46th Moffett Race tests Vineyard sailors


Twenty-four boats showed up for the 46th Moffett Race, sponsored by Holmes Hole, on Saturday. It was a perfect warm September day to celebrate the 2023 sailing season on Martha’s Vineyard, with mostly sunny skies and smooth waters. The fleet included an array of monohull boats, from wooden classics like the 65-foot schooner Juno and 18-foot catboat Greta, to modern racing boats such as the 42-foot Swan Bia and the J100 Escape. 

In a comfortable 10-knot breeze from the south-southwest, the fleet started with a downwind run out of Vineyard Haven Harbor toward buoy C15 at the west end of L’Hommedieu Shoal, then a beat up the sound with favorable current to the west end of Middle Ground at the G27 bell. The final leg was a broad reach back to West Chop, and a beat back into Vineyard Haven Harbor in a current that eventually became favorable for the tail end of the fleet. 

The initial run from the harbor out to C15 put the skippers’ sailing acumen to test as the fleet spread far to the East and West in their quest for scraps of light, patchy wind. After a slow slog across the sound, a stack of eight boats converged at the buoy, some with the right of way on starboard tack, and many overlapping on port tack. With the collective momentum of about 50 tons of boat weight, all the boats maneuvered simultaneously around the buoy, as if in an elegant ballet. With mere feet, if not inches, of clearance between each vessel, there were no collisions nor rule breaks. This dramatic test of nerves, sportsmanship, and the racing rules of sailing was a testament to the skippers’ composure and trust in one another. Moments later, the fleet dispersed, continuing the competition to find the best breeze and shortest path to the finish line. 

The Vineyard’s sailors are an independent lot, with each skipper mining their cache of personal experience to tackle the unpredictable effects of the currents and winds. At one point, sails could be seen off the Cape, the Elizabeth Islands, Makonikey Head, and Lake Tashmoo, all vying for the most expeditious route around G27 to the final lap home via West Chop.

Toward the race end, just when the finish line was within sight, the middle of the fleet came to a screeching halt when they were greeted by a hole with no wind in the harbor between them and the finish line. Fortunately, the southwesterly reappeared, carrying everyone safely to the end. 

Siren, a NY 32, won the race handily, despite carrying a “previous winner” penalty for its 2021 win. Siren was skippered by Peter Cassidy, with his wife and 14-year-old son as crew. Two wooden classics — James Lobdell’s Malabar II and Jeff Robinson’s Phra Luang — finished second and third, respectively.