If you have to sit out a summer on account of a pandemic, there are worse places to be than Broad Sound, a water rat’s playground on the western edge of Massachusetts Bay, just north of Boston.
The sound is surrounded by land on three sides, with Nahant, where we live, forming its northern edge; to the east, it’s wide open to the Atlantic. In summer, its waters tend to be calm in the morning, which is perfect for fishermen chasing stripers, and lobstermen hauling traps. Afternoons, though, things take a turn in a sailor’s favor. Once the sprawling metropolitan area surrounding the sound heats up, like clockwork, the sea breeze starts cranking. And that’s when the sailboats come out to play. There are lots of them, especially on the weekends.
When we sail out from Nahant, it’s not unusual on Saturdays and Sundays to encounter multiple regattas underway, particularly off the Harbor Islands, where Boston’s main shipping channel meets the sea. Six miles north lies Marblehead, where a hundred or more sails might fill the horizon daily during racing season. And all day, a steady parade of sail- and powerboats pass by just offshore, in transit between the harbors along the North and South shores, or perhaps en route to or from the Cape Cod Canal.
But summer 2020, of course, was not like that.
For the better part of June and July, there wasn’t a sail to be seen, in fact. Most yacht clubs were shuttered, and even in towns like Marblehead, racing was a serious no-no, and cruisers basically had nowhere to go. Midseason, I was told by one ’Header that the harbormaster there was so strict about enforcing stay-at-home orders, he’d broken up an impromptu pickup race between a handful of kids, each on their own Laser. Come on, now.
But then one day toward the end of July, out of the blue, my friend Jody Graul sent out a note to members of the still-closed Nahant Dory Club saying that the weather looked promising for the following Saturday; he proposed we get together for an Honor 1-2-3 Race. I should explain that long before the current trend of race committees using government marks and odd-shaped courses to break up the monotony of windward-leeward racing, Jody and I, along with a few others, managed to waste perfectly good adulthoods chasing each other around random courses, mostly of Jody’s design. And so, in the midst of the pandemic, he was up to it again.
Here was his plan: There would be no entry fee; skippers could choose to sail singlehanded, doublehanded, or with three members of the same household or bubble aboard; there was no skipper’s meeting, no party afterward, no race committee and no starting gun. Instead, each skipper picked when they wanted to race that afternoon, and then noted the time when they sailed past Joe Beach buoy, located just off the Dory Club’s patio. From there, the course was a meandering clockwise sail around Broad Sound, leaving three wellspaced government marks to starboard. Back at Joe Beach, time was noted again and emailed to Jody, keeper of the handicap spreadsheet, and he’d cook—er, I mean, crunch—the numbers and declare a winner.
In theory, it sounded simple, but in execution, there were variables. First, there was a bet on the timing, strength and longevity of the sea breeze. Then there were the currents that flow in numerous directions across the sound, and can punish or reward handsomely. And lastly, there was the course itself, with multiple beats, reaches and runs. Oh, and the competition. For that first Honor Race, the 10 entrants ranged in size from a Catalina 32 to our 16-foot O’day Daysailer. When the math was done, Rex Antrim stood in first place, singlehanding his 16.5-foot wooden Town Class
Albatross. In all there were three Honor Races in 2020. It’s worth noting that Rex’s brother, Josh, nailed the final race aboard his Jeanneau 38, Alexa, also singlehanded. A family dynasty? We often wonder.
In a recent email summing up the races (and proposing more for 2021), Jody noted: “In the last race with 14 boats showing up, eight had a husband and wife on board. One of the eight had husband, wife and child. One had a committed couple, and one had a father (over 80) and son for crew. Is this a good thing during COVID?”
Yes, Jody, it’s a good thing. But it’s even better that we all had a good time during a pandemic.
Oh no! We’re being passed by Dr. Brown! He ended up one place ahead of us on corrected time in Race Three.
For the better part of June and July, there wasn’t a sail to be seen. Most yacht clubs were shuttered, and even in towns like Marblehead, racing was a serious no-no, and cruisers basically had nowhere to go. BY MARK PILLSBURY