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An interview with Diana Brown about the 2019 Nantucket Race Week

by David Schmidt 7 Aug 08:00 PDT August 10-18, 2019
Classic lines hit the starting line at pace at Nantucket Race Week © Image courtesy of Charlie Howard

It’s tough to think of a place more rooted in New England seafaring traditions than Nantucket, an island community off the coast of Massachusetts that long since traded its bustling whaling industry for summer tourists, vacation-home owners, and, thankfully, visiting and local sailors. Not surprisingly, given the island’s reputation for maritime excellence, this latter group has established a fine tradition of sailboat racing on the waters surrounding this historic island. A lot of this great effort has been spearheaded by Nantucket Community Sailing, which is one of the main organizers (see below) of the annual Nantucket Race Week (August 10-18, 2019), an annual affair that is set to attract boats ranging from International One Designs (IOD) to wooden classics, as well as Optis, ILCA Dinghies (nee Lasers), 420s, Hobies, and kiteboarders.

Nantucket Race Week now comprises several events, including the 47th Opera House Cup, and is co-hosted by Nantucket Community Sailing, the Nantucket Yacht Club and the Great Harbor Yacht Club.

Racing kicks off with the One Design Series (August 10, 14 and 17) and then leads into an action-packed week that includes the IOD Regatta (August 11), Hobie Regatta (August 11), Kiteboard Regatta (August 11), Harbor Rendezvous (August 11), Waszp Regatta (August 11-12), Optimist Regatta (August 12-13), ILCA Dinghy Regatta (August 12), 420 Regatta (August 12-13), Women’s Regatta (August 13), Team Racing Regatta (August 15), IOD Celebrity Invitational (August 15-16), Nantucket Regatta (August 16 and 17), Rainbow Fleet Parade (August 18) and the Opera House Cup (August 18).

I checked in with Diana Brown, chief executive of Nantucket Community Sailing, and Bill Druckemiller, Nantucket Community Sailing’s president, via email, to learn more about the 2019 Nantucket Race Week.

Can you tell us a bit about the regatta’s origins? Also, how has the regatta grown and evolved over the years?

The Opera House Cup was started by Gwen Gaillard, Chick Walsh and a group of local sailors in 1973. The trophy was – and still is -- a champagne bucket from the Opera House Restaurant.

In the first year the race consisted of a handful of mostly local Nantucket boats, some of which people lived aboard.

The Opera House Cup (OHC) Regatta has grown to be one of the pre-eminent wooden boat regattas in the country, attracting some of the finest classic and modern wooden boats in the world.

How many boats are expecting this year? Also, how do these entry numbers stack up to recent comparable years?

We are expecting 60–75 boats this year, on par with recent years. The boats range in size from 24’ to over 150’, so it is quite a spectacle on the water.

Many of the boats are over 50 years old, and some are close to 100 years old. We divide them into Cruising and Day Racing divisions.

Can you describe the levels of competition that sailors can expect to find, once the starting guns begin sounding?

The competition ranges from small, family crews to some of the top professional sailors in the country.

Because the OHC does not allow spinnakers, and the course tends to be a long reaching course, it is easier for families and smaller crews to be able to compete.

Conditions-wise, what’s typical for this regatta?

Nantucket Sound is a great place for a regatta–there is plenty of water and no obstacles. August racing conditions generally have 10 to 15 knots of SW breeze, and the current and tides can change dramatically over the course of the race.

Do you have any advice or insider tips that you’d like to share with first-time racers? What about returning racecourse veterans?

Make your reservations early! While we reserve a limited number of mooring for visiting guests, Nantucket Harbor fills up quickly, and it is difficult to find a mooring, dock space, or a hotel room on the island during Nantucket Race Week.

What kinds of onshore/evening entertainment has been planned for non-racing hours?

On Saturday, August 17 there is the Classic Yacht Exhibition along the docks, where the public is invited to see about 15 of these beautiful wooden boats up close and go aboard. This year’s Classic Yacht Exhibition is sponsored by the Brooklin Boat Yard, so you can expect to see several newer BBY boats on display in addition to some special old classics.

Sunday, August 18 is the Opera House Cup Awards Party, under the tents at Jetties Beach. It is a fun beach party with great food, raw bar, dancing to a local band, and of course, the awards ceremony for the OHC Regatta.

Can you tell us about any steps that you and the other event organizers have taken in the last couple years to help green-up the regatta or otherwise lower its environmental wake?

Nantucket Race Week and the Opera House Cup have been part of Sailors for the Sea’s Clean Regattas initiative for 11 years, and at the Gold Level for 10 years.

We encourage environmentally friendly bottom paint, provide reusable water bottles and water refill stations, use compostable products, provide gifts and awards made out of recycled sails or reusable items, beach clean ups, recycling, fuel-spill pads, free pump outs, and Nantucket is a no-discharge zone.

We also award the Clean Harbor Award annually to a person or group who is making a difference in improving or protecting Nantucket’s waters.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

Nantucket Race Week and the Opera House Cup are the major fundraisers for Nantucket Community Sailing, a charitable non-profit organization. In the past 25 years we have taught 15,000 young sailors and provided $1 million in sailing scholarships to island children.

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