A few of the Beverly fleet, traveling home from Wing’s Neck to Marion
(Photo by Anne T. Converse, used with permission.)
This photo makes me smile — for it conjures up so vividly the happy memory of a perfect summer afternoon, sailing back home with good friends from a weekend of regatta sailing. You see, five of us had sailed our Herreshoff Twelves from Marion to Cataumet a few days before this, to participate in the 2014 H Class National Championship. It was a much-anticipated weekend, especially since we were also celebrating the 100th anniversary of Nathanael Herreshoff’s design of these boats. The first of these boats were made for the Quissett and Beverly Yacht Clubs (as well as the little fleet on Naushon Island), which explains why there is such a long and beloved history of Herreshoff Twelves on Buzzard’s Bay. These little boats are so highly cherished that they are passed down through generations of families, grandparents teaching their grandkids, families racing together, ensuring that the legacy lives on. This was a big weekend for celebratory parties, on- and off-the-water camaraderie, and friendly rivalries! There were 45 boats on the line for the two days of racing, all their skippers having made the trek from far and wide to celebrate the design of the boat they love so well. It was beautiful. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a fleet of gorgeous Twelves on a spinnaker run!
We left Marion the morning of the day before racing, and planned to set a course due North, which would bring us in to Cataumet. We sailed out to Bird Island Light, leaving it to port, and set off on course. As always, passing Bird Island Light feels like a great adventure, and this day was no exception. It was a lovely five mile sail, pretty much a reach all the way, and on this particular day, the wind cooperated and helped us get to Cataumet just after lunch. Having the wind cooperate takes on an entirely new meaning, if you, like us, eschew such things as motors. We do have a paddle on board, but, as you can imagine, that’s kind of a last resort, saved for those occasions when all else fails. . .
The weekend was wonderful. We made new friends and enjoyed catching up with old, though the two days of racing were fraught with light winds and endless motor boat wakes on the race course. This combination is deadly in a heavy keelboat, where waves kill your speed (or what there is of it in light airs), and keeping the spinnaker full while slamming up and down is always a challenge. Here, below, is a beautiful video (from our friends at Doughdish, LLC) which captures the timeless spirit of the boat, and shows a little overview of some of the weekend’s racing. It was especially meaningful to see some of the oldest wooden boats racing right alongside some of the newest Doughdishes (a fiberglass reproduction of the old wooden boats) — certainly a proud testament to the health and continued growth of our H Class.
Warning: think before you view this video, because once you see these boats sailing, you will want one for yourself! They are, as people say, “the perfect little yacht.”
As pictured at the top of the post in my friend Annie’s picture (she took it while single-handing her boat Dodici), our little fleet had a long, quiet sail back home in the afternoon sun, the water sparkling all around us. I don’t think a word was spoken the whole way, none of us wanting to break the spell of such a magical time on the water. Although we were in our separate boats, we were very much together, very much a team, as we sailed that long trek home. And, as always on the voyage back to Sippican, Bird Island Light beckoned from afar, as if to say: “you’re almost home!” — usually a welcome sight, though on this day, none of us wanted our transcendental journey to end.
I’ll leave you with a poem written by my dear friend and fellow Herreshoff Twelve sailor, Don McLagan. Don skillfully skippers his boat, Four@Play, is a very talented poet, and a serial entrepreneur, not to mention having been a recent past President of the H Class Association. This poem was read at the celebratory dinner the weekend of the Championship, and has quickly become a much-beloved classic!
Why I Sail A 100-Year Old Boat
Today when twin hulls foil on top
Why splash through waves that slow and stop?
With carbon-fiber’s proven use
Why still a mast of sitka spruce?
When titanium’s in demand
Why lay-up fiberglass by hand?
And as I stop to think of it
A GPS would help a bit.
The boat I sail’s a century old
At least in its design and mold.
When Princip shot Duke Ferdinand
That year when World War One began,
When Charlie Chaplin’s on-screen vamp
Introduced The Little Tramp,
Then Cap’n Nat got Emmons’ note
And made by hand the H12 boat.
He had a goal for ease of sail
So kids could learn in Buzzard’s gale,
Though it’s not hard to make her go,
The trick is not to sail her slow.
The gaff-rigged main can be perverse
The peak-set is the devil’s curse:
Stretch it, loose it, lower to lee,
Forget to raise – a tragedy!
There’re more mistakes that can occur
When putting up the spinnaker.
I’ve made them all and here’s my list –
It starts with getting a forestay-twist;
I’ve had it doused into the sea
Which slowed my pace considerably;
Other times it’s up too long
And I jibe the mark completely wrong.
This H12 boat can separate
The best, from sailors not-so-great
Because it tests their seamanship
Instead of high tech brinkmanship.
So when it’s a comparison
Of Cap’n Nat and Ellison,
I’m proud to sail, when I cast off,
The boat that’s named for Herreshoff.
— Don McLagan, 2014
H Class Association