FALMOUTH – With sails flying high and every available man, woman and child aboard hiking over the side to counterbalance the power of the wind, boats participating in the 77th annual Monhegan/Manana/Seguin trophy races jockeyed for position last Friday as they skirted out of Hussey Sound, east of Falmouth. Skies were clear and winds were light as skippers tacked their way out onto open water. Their first goal on the 103-mile course was a buoy off of Biddeford Pool. Once reaching this waypoint, the boats would promptly glide northeast, sailing through the night to Monhegan Island, before finally returning to Hussey Sound.

Not everyone would make it through successfully, but some would argue that such is the beauty of the Monhegan race – that because failure is a possibility, and there is a real bit of danger involved out on the vast Gulf of Maine, it makes completing the race a triumph.

As one of the last great open water sailing races in New England, Monhegan challenges racers against a combination of fatigue and the often-uncooperative elements.

And to the victors went the spoils. Amongst larger boat winners like Dig Dog Party skippered by Pete Price in Division 1, and Kaos skippered by Scott Smithwick in Division 2, there was Thomas Hall of Scarborough, who captained Seven. The smallest boat in this year’s Monhegan, Seven was the first to cross the finish line in the Manana Division, returning to Hussey Sound on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. – just a little over 24 hours after the first gun signaled the start the previous day.

“We did great,” Hall, who first sailed the Monhegan 25 years ago, said afterwards. “We had a wonderful time and everyone worked hard on our boat. Our boat was fine, held up well, and was the smallest boat in the event. We were very satisfied with our result and happy to take part in the Monhegan tradition. We are now on the Abbott Fletcher Trophy. Abbott was an excellent sailor, and his boat Majek was part of the proud tradition of Maine yacht racing. It is an honor to be a part of that tradition and have my name on a trophy with his.”

There is little that can properly prepare an in-shore sailor for open sea. Fog and squalls can roll in with little notice, while the wind can be blowing stiffly one moment, and then be gone the next.

“In short-day races you are sailing against the other boats,” said Bill Newberry of Standish, whose County Girl participated in Division 2. “It is very tactical, like a chess game. Offshore racing is more about sailing against the conditions. It is mostly strategic.

Other then the light wind at times, we struggled with all of the seaweed. There were huge rafts of it and we believe we caught some on our rudder, which affected our speed.”

In addition to something as simple as seaweed, sailors must keep an eye out for navigational hazards, not the least of which are competing boats, or larger commercial vessels.

“We came across a tug that was switching from towing to pushing in the middle of the night,” Hall said. “The lights moving and constantly changing direction (made it) a challenge to figure out what that particular commercial vessel was doing. We steered clear and communicated with them, but still a cause for concern for our tiny boat.”

And if a crew runs into trouble, as did Neal Weinstein’s Enterprise, then they must largely fend for themselves. His somewhat unnerving tale of instrument failure can be seen as almost typical of the minor calamities that can befall the racers.

“We were kicking butt in the cruising class, having passed all but one boat in our class by mostly luck and good fortune,” Weinstein, who is from Old Orchard Beach, explained. “Unfortunately after rounding the second mark 2.2 miles south of Wood Island Light, the wind died precipitously and we mostly drifted back toward the east and the third mark at Sequin Light, some 28 nautical miles north.”

Then, something other than the weather went awry.

“About 2 a.m., off Portland Harbor and some seven miles out, the instruments sharply flashed and then died,” Weinstein said. “We tried to start the engine to charge the batteries, as electrical alarms were going off but it, too, failed to start. Both sets of batteries had died for some reason. We were finally able to jump the engine and ran it for about an hour, but the batteries failed to charge, and of course this meant no running lights, no GPS, no instruments or compass light, and possibly no further use of the engine.”

With the odds stacked against him, Weinstein withdrew from the race to make repairs. Unlike a sport such as football, where players can play through an injury, open ocean sailing is full of risks, and trying to press on with a damaged boat can be tempting fate. Weinstein, clearly, made the right call.

Those boats that made it to Monhegan faced other challenges, and several skippers agreed that the greatest of these was dawn on Saturday morning.

“Early morning leaving Monhegan and heading back towards Casco Bay (is the most difficult leg),” Hall said. “There can be light air, teams are tired and conditions can be difficult.”

“The most difficult part of the race always seems to be Saturday morning,” agreed Newberry. “When the wind dies, everything can change. A full night of hard work and good sailing can be lost depending on where the wind fills in first in the morning. You are cold, tired, and it can be very difficult mentally. It is a huge relief to get moving again and heading toward home.”

But just because the race is difficult, doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of fun. All those we spoke to expressed delight over being involved, and excitement with regards to next year’s race.

“I have no regrets,” Weinstein said. “Just participating alone is satisfying.”

“We all enjoyed the experience and the challenge,” added Newberry. “We saw several fin whales, two sharks, and dozens of tuna. It was a gorgeous night with a bright full moon. (We will) absolutely (race against next year). We wouldn’t miss it.”

County Girl, far right, skippered by Bill Newberry of Standish,
leads Arbacia, piloted by Geoff Emanuel, center, and Snowbird,
captained by Jon Randall, left, as the lead Division 2 boats race
out of Hussey Sound in the 77th annual Monhegan/Manana/Seguin
trophy races last week. Emanuel and Randall would finish second and
third, respectively, with Newberry’s boat taking fifth. (Staff
photo by Emory Rounds)

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