A NEW ENG­LAND CLAS­SIC

A snub leads a young sailor to check an item off her bucket list: rac­ing in the Figawi

SAIL - - Contents - BY LY­DIA MUL­LAN

As­so­ciate Editor Ly­dia Mul­lan lives the dream of com­pet­ing in the Figawi Race to Nan­tucket

When I was 15, some of my sail­ing class­mates kicked off the sum­mer by sail­ing the Figawi, New Eng­land’s leg­endary sea­son-open­ing race held ev­ery Me­mo­rial Day week­end. A wind­ing course be­tween Hyan­nis and Nan­tucket, it was a seem­ingly epic voyage to a bunch of kids who had never sailed boats larger than 420s. My team­mates, though, were quick to tell me that it was men-only. No girls al­lowed.

Yes, I know I should have found this sus­pi­cious and got­ten a sec­ond opin­ion from some­one who wasn’t a 15-year-old boy. But I was so em­bar­rassed by the re­jec­tion that I never men­tioned the Figawi to them again, and my hopes of sail­ing a “big boat” fell by the way­side. In fact, it was five years be­fore it even oc­curred to me to look into it, and it would be an­other three years be­fore I made it to the start line on a blaz­ing Satur­day morn­ing this past May.

I set things in mo­tion with a post on the 2016 Figawi crew mes­sage board ask­ing if some­body would take me with them. By this point the race had turned into an item on my bucket list. Per­haps ir­ra­tionally—be­cause scores of women sail the race ev­ery year—I felt I had to con­firm that yes, I could do it. That year, how­ever, the Figawi came and went with no re­sponse to my post.

Sev­eral weeks later, I got an e-mail from a stranger say­ing he could use

a hand for a race that week­end. I was in­ter­ested, but I was also liv­ing in New York City at the time, and he was sail­ing on Buz­zards Bay in Mas­sachusetts. It took me a train, two buses and nine hours to get there, but I made it to the dock that Satur­day morn­ing, prob­a­bly as ter­ri­fied to meet a bunch of strangers off the in­ter­net as I was ex­cited to sail.

My concerns were, of course, un­founded. The boat, a J/122 named Ur­sus Mar­itimus owned by Jim and Sam Masiero, is crewed by a wel­com­ing crowd rang­ing in age from late teens to early 60s, and (I was ex­cited to see) it in­cluded sev­eral women. One of them, Pia Peters, proudly in­tro­duced Sam as the only fe­male driver in their fleet. I was star-struck.

Af­ter that, I con­tin­ued to make the nine-hour trek for ev­ery race I could; though, as fate would have it, the small mat­ter of my col­lege grad­u­a­tion made it im­pos­si­ble to sail in the boat’s next Figawi, in 2017.

Fi­nally, in 2018, it was my year. I cer­tainly felt like it had been a long time com­ing as I hiked up the road with all my gear to the Hyan­nis Ma­rina. I could’ve been walk­ing into a fair­ground for all the ex­cite­ment and the peo­ple buzzing about. There were so many boats jock­ey­ing for dock space that they had to be rafted to­gether four-deep. I scanned the rig­ging for Ur­sus Mar­itimus’s bat­tle flag—a white paw­print on a red back­ground. Be­fore I could find it, though, the crew found me. We were all easy to spot in our match­ing red shirts.

It was un­com­fort­ably hot as we waited to dock out, pass­ing around sun­screen and try­ing to stay hy­drated. My team­mates Gar­ret and (an­other) Sam joined me as I ex­plored the docks. Ev­ery kind of boat, from small day char­ters to high-per­for­mance thor­ough­breds, like the pol­ished TP52 De­nali, shows up for this week­end, and we de­lighted in watch­ing the elite sailors pre­pare their boats—some­thing Jim con­sid­ers a part of the race’s magic. “You can show up to crew on a boat, hav­ing never sailed be­fore, and be up against teams that have pros,” he said. “What other sport lets you do that?” With nearly 200 boats and 3,000 sailors in­volved, the ap­peal is clear.

In terms of for­mat, the Figawi is a pur­suit re­gatta, mean­ing that start times are stag­gered based on each boat’s rat­ing. The goal is to pass ev­ery­one who started ahead of you and to stay in front of ev­ery­one com­ing up from be­hind. First one to the fin­ish wins. No wait­ing for cor­rected times after­ward.

Be­ing on a J/122, we had one of the later starts. How­ever, due to some drama on board (we skied the jib hal­yard and Jim had to go up the mast to re­trieve it) we made it to the line with lit­tle time to spare. De­spite the heat on­shore, we were graced with a per­fect crisp breeze that held up through­out the race. When cou­pled with the cool spray, it ended up be­ing a gor­geous day for a sail.

