The stage was set on a beautiful fall day last September for a race of classic yachts hosted by Indian Harbor Yacht Club. It was the second of a new series of classic yacht regattas cohosted by four Long Island Sound clubs: Larchmont, Indian Harbor, American and for the final race, Hempstead Harbor. Three of the four races were needed to qualify for the series.
Fresh northwest winds of eighteen miles per hour gusting over twenty made for exciting starts. For those who revel in the sight of sail, there is no greater experience than watching these lovely yachts under full canvas as they charge ahead, vying for position on the starting line—and even a greater thrill if you are lucky enough to be crewing for one.
Classic Division Class A yachts ranged in size from Scott Frantz’s legendary 81-foot Herreshoff ketch Ticonderoga to the comely 50-foot Alden sloop Nor’easter owned by Ted and Shelia Graves, who were also in charge of organizing the event at Indian Harbor. In the nineteen-mile course to Eatons Neck and back, Nor’easter took third place, edged out of second in a back-and-forth contest with Angelita, the 1932 Olympic gold-medal-winning Eight Meter from American Yacht Club. Overall winner in Class A was 68-foot Black Watch, a 1938 Sparkman & Stevens yawl owned by Lars Forsberg, sailing under the New York Yacht Club burgee. To her went the Frank Bowne Jones Founder’s Cup, named for Indian Harbor’s first member and a founder of the Yacht Racing Union of Long Island Sound, the North American Yacht Racing Union and the United States Power Squadrons.
Easily qualifying as the oldest Class A yacht was Spartan, a NY 50 designed by Nathanael Herreshoff in 1912. During the 1920s and ’30s she was owned by a Greenwich family. She was later abandoned and the present owner undertook a staggering multi-year reconstruction of what had become little more than a rotting hulk. The return of this magnificently restored American yacht to her home port in Greenwich for this regatta was also the occasion of the 100th anniversary of her commissioning.
The most famous participant was the beautifully maintained Ticonderoga, launched in 1936. The Big TI, as she is affectionately called, has established one of the greatest ocean-racing records of American yachting history. Between 1936 and 1967, she was first to finish in thirty-four blue water races and set course records in sixteen of them, including the epic 1965 storm-tossed Transpac Race to Honolulu, known as the race of the century. After a record-breaking run of 2,400 miles in a close fought battle with archrival Stormvogel, she won with a margin of just under six minutes.
Not all classic boats qualify for that designation. Some are replicas of classic designs or are modified versions of the originals. Those that do not meet the strict specifications for original material, construction and design to qualify them as true classics compete in the Spirit of Tradition class. Former IHYC commodore Jim Fogarty’s Cadenza, a 28-foot Herreshoff ketch, took first place honors in this class followed by Natanya skippered by Joe Hliva. Certainly the most colorful was marine artist Peter Arguimbau’s Molly Rose, a 1935 catboat distinguished by a large black ball on her oversized mainsail.
Two one-design classes and a special Marshall catboat class rounded out the fleet. Five Nathanael G. Herreshoff S-class boats circa 1920s came up from Larchmont, where they are still actively raced. Of more recent vintage was the postwar Shields Class that included three Indian Harbor entries plus four others from Larchmont.
Sailing these beauties is greatly rewarding in itself, but restoring and owning a classic yacht is a consuming and romantic experience. Sam Croll fell in love with Angelita as a young man. When he finally could afford it, he bought and restored her. For him and his partner, Henry Skelsky, and their wives and children she is like a second home. About classic yachts he says, “It’s wonderful to see all this gleaming wood, varnish and bronze on Long Island Sound instead of just fiberglass and Kevlar.”
Alex Dubitsky, owner of the 1916 yawl Bernice, describes maintaining a classic yacht “like keeping a grand piano in your backyard year-round with no cover, but we are all passionate about preserving and sharing them with others.”
Says Shelia Graves, “Ted and I fell in love with each other along with our first classic, a narrow 38-footer but wanted something larger for cruising. As luck would have it, the boat we dreamed of came on the market. It was a rare 1926 Alden Q-class 50-foot yawl that had been in one family for fifty years.” The rest is history.
Reflecting on the classic yacht regattas, Ted points out, “Everyone comes together to celebrate preservation and to connect with other classic sailors, not unlike a classic car show or collecting art. The camaraderie is part of the magic of owning a classic yacht.”
And, it wouldn’t be a sailing regatta if part of the fun didn’t take place postrace ashore when skippers and crews assemble to rehash the day’s races and exchange stories, short and tall, over Dark and Stormies, a tongue loosening combination of dark rum and ginger beer.