Molly White describes the memorable things about the Monhegan Island Race, the offshore sailing race that has become a staple for the state’s sailing community.

While sailing off the coast of Maine, White has seen shooting stars in the middle of the night and whales rising from the ocean’s waters.

White also explains the challenges that come with each race: the cold and the fatigue that come about 12 hours into the race, at a time when you’re typically asleep; not knowing where other boats are at the darkest point of the night.

“You have to stay focused,” said White, a Portland resident.

For most of the past 16 years, White has been involved in the Monhegan, an overnight, offshore sailing race that begins at 3 p.m. Friday from Clapboard Island in Falmouth. In its 76th year, the Monhegan Island Race’s longest course spans 128 miles, beginning at Clapboard and going to Cape Neddick, then up to Monhegan Island before finishing at Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth. The race also includes four shorter courses designed for smaller boats, routes that leave Falmouth and go to Seguin Island off the coast of Phippsburg), or begin at Wood Island at the mouth of Small Point Harbor and finish at Portland Head Light.

White takes to the ocean as part of the 11-member crew of the 41-foot Kaos. Her husband, Carter, has helped organize promoting the race through Regatta Promotions and will work out of Falmouth doing onshore organization and race management.

The oldest of a handful of offshore races in Maine, the Monhegan continues despite a lower number of entries this year — 30 as opposed to 45 to 50 in years past, a drop Carter White attributes to the lagging economy. But he emphasizes that there’s an unusual aspect to the race.

“It’s an offshore race, and there aren’t a lot of those anymore,” he said. “But it’s not long enough that you get into a rhythm of watch systems, where you’re sailing for two hours and then you sleep for two, and you wake up and sail again.

“This is a sprint race. The real challenge is to stay awake and sail at your utmost level.”

The race typically takes about 24 hours, but there’s no time limit for a boat and its crew to cross the finish line at Portland Head Light.

Given the length of the race, crew members prepare for just about anything — high winds, low winds, thunderstorms, hot days or cold nights — by packing the appropriate clothing and planning meals.

Some crews grill burgers and steaks on the stern of their boats. Others bake trays of lasagna in the galley of the sailboat, while some crews bring necessities such as sandwiches, bags of potato chips, granola bars and plenty of bottled water.

“You hope for the best, but you plan for a long trip,” Molly White said.

The offshore race also brings a shock to the senses, as she discovered during her first race in 1994.

“I thought you’d be around more boats,” she said. “Once you sail out, down to the Kennebunk area and Cape Neddick, the boats spread out quite a bit. It’s a race where you’re alone out on the boat quite a lot.

“When the sun rises the next day, there may be boats in different places and you don’t really know where you stand (in the race).”

Yet she justifies the appeal of the offshore race.

“The draw,” White said, “is the idea of the Monhegan. It’s an adventure.”

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

[email protected]