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An interview with Shelia Graves about the IHYC's Classic Yacht Regatta

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 13 Sep 2017
Atlantic and S-Boat start M.A. Fisher Photography
While there’s no question that carbon fiber and fiberglass have transformed the face of sailboat racing, delivering stronger, lighter and stiffer structures that are ideal for breaking elapsed-time and offshore passage records, there’s also no question that when it comes to heart-warming aesthetics, classic yachts reign supreme. Whether it’s a deep dive into their majestic lines, a prolonged look at the way their graceful overhangs appear when the boat is carrying a full press of sail, or a gawker’s glance at their graceful, sometimes gaff-rigged sailplans, these boats scream “eye candy” and have successfully won the hearts of sailors for hundreds of years.

As a lifelong sailor, few sights are as aesthetically pleasing to me as a fleet of classic yachts hard on the breeze, saltwater washing their teak decks as the breeze blows telltales, canvas sails and baggywrinkles alike. Add in a beautiful background, and you’re talking the stuff of sailing legend and the kind of memories that keep generations of sailors addicted to the style, grace and history of these elegant ladies of a bygone era.



For the past seven years, the Indian Harbor Yacht Club (IHYC), located on Greenwich, Connecticut’s Rocky Neck on the northwest waters of Long Island Sound (LIS), has hosted their Classic Yacht Regatta, which is open to classic yachts, spirit of tradition yachts, and classic One Designs (i.e., Atlantics and Shields), and the imagery has been stunning: September conditions on Long Island Sound meets some of the area’s prettiest boats. What’s not to love?

As of this writing there are 28 boats entered in this year’s Classic Yacht Regatta, ranging from the mighty Ticonderoga, a 72-foot L. Francis Herreshoff-drawn ketch, to the considerably more modest Bow to Sterne, a 14-foot catboat, so onlookers can expect to see a wide sampling of different eras of yacht design, while participating sailors can expect smoothly run racecourse operations and a welcoming host venue.

The IHYC Classic Yacht Regatta is now gearing up for their eighth edition, which is set to unfurl the weekend of September 15 and 16, so I caught up with Sheila Graves, event co-chair (and a former winner) via email, to learn more about this now-classic New England event.



Can you tell me about the kinds of boats that will be racing? Any true jewelry boxes of fine joinery and perfect craftsmanship?
Since day one, our mandate has been to create a festive regatta for beautiful classics, spirit of tradition and vintage One Design boats. Our recipe for success includes quality of fleet–not just quantity. This seems to engender competitive racing among crews who bring a joyful Corinthian spirit set against a backdrop of excellent hospitality.

We expect 30-35 boats this year. Our big boat fleet includes well-known classics that have participated since the beginning. They include the famous 1936 Herreshoff-designed Ticonderoga, the 68-foot, 1938-built Sparkman and Stephens-designed Black Watch, plus two 50-foot Q boats: our Nor’Easter IV and Hope. Both Q boats were designed by John Alden in the late 1920s.



How far afield does the IHYC’s Classic Yacht Regatta draw boats? Is it a mostly Long Island Sound crowd or are you drawing boats from all over New England?
Our fleet mainly draws from Long Island Sound, but we do a lot of out-reach each year, which helps.

Can you give us a rough idea as to what percentage of the fleet will be Classic and how many will be Spirit of Tradition entries?
We expect about 65 percent of the fleet to be wooden boats primarily in the 30 – 78 foot range. We have a loyal S-Boat fleet, several Concordias, Herreshoff Rozinantes and an assortment of catboats.

The Shields class, designed in the 1960s by IHYC member Cornelius Shields, includes boats from IHYC and Larchmont Yacht Club. The 1920s Atlantic Class, which IHYC also helped found, has been with us for the past few years. The Atlantics and S-Boats are smart and competitive with each other and bring lots of positive energy.



What shape courses does the RC favor for this event and why do they like these shapes? Also, is this dictated more by weather, geography or the kinds of yachts that are competing?
We run two courses: a 14-plus nautical mile Navigator Course for the larger boats using government marks, and we have a shorter, ten-mile course for the smaller classics.

The Shields, S-Boats and Atlantics are used to racing triangles, but in our regatta they love to press out onto the long course and challenge the larger boats. They do quite well.



LIS can get windy in September sometimes—given the nature and the design/builds of the racing fleet, will IHYC observe wind limits or other nature-created thresholds, or do you guys race irrespective of Mother Nature?
Yes. The blustery September breeze often makes for fun, fast racing–and we hope for it! Our always-heroic race committee is quite sharp at choosing courses. Our goal is to deliver a great experience, which includes giving out a treasure chest of silver at the Awards Party.

What kind of shoreside activities and festivities does IHYC have planned for competing sailors?
We have a barbell approach to hospitality. We serve up lots of rum. Everyone arrives to a festive, Caribbean-themed dock party on Friday. We organize them two-deep with classics. It’s a reunion for these sailors.

It’s also a boat show that draws lots of club members to the event. IHYC has a talented waterfront team who take great care to make sure each boat is properly moored or docked based on her needs while she visits. We also have incredible chefs, and a great onshore staff, who all have a sense of ownership to make the regatta a success. This year, we are adding a new-member reception to encourage a connection with the values and qualities of the club.

On Saturday, our Awards Party presents a generous array of silver. Our prize budget is a shameless majority of the event revenue. We award prizes for sportsmanship and participation, and for winning. We want people to know we understand the effort, time, expense and heart and soul required to maintain these boats. Our chefs present a great feast, and we finish it all by dancing the night away to one of the best bands in the area.



Can you tell me about any steps that the regatta has taken to reduce its environmental footprint over last year’s event?
For our first few regattas, our dear friend the late Ella Vickers made each boat a customized recycled sailcloth bag complete with the boat’s name embroidered on them. She was an amazing person and we hope her company will continue to thrive under her commitment to sustainability and re-use.

Also, our clubhouse menu regularly contains sustainably farmed or sourced ingredients. We almost always have a community service connection for the regatta. For the past few years, we've collaborated with Sailing Heals, which does a great job getting cancer patients on the water for an afternoon of sailing.



Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?
One person can make a difference. Our founding member #1 in 1889 was Frank Bowne Jones. He was also a founder of the United States Power Squadron, a founder of the North American Yacht Racing Union, which we know today as US Sailing, and a founder of the American Power Boat Association. He was never Commodore (he was a yacht broker, so perhaps a conflict we think), but he helped choose them all for 40-plus years, including the legendary Clifford Mallory.

A few years ago, we found a large sterling trophy in our basement that was black with tarnish. In 1909, the Membership gave it to Frank in appreciation of his contribution to IHYC. That trophy is now awarded to the overall winner of the Classic Yacht Regatta’s long course. So, Frank started the club with friends and the trophy inspired our dream of the regatta.

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