Capt. Perry Davis stood above the cockpit of his ship, the Alert, trying to get a better view while steering the ship’s wheel with his foot.

“Are we going around the finish line or crossing it?” he called out to Bethany McNelly-Davis, his wife and co-owner of the 71-foot schooner from Bailey Island.

“I don’t know!” McNelly-Davis responded, over the heads of almost 30 passengers, as the Alert tried to overtake Wendameen, a Portland schooner that had pulled out ahead in the second race of Saturday’s regatta, part of the first Portland SchoonerFest and Regatta, a three-day event organized by the nonprofit Tall Ships Portland.

She wasn’t sure who was winning the regatta overall, McNelly-Davis confided. It was the first time she and Davis had ever raced their ship, and although it provided a little extra fun, cutting through the gray-green water of Portland Harbor under sunny skies and a steady wind was the real object for most of those aboard.

“Sailing around with a bunch of other schooners never sucks,” McNelly-Davis said, smiling. At the end of the day’s races, the Alert wound up winning both first place and a cup for the crew with the most spirited attitude.

The festival kicked off Saturday, with a morning parade of five tall ships, followed by morning and afternoon races and an evening cruise.

Three more races are scheduled Sunday, and on Monday, there will be an all-day gaffers race from Portland to Bailey Island.

Ticketed passengers are taken aboard the schooners during all the events, and tickets average $55 a person.

McNelly-Davis and her husband had kicked the idea for the gaffers race around for a while and decided to make it happen this year. The race is open to all gaff-rigged sailboats and there is no registration or fee, McNelly-Davis said. The intent is to hold the event annually.

“As long as we keep it simple and fun and inclusive, there is no reason we can’t make it happen,” McNelly-Davis said.

Along with the Alert and the Wendameen, ships taking part in SchoonerFest were the Bagheera and the Harvey Gamage from Portland, and the Adventure from Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Aboard the Alert, Riner Lingley, 75, of Monmouth reminisced about his time in the Coast Guard and repairing fishing boats on the Portland docks. He and his wife, Jackie Lingley, 62, hadn’t been aboard a sailboat in at least 30 years, and when he saw a story about SchoonerFest on the TV news Friday night, they decided to buy tickets.

All in all, it was a great day for a sail, but Riner Lingley said he was expecting a little more action from the race.

“I have a lead foot,” he said. “I thought it would be faster and wetter,” he added with a grin.

Fred Forsley, owner of Shipyard Brewing Co., was on board the Alert with about a dozen British business contacts visiting Maine.

Forsley, whose company is a sponsor of Tall Ships Portland, said SchoonerFest was a good way to get more publicity for the nonprofit and hopefully bring on more sponsors and develop the organization.

“If we can make it more of a tradition, that will build it,” Forsley said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or

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Twitter: PeteL_McGuire