In the early 1970s, after a decade racing his 22-foot day sailer, local sailor Merle Hallett decided it was time to kick it up a notch and bought a 33-foot cruising boat. But something was missing.

“I looked around, and there wasn’t much going on for racing that kind of boat,” he said.

So in the fall of 1971, Hallett and some like-minded friends got together, and what emerged was a group of officers committed to the development of sailboat racing and an organized series that is now sanctioned by the Gulf of Maine Ocean Racing Association, or GMORA.

In its early years, five overnight races comprised the circuit: the Portland Yacht Club’s Pilot Race, the Boon Island Race, an overnight race out of Harraseeket Yacht Club (which gave 3-second-per-mile credits to boats with children as crew), the Whaleback Race out of Portsmouth, N.H., and Portland Yacht Club’s Monhegan/Manana Races, a mainstay since the early part of the century.

Racing has evolved in the 40 years that followed, but one thing has stood the test of time: Every summer, an enthusiastic group of sailors is racing most every weekend.

GMORA’s all-volunteer board of directors works with local yacht clubs to set the schedule and add new events. And while much can be said for things new and exciting, those who were there at the beginning remember the fun in the early days.

Hallett remembers the family-friendly atmosphere that was present from the start.

“One of the joys of those days was delivering the boat to the races and back — we would be cruising as a family,” he said. “Another great part was when we went to various venues, we stayed on our boats. Each club would have a dinner party …”

When Gulf of Maine racing reached its peak in the mid-1980s, competitors would race the early-season events in Casco Bay, then run en masse to Penobscot Bay and beyond.

In 1984, more than 60 boats competed in enough events to qualify for the season trophies that GMORA awarded to the top performers every fall.

In the years that followed, some events fell by the wayside, while others came in to replace them. One that has remained is Downeast Race Week, a multi-day event in August around Mount Desert Island and Blue Hill Bay.

One element of racing that has gained popularity in recent years is shorthanded sailing, and the Ocean Planet Shorthanded Racing Trophy, now in its third year, recognizes excellence among this growing number of single- and double-handed racers.

Two new events were added to the GMORA schedule in 2012: the Corinthians “Lobster Run” in July and the four-day Penobscot Bay Rendezvous in August.

The 2012 series is already off to a great start, with last weekend’s Gosport Regatta from Portsmouth to Star Island. Centerboard Yacht Club hosted its annual regatta Saturday, and the Portland and Harraseeket yacht clubs will hold their regattas on June 23 and 30, respectively. There will be more racing in Penobscot Bay and off Mount Desert Island and Boothbay in July, and the Monhegan Regatta starting in Casco Bay, the Penobscot Bay Rendezvous, and Downeast Race Week in August.

The schedule and links to information for all the events can be found at GMORA’s website, gmora.org.

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