On the longer legs, we went an hour with­out a tack or sail change, so while Jim and our driver that day, Gary Deluc, were frown­ing at the boats around us and watch­ing the chart-plotter, the rest of us spent the af­ter­noon on the rail, in se­ri­ous con­tem­pla­tion of de­cid­edly non-tac­ti­cal ques­tions like whether pineap­ple was an ac­cept­able top­ping on pizza (an opin­ion that was held by a sur­pris­ing ma­jor­ity on our boat).

Later a haze fell over the fleet mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to see the com­pe­ti­tion, although the few boats that were close enough for us to see were too close for com­fort. Luck­ily, vis­i­bil­ity im­proved again as we ap­proached the fin­ish, which was just well as the last leg of the race was also the most crowded, with sev­eral di­vi­sions all con­verg­ing at once.

Up to then, we’d man­aged to stay ahead of De­nali and the Kerr 55 Irie 2. But the closer we got to the fin­ish, the closer they got to us. We could only watch, more in amaze­ment than dis­ap­point­ment, as De­nali slipped by to lee­ward. In the end we fin­ished in fifth out of the 11 boats in the S1 Di­vi­sion and, to our sur­prise and de­light, one place ahead of Irie 2.

Though not the strong­est fin­ish we’ve had, this year was a spe­cial one Ur­sus Mar­itimus, as Jim and Sam have now sailed the race 20 times in the three boats they’ve owned over the years. Not sur­pris­ingly they have count­less tales from their decades of sail­ing to­gether, in­clud­ing ev­ery kind of worst-case weather sce­nario imag­in­able, some bad cases of sea sick­ness and even an on­board mar­riage pro­posal.

They also have a flag from ev­ery Figawi they’ve com­pete in, and once at the dock, we flew them all. Many of the boats in the slips around us had sim­i­lar dis­plays, also proudly an­nounc­ing how many years they’d been at it. In fact, pride in longevity is a con­stant through­out the fleet and the events of the week­end. At the awards cer­e­mony, the em­cee asked ev­ery­one who’d sailed five Fi­gawis to put their hand up. Then 10. Then 20. Then 30. Ad­mit­tedly, there were few hands still up at 30 years, but that there were any at all is a tes­ta­ment to the love that New Eng­lan­ders have for this race; which all be­gan in 1972 with a few com­pet­i­tive friends rac­ing across Nan­tucket Sound. The group quickly grew, and by 1978, there was a for­mal race com­mit­tee and three days de­voted to the event. Flanked by sev­eral well-at­tended so­cial events in­clud­ing the Figawi Ball, the race also be­gan gen­er­at­ing some se­ri­ous in­come for the com­mu­nity. To date, the race or­ga­niz­ers have been able to do­nate over $2 mil­lion to lo­cal char­i­ties and or­ga­ni­za­tions in need.

Leg­end has it that the race’s name de­rives from an orig­i­nal com­peti­tor’s (heav­ily Bos­ton-ac­cented) ques­tion while sail­ing through the fog: “Where th’ figawi?” And the re­frain was end­lessly re­peated through­out the week­end, both on var­i­ous kinds of printed race mer­chan­dise and by the scores of ine­bri­ated sailors stum­bling the is­land. In­deed, for many par­tic­i­pants, the real event isn’t even the sail across the sound, but the party after­ward and chance to get to know so many other sailors off the wa­ter. Jim and Sam, for in­stance, have friends who they only see once a year—on the dock in Nan­tucket—and as we walked about, they seemed to for­ever be run­ning into an old friend.

Ul­ti­mately, Jim says the Figawi is more than just an­other race (or a dead­line for him and Sam to get the boat ready for sum­mer). It’s a bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s like get­ting the fam­ily back to­gether af­ter they’ve been away all win­ter,” he says.

And while I can’t per­son­ally speak for ev­ery sailor out there, af­ter spend­ing the week­end sail­ing and ex­plor­ing the is­land with the Ur­sus Mar­itimus crew, I felt closer to our team than ever. s

The af­ter­party is as big of an event as the race it­self Jim and Sam at the helm dur­ing one of their early Fi­gawis Team Ur­sus Mar­itimus at the dock on Nan­tucket Ur­sus Mar­itimus is just one of many boats dis­play­ing years worth of brag flags

The band BearFight plays an ex­cep­tional set at the af­ter party

Team­mates con­grat­u­late the win­ner of a char­ity auctionAk­sel Sol­berg helps raise the main un­der­way

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.