I was asked to write a piece about the 44th annual Buzzards Bay Regatta (BBR), which will be hosted by Beverly Yacht Club, in Marion, Massachusetts, from August 5-7, 2016. This year’s event organizers have decided to return to the roots of the event, and are bringing the focus back to adult racing on Buzzards Bay, and the competition in the boats that are sailed and raced by the local clubs.

Trophies are a family affair

Trophies are a family affair

For the first time in a long time, there will be racing for the H-12s, and the Bulls Eyes, as well as the 420s, Ensigns, J-24s, J-80s, J-105s, multi-hulls, and the PHRF racing boats.

According to the BBR website, the beginning of the BBR story goes way back to 1972, when “Bill Saltonstall (of the Beverly Yacht Club), and Bob Saltmarsh (of the New Bedford Yacht Club) brought to life their dream of creating a regatta in which the yacht clubs around Buzzards Bay could come together each year to race. They envisioned that Beverly Yacht Club and New Bedford Yacht Club, being the largest of the area Clubs, would take turns hosting the event every other year, while the other, smaller yacht clubs (Angelica Yacht Club, Low Tide Yacht Club, Mattapoisett Yacht Club, and Wild Harbor Yacht Club) would provide support. When they brought their proposal back to their respective yacht clubs, the Buzzards Bay Regatta was born, engendering a great tradition of local sailors competing together on arguably the best body of water in the world for competitive sailing.” Who, back then, could have foreseen how wildly successful the BBR would become?

PHRF boats at the start

PHRF boats at the start

Recently, I had the pleasure of getting together with Bill Saltonstall, to talk with him about the founding of the BBR, and the growing of it into one of the most well-regarded regattas in the world. He and his wife Tinker shared some wonderful stories of the early days, and of the regatta’s meteoric ascent into becoming not only the largest multi-class yacht regatta in the United States, but, more importantly, one well known for its world-class racing and race and regatta management. In fact, in 1982, Beverly Yacht Club received the coveted St. Petersburg trophy, awarded by U. S. Sailing for the Club’s outstanding management of the BBR — a great honor, indeed.

The early days, according to Bill, were exhilarating, and a favorite story he told me was of how, long ago, on that first day of that first BBR, he shot a gun off for the harbor start, signaling the start of the weekend’s racing, and led a pack of Race Committee boats out to the starting areas to establish their race courses in the bay, heralding the launch of what would become one of the most famous regattas ever. I can just imagine the excitement and the pride that that simple, elegant gesture must have engendered in all involved.

J-80s racing at BBR

J-80s racing at BBR

What did that first BBR look like? It included multiple handicap classes, five or six Olympic circles to accommodate twelve different one design classes, and it required the daunting task of coordinating several independent race committee boats, on several different race courses, and all of their respective mark setting boats, crash boats, and judges’ boats. Whew. According to the BBR website, “That first regatta was a huge success, attracting a fleet of 199 competitors. Thus began a great tradition that has gained momentum and developed a well-earned reputation among sailors across the country.” Fast-forwarding to 2016, it’s clear that things have certainly come a long way since Bill and Bob’s fortuitous lunch meeting at Ray & Joe’s restaurant in New Bedford, and the planning of that first BBR!

A young crew at BBR

A young crew competes at BBR

This year, the focus has returned to the fleets that are raced in local racing, just as Bill and Bob had envisioned. The 2016 BBR will bring together sailors from all over Buzzards Bay and beyond – just imagine how much fun will it be for sailors to meet up with old friends, and re-live the “friendly rivalries” that have blossomed over the years between the Clubs on Buzzards Bay, and on the race courses during more than 40 years worth of the BBR.

H-12s racing in Marion

H-12s racing in Marion

To name just a few, the more famous of those aforementioned  rivalries are between the legendary H-12 fleets of the Beverly, Buzzards and Quissett Yacht Clubs, or the Shields fleets from Marion and Edgartown, or the Buzzards Bay area PHRF boats participating in the annual Quissett “Round the Bay” race, or in Beverly Yacht Club’s  “Tower Race.” A couple of years ago, I raced in the BBR PHRF racing aboard Sterling, a J-105 from Marion, and it was great sport, indeed, racing against the boats we knew from the area Clubs, and even more fun to see them back on shore after racing.

A Shields bearing down on the windward mark

A Shields bearing down on the windward mark

As many would agree, at the end of the day, excellent race management, fierce (but friendly) competition, and that most important ingredient, genuine camaraderie on and off the water, are what make a successful regatta — and the BBR can proudly boast a long history of all three.

J-24 teamwork

Hoisting the spinnaker on a J/24

In addition to the local fleets, family teams, and young racers, BBR continues to attract high-level competitors, as well, and it is this mixture that makes the event so successful. In fact, the 2016 Buzzards Bay Regatta will serve as the J/24 Northeast Regional Championship and a tune-up regatta for the Ensign Nationals hosted by nearby Mattapoisett Yacht Club the following weekend.

BBR registration is currently open, and you can find out everything there is to know about volunteering, sponsorship, and racing by visiting the BBR website. Event registration includes launch/haul for the one design fleets, a mooring for the weekend for all classes, the great racing Buzzards Bay is known for, and, of course, loads of fun on the water and on shore. So, don’t miss the 2016 BBR — come and join us in Marion, and be a part of this wonderful Buzzards Bay tradition — truly the friendliest regatta around!

Photos provided by Buzzards Bay Regatta

Deborah Bennett Elfers
I was practically born on a boat, though on a working lobster boat rather than a sailboat. In my early days, I sailed quite a lot on a Sunfish, but not very elegantly, as in our little neighborhood “fleet,” the boat was primarily used as a weapon in a wildly popular game of “kill the other guy!” Who could have imagined way back then, that one day I’d become so passionate about all things sailing?
Deborah Bennett Elfers
Deborah Bennett Elfers

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