WOOD Regatta
Rock Hall YC * May 20-22, 2011
report by Frank Pedersen

WOOD Boat Regatta at RHYC
A history and review by Frank Pedersen (W8705)

Plagiarizing shamelessly from A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast by Hank and Jan Taft, we learn that WoodenBoat magazine was founded on a shoestring in 1974 by Jon Wilson.  Against all odds, including a disastrous fire, the seductive magazine became the bellwether of a resurgent interest in wooden boats.  In 1985, it achieved an astonishing circulation of 100,000, and it has continued to grow.  Its early success is partly attributed to several contributors:  Maynard Bray, a former curator of Mystic Seaport Museum, Joel White (son of E. B. White, the famous writer at The New Yorker and author of such masterpieces as Charlotte's Web), who owned a boat yard and was a builder, designer, and skillful writer about yacht design, and Benjamin Mendlowitz, a world-class photographer whose work enhanced articles about wooden boats.

WoodenBoat, housed now in an imposing brick estate along the shore of Eggemoggin Reach in Brooklin, Maine, also has a summer school located in the brick stables of the estate.  The school provides short courses in boatbuilding skills of all kinds as well as on-the-water courses in seamanship, navigation, and small-boat sailing.  These courses are highly sought after and they often are fully subscribed just a few days after registration opens.  In support of the sailing instruction, WoodenBoat owns a fleet of boats used in teaching, which are moored at their waterfront facility.
Among the various sailing events WoodenBoat has sponsored, there is the immensely successful Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, a race now in its 25th year, which is open to wooden boats 26ft. and larger. The event is a single race, 16 miles in length, and has attracted fleets of almost a hundred boats racing in 4 or 5 divisions.  More recently, the Small Reach Regatta hasbeen held for boats in the 13 ft. to 22 ft. range. Participants in this event are adamantly opposed to formal racing.  It is conducted like a Wayfarer Rally over a 5-day period with groups that row or sail to nearby islands for a picnic and the like. (Richard Harrington has attended the Small Reach Regatta one or two times.)  Fifty-four boats are registered for this year's event (2011), based out of Lamoine State Park in Maine.
WoodenBoat has moreover conducted an annual Wooden Boat Show, held in early summer for builders to display their craft and spectators to admire, covet, and sometimes buy them.  There is much socializing among these kindred souls and there also are seminars and lectures on such topics as construction, maintenance, design, etc.  The sites for these shows, initially at least, rotated among areas well known for waterfront activities.  For example:  Newport, Rhode Island, Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, St. Michael's, Maryland, and Southwest Harbor, Maine.  Racing of small sailboats emerged hesitantly from these shows, promoted primarily by WoodenBoat's publisher, Carl Cramer.
The first WoodenBoat regatta for small boats was sailed in Newport Rhode Island in 1992 for three designs developed by Joel White:  the Shellback, and the "small" and "large" Nutshells.  These boats were all likely owner-built, many of which were probably constructed at the WoodenBoat School.  About 20 boats participated.  Being part of the Boat Show, the regatta was just a single race.  By coincidence, a regatta for 12-meter yachts was being conducted at the same time.  At the skipper's meeting, it was advised not to hail for rights against the 12-meters.  
The following year, about which only sketchy information is available, there apparently was a larger number of one-designs that raced, again at Newport, under the Portsmouth handicap system.  Following that, I was told by Carl that the next Boat Show was held at Southwest Harbor, Maine.  Efforts at holding some racing were not successful.  It appears that the race committee had little experience with small boats and did not offer an appropriate course.  WoodenBoat's sponsorship of small boat racing languished after that experience.
In more recent years, Carl utilized the possibilities offered by electronic communication to stimulate interest in a racing event.  WoodenBoat had developed an internet Forum that had become immensely popular, and Carl encouraged discussion about a dedicated racing event, that is, something more ambitious than a single race sandwiched into a boat show.  Three ideas were salient:  it was to be held in early spring, which naturally took the venue out of Maine, or New England generally; there would be several races, handicapped under the Portsmouth system; and new designs were encouraged in addition to established one-design classes.  The acronym WOOD regatta stands for the Wood Open and One-Design regatta.

