocks Race gives its participants a tour of some of Maine’s largest and most notorious chunks of granite. After a start in Rockland Harbor, racers will leave both Matinicus Rock and Mount Desert Rock to port; on the return trip, they’ll leave Matinicus Rock to starboard before heading to the finish in Rockland Harbor.

This is a shorthanded race, with classes only for double-handed and single-handed boats. More information is expected to be posted soon at Rockland Yacht Club’s website: www.rocklandyc.org/.

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

[email protected]