It’s a race, it’s a party, it’s the Vineyard Cup

Steve Myrick

Beck Colson didn’t win his division of the Vineyard Cup Regatta. He didn’t enjoy the thrill of hearing the winner’s gun when he crossed the finish line, or raise a trophy over his head at the post-race celebration.

But when they handed out awards at Sunday’s regatta concluding festivities, the 19-year-old skipper’s was the first name called, and he got the biggest ovation.

Mr. Colson, at the helm of his family’s Nonesuch 26, Silhouette, in Saturday’s distance race, was sailing well, in contention for a top spot, when he saw the glint of a kayaker’s paddle in the distance.

“We were about four miles out (from land)” Mr. Colson said. “There was a pretty strong headwind and a very strong current. We decided to take a little sail by.”

Mr. Colson abandoned the race and set a course for the two kayakers off Cape Poge. When he got there, they told him they were all right. Mr. Colson started sailing back to Vineyard Haven, but after ten minutes, still concerned with their safety, he turned his boat around and went back. He followed the kayakers all the way to Edgartown Harbor, making sure they arrived safely.

When race director Brock Callen recognized Mr. Colson’s selfless sportsmanship in remarks at the post-race party Sunday evening, the gathered throng of sailing competitors raised a hearty cheer.

“This is what it’s all about,” Mr. Callen said, the emotion evident in his voice.

Abandoning a race to help another vessel in distress is time honored tradition among racing sailors. Mr. Colson has spent as many summers as he can remember in Oak Bluffs, and he will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology next year. He learned the rules of racing and the value of sportsmanship while competing in the Holmes Hole Sailing Association races on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons through the summer.

“It’s a race,” he said. “It’s not worth having two kayakers stranded in the ocean. I’m pretty sure anyone would have made that choice.”

Race party

The Vineyard Cup has earned a reputation for a laid back event where competition does not take a back seat to fun and relaxation.

Racers feasted on lobster rolls, swordfish, and barbecue during the three post-race parties. Many danced the evening away with popular local bands Dukes County Love Affair and Entrain.

Mr. Callen credited sponsors Men’s Journal, Morris Yachts, Alerion Express, Oris Swiss Watches, The Black Dog, Patron Tequila, Samuel Adams and many others for the rollicking parties. He said the sponsors’ generosity allows 100 percent of the party ticket proceeds to go to Sail Martha’s Vineyard’s summer sailing programs and maritime education.

“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, attracting that many national sponsors,” Mr. Callen, the race organizer, said. “Without our sponsors, we couldn’t do this.”

Racers saw light, flukey air on the first two days of the event. On Saturday, only two of the 17 boats that entered the largest racing division were able to finish the 22-mile course in the time allotted by the race rules. Several were disappointed to be disqualified just minutes from the finish line, after nearly eight hours on the water.

In pursuit of excellence

On Sunday, aboard M 52, built by Morris Yachts of Bass Harbor, Maine, a pursuit race gave the Vineyard Cup sponsor a chance to show off its brand new 52 foot luxury racer cruiser.

In a pursuit race, time is adjusted according to the boat’s rating at the beginning, not the end of the race. Each boat is assigned a starting time, with slower boats starting first and faster boats last. First over the finish line wins, no time correction adjustments needed.

M 52, rated among the fastest boats in the Vineyard Cup fleet, started an hour and 42 minutes after the first boat began the race. With Chad Thieken at the helm, the crew began to thread through the competitors under a steady southwest breeze, The moment of truth came on a downwind leg to buoy “R22” in the middle of Nantucket Sound. The fleet was closely bunched at that point, a little more than half way through he 16 mile race, and Mr. Thieken was picking rivals off one by one. The few boats who rounded the mark first caught a fair tide and a freshening breeze, while just a few hundred yards away, the rest got caught doldrums, fighting the current toward the mark. M 52 rounded the buoy and screamed back to the finish line in Vineyard Haven Harbor at speeds north of eight knots, finishing first in the Morris class for the day, and second overall with combined scores for all three days of racing.

After the race, Cuyler Morris, president of the company his father founded 40 years ago, said the company finds the Vineyard Cup event a good sponsorship fit.

“There are all kinds of reasons to be here,” Mr. Morris said. “It’s the right kind of event for our customers. There’s competition, but it’s friendly. To top it all off, you get to support community sailing in Martha’s Vineyard. It ticks off all the boxes.”

And the winners…

After three days of racing, the overall class winners were announced at the post-race party Sunday evening.

In Class 1, Phil Hale sailed Wicked, a Sheilds 30, to victory over 13 other competitors.

In Class 2, Apres, a J/120 sailed by local standout Stephen Besse, was the winner in a field of 16 boats.

In the spinnaker division, Race Horse ran away with the class. The distinctive wooden W 37 is owned by Donald Tofias.

In the small classic division, Isabella, a Bella class wooden day sailer built by Gannon & Benjamin in Vineyard Haven, took top honors with skipper John Stout.

Gentian, a New York 32 skippered by visiting sailor Richard Armstrong was best among the classic boats competing.

In the Alerion one-design class, the overall winner was Osprey, an Alerion Express 38, owned by James Swent.

In the Morris Division, best in class was Undine, skippered by Edward Cerullo.

Full results are available at the regatta web site,