The Moffett Race is a celebration of Vineyard sailing

The Gannon and Benjamin built schooner Juno, in a previous Moffett race. — Photo courtesy of David Lott

If you’re an avid Vineyard sailor, then you will have received a missive in your email inbox recently akin to finding a special gift under the Christmas tree — the race announcement for the 35th Annual George Moffett Race.

To be held Saturday, September 8, the Moffett is a special event that is close to the heart of Vineyard sailors, as it not only signals the end of the summer racing season on Island, but also heralds the start of fall sailing, that bittersweet season of sail and brilliant autumn light, accompanied by the unsettling question — is this my last sail of the year?

The Moffett Race is also an important competition for Islanders for whom work may have taken precedence over sailing during the summer and who now have an opportunity to show off their skills.

An Open Invitation

All sailboats of 16 feet or more in length up to 75 feet are invited to compete. Race organizers calculate a rating for each boat, which allows boats of all shapes and sizes to participate. After a full day of sailing in Vineyard Sound and dealing with the elements, a major part of the fun is the after-party, where tired but satisfied skippers and crew wait for the winner to be announced after all finishing times have been corrected.

Handicapping the Moffett Race has been the most challenging task for the race committee. The Holmes Hole handicaps are derived by watching the boats perform over many races and conditions. But in the Moffett Race, many boats are coming out for their first race and some from far away. Thus, when speedy performance boats are competing with classic schooners and 16-foot, full-keel day sailors, it makes for a most interesting dilemma. But the race committee finds a way.

One solution has been that since 1998, when Vineyard sailing legend Harry Duane won his second Moffett race, the winners have been penalized in the succeeding five years of races to allow others a chance at winning. This approach was clearly in mind last year when Moffett Committee Member Roger Becker announced post-race with tongue in cheek, “We make the ratings so no one can win.”

The flip side is that a boat that may have had a discouraging finish one year may leap ahead the next, buoyed by a rating that more accurately assesses the boat’s and skipper’s abilities. The relative strengths and weakness of any particular boat is often the topic of discussion long after the race is over.

New for 2012

A new twist to the Moffett this year is the ability to sign up online. Just go to the Holmes Hole Sailing Association (HHSA) website, and click on the “Moffett” button. From there you can download the entry form, print it out, fill it in and mail it to HHSA, c/o Gates, 26 Ocean View Farm Road, Chilmark MA 02535. You can also fill it out online and pay using PayPal.

The Race Committee asks that any boat with more than three crew members at the post-race party make a donation of $5 per person, which can be pre-paid with the entry fee.

Entries must be received no later than Friday, August 31, 2012. There will be no extensions. Traditionally late-mailers are reminded not to hand-deliver their forms to the Gates mailbox as the post office will simply confiscate them.

The entry fee is $40, payable to Holmes Hole Sailing Association. US Sailing members get a break and pay just $35. Competitors convene at Gannon & Benjamin at 1700 hours (5 pm) on Friday, September 7, 2012 for a skipper’s meeting, with the race taking place the next day. First gun is at 1110 hours. (11:10 am).

The Awards Ceremony will be at 1700 hours (5 pm) at Vineyard Haven Yacht Club where food and refreshments will be provided to make all the day’s stories go down easier. If there is a postponement due to weather, Sunday, September 9, is the make-up day.

Race Beginnings

When George Moffett, a successful yachtsman who was instrumental in the early days of the Holmes Hole Sailing Association, died in 1977, his widow, Lucia Moffett, asked the board if the HHSA could establish an annual award in George’s name. It was decided an annual, end-of-the-season race to celebrate the summer’s success would be held in September, when winds were apt to be strong.

Over the years the race has gained in popularity and has attracted boats of every description. Now, awards are given for overall positions of 1 through 5, with the winner’s name placed on the half-hull model of the “Lucia,” a cruising boat that Moffett designed for his wife Lucia.

The list of past winners of the Moffett reads like a Who’s Who of Vineyard sailing, beginning with the defending champion Rocinante III, skippered and crewed by the Logue/Mendenhall family. Renowned skippers such Steve Besse, Holmes Hole Commodore Dan Culkin, Alan Wilson, and the only two-time winner in the same vessel, Harry Duane.

On the list for 1981, Lucia Moffett won the race which she had the inspiration to create, and fittingly, she won it on the boat that is now enshrined on the trophy, the Lucia.