Round the Island race celebrates 80 years

Edgartown Yacht Club's "Round-the-Island Race" will be held on Saturday.

Starting at 8 am Saturday morning, a fleet of racing yachts will set sail for the 80-year-old Round the Island Race.

According to a press release, this Island tradition is one of America’s oldest distance races, and is part of the Edgartown Yacht Club’s Edgartown Race Weekend.

“The circular race is 56 nautical miles in length,” co-chair of the Edgartown Yacht Club Big Boat Racing Committee Hal Findlay said in the release. This distance is equivalent to about 65 miles and, according to Findlay, is only a few miles longer than the Isle of Wight race in England, which was the course of the first America’s Cup.

“Both courses have views of the cliffs, headlands, villages and open water; and the tidal currents and wind effects are important in both,” Findlay said in the release.

A Round the Sound Race will begin immediately after the start of the Round the Island Race, with 7 racers participating in a shorter, 20 nautical miles (23 miles) long race.

Donald Tofias, a Newport resident who grew up on the Cape and has participated in the long race at least 10 times, will be skippering his 76’ W class yacht “Wild Horses,” according to the release.

“This race around Martha’s Vineyard is the most interesting of any circular race I’ve ever done around an Island,” said Tofias in the release. “It can be windy, light, foggy, sunny…We’ve seen all conditions, and it’s all hands on-deck all the time.”

In 2000, Tofias raced neck and neck with another W class yacht “White Wings” and set a record for completing the race in 6 hours and 41 minutes, which he held for 9 years, according to the release.

The fleet will race between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket along the east beach of Chappaquiddick, and at midday will be in the open Atlantic off the south coast of the Vineyard.

In the afternoon, after the sailors round the cliffs of Gay Head, they will travel up Vineyard Sound to the finish near Edgartown Harbor, according to the release.