Rock Hall Yacht Club was selected as the venue for several reasons:  its location promises warm weather and generally mild sailing conditions;  it has facilities, including electric hoists and a sandy beach, that allow easy launching and recovery of boats; it has an experienced race committee, able to manage multiple courses and handicap racing; camping is possible; and it is able to provide food and beverages for the participants and possible spectators.  There are other reasons as well, but it would be hard to improve on the site for the purposes intended.  Finally, in the club's long history, wooden boats have played an important role.
The WOOD regatta, with racing on May 21 and 22, had approximately thirty-five participants, down slightly from earlier expectations.  Among the classes represented were the 110, Lightning, Fireball, Wayfarer, Hampton, Windmill, Blue Jay, Duster, Moth, the Paper Jet, and several one-off designs.  Two courses were sailed, one for smaller boats that included 7 Moths (Classic only - no foils)  that raced as a separate class, and a second that had two divisions, Performance I and Performance II.  The Wayfarer (four in all) raced in Performance II, which included a Windmill, a Hampton (?), and a custom 16 ft. cold molded design.  Performance I had a Fireball, three Lightnings, the Turbo model of the Paper Jet sailed by its designer, Dudly Dix, and the "modified" 110, the only keel boat in the event.

Uncle Al (l) and Jim Cobb discuss Jim's rigging.

Wind was generally light to moderate with some variation in both strength and direction.  The Wayfarer group had Al Schonborn W3854, Jim Heffernan W1066, Frank Pedersen W8705 and Jim Cobb W7703. All looked outstanding.  Al's boat had the longest history of racing.  Jim had just completed an extensive rebuild and this was his boat's first time in the water.  Frank's boat was sailing only the second time after being completed from a kit in 2010 and some kinks still remained. Jim Cobb's boat also was relatively fresh to the water, the result of a massive rebuild which he completed in a remarkably short time period. He named her Loafer's Retreat, but she might have been named Lazarus, having been literally raised from the dead after years of neglect.  Cobb sailed single-handed (he has had experience in the Moth class), which became more difficult when the wind freshened.

The author, Frank Pedersen (W8705), closes in on the windward mark in one of Sunday's races.

More Sunday windward mark action in the combined Performance I and II fleet
(l to r) W1066 Jim Heffernan, Lightning, Fireball, W8705 Frank P., Windmill, W3854 Uncle Al

The Windmill leads Jim Heffernan onto the run of a windward-leeward course.
As Al Schonborn observed in a note to Carl Cramer, participants were generally not "hard core" racers.  With 5 races on Saturday and 3 on Sunday, several people dropped out as Saturday wore on; in addition, numbers were smaller on Sunday.  As Al suggested, Performance I and Performance II were combined on Sunday since the number racing had dwindled.  Al sailed strongly and dominated the Wayfarer group even though he was pressed hard by Jim Heffernan until rudder damage forced Jim from the competition. Frank was steady but unremarkable and Jim Cobb dropped out of several races.  The Windmill provided the only competition from another design, but he was beaten soundly by Al on a boat-for-boat basis even thougyh his rating required giving time to the Wayfarer.  (Al: Windmills and Wayfarers should have the same rating, ditto for the Rebels.)

the 110 and the ...

... difficult Paper Jet

on-rushing 110 plus "side view" of the Paper Jet
In Performance I, the souped-up 110 was outstanding. The Paper Jet was disappointing. It was a challenge to manage, even for its designer, with its jib, spinnaker, and trapeze - all on a single-handed boat of near-Laser proportions. One Lightning appeared to be well-sailed, but the others were not up to racing caliber. One charmingly displayed its vintage by sailing with cotton sails. The Moth class, sailing on a separate course with other smaller boats, looked very interesting, but I had no chance to follow their results.
Looking back at the event, my overall reaction was mixed.  On the positive side, the weather was perfect - at the end of a week marked by severe afternoon thunderstorms.  The venue, Rock Hall Yacht Club, could not have been improved upon.  The Race Committee did a superb job.  Carl was pleased and I understand he plans to have another WOOD regatta at RHYC again next year.
On the down side, the racing was too demanding for most of the participants. Two races on Saturday and one on Sunday would have been enough.  Races could easily have been somewhat longer, however.  Come to think of it, back in the 1960's, when we all sailed wooden boats, three races was a typical regatta. With a lighter racing schedule, more on-shore activities might have been included. Spectators might have had more time to talk with boat owners (and, in some cases, builders), and racers might have gotten to know one another and a greater variety of boats than are commonly found at a regatta.
The goal of comparing different designs in actual racing conditions was somewhat defeated by dividing the faster boats into two divisions. If they had all sailed together, the results could have been sorted out with the handicap system, but there would have been a more solid basis to get a real sense of just how they performed. In this way, the regatta might have had some of Yachting Magazine's One-Of-A-Kind races' characterwhen these were held in the 1960's and 1970's.
On balance, I think it was a worthwhile showcase for the Wayfarer class. In other classes, wooden boats often sail as a separate "classic" division, perhaps because fiberglass hulls have been optimized within the measurement tolerances and they may outperform the wooden boats. In the Wayfarer class, we are confident that wooden hulls compete equally to fiberglass ones - and they look prettier, too!