The 28th annual Pat West Gaff Rig and Schooner Race last Saturday drew competing vessels from every direction — the 121-foot 1926 fishing schooner Adventure came down from Gloucester, the 1932 ocean-racing schooner Brilliant came up from Mystic, and the 1932 Crosby catboat Pinkletink, now with a home port on Cape Cod, returned to waters familiar to her from when she was sailed by John and Pinkie Leavens of Chilmark.
But the local boats and local skippers won the racing. The 65-foot schooner Juno, the powerful design from Nat Benjamin, was first over the line, and won both the schooner division on corrected time to win the Ingrid Robinson Memorial Award, and line honors for first schooner to finish, bringing the Zeb Tilton Trophy to skipper Scott DiBiaso and owner Robert Soros. She was followed closely by Brilliant, last year’s winner, and sailed again by Nicholas Alley, and Jeff Robinson’s Phra Luang in third.
In the gaff-rig division, the top three spots were all taken by Nat Benjamin designs, Lisca, Minnehaha, and Artemis. Lisca, a 29-foot sloop sailed to advantage by Brad Abbott, picked up an early change of wind to come over the line in third place on elapsed time, just behind Juno and Brilliant, and with a first overall on corrected time beat Lyle Zell in the small G & B Bella sloop, Minnehaha, and Matt Hobart in the newly launched 31-footer, Artemis.
If the boats came from every corner, so did the wind. The wind blew from the east, southeast, and southwest, and even the west on the far side of Nantucket Sound, and sang with variable strength as well. The start of the race on Saturday morning was delayed by half an hour as the fleet waited for the wind to fill in from the east. The selected course was a relatively short one, from Vineyard Haven’s outer harbor off Eastville east to the far end of Hedge Fence, and a return around marks in the middle of Nantucket Sound between Falmouth and the Vineyard. After the start and a close-hauled reach to the middle of Nantucket Sound, the fleet split in search of favorable winds and tides, some sailing southeast along the Vineyard’s shoreline deep into Cow Bay, others tacking upwind between L’Hommedieu Shoal and Squash Meadow, working their way along and carefully over the spine of Hedge Fence.
The skippers who stayed in the middle of the sound won out. The powerful full-moon tides turned west before many boats reached Bell 22 off Hedge Fence, giving a great lift to those who made the mark early and frustrating those who found themselves working against the increasing current. Juno and Brilliant, rounding early, raced down to Can 15 off Falmouth, and there sailed into a hollow of dead wind. Now being swept by the current with only a whisper of wind, both schooners anchored until a westerly wind came in, and they then took off for the finish, neck and neck. In the meantime, the remainder of the fleet sailed with the fun and assurance of increasing wind, one small catboat even reefing just after rounding the mark off Hedge Fence. But by the time the fleet was making the final mark, the wind had turned southwest, and the final leg into Vineyard Haven was again a beat.
Twenty-three boats were at the starting line for this year’s Pat West Race, and the fleet included the 18-foot Hazel, a Gannon and Benjamin sloop sailed by Greta Gannon and two other young sailors, two 21-foot G & B Bella sloops, Minnehaha and Rosalee, and three catboats of 22 feet, sixth-place finisher Zena, Julia Lee, and Pinkletink, among the larger sloops and schooners. In addition to the special appearance of the schooner Adventure, the race celebrated the return of Venture, Pat West’s own sloop, built in 1910, helmed by Lu Yoder, with her new owner of one week, Danny Braunstein, joining in and continuing a fine Vineyard tradition of sailing and racing. Venture finished fifth in the gaff-rig division, a satisfying race for the new steward of an Island treasure.