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An interview with Elizabeth “Tot” Balay on Edgartown Yacht Club's 100th Annual Regatta

by David Schmidt 6 Jul 2023 08:00 PDT July 12-16, 2023
Edgartown Yacht Club during Edgartown Race Weekend © Stephen Cloutier

If you love history, time-honored sailing traditions, and competitive sailboat racing, put the centennial edition of the Edgartown Yacht Club's Annual Regatta (July 11-16) on your radar. Impressively, this regatta was founded before the majority of American homes had electricity (1925) and just as the Roaring 20s were really gathering steam, and while much has changed in the intervening century, plenty has remained the same.

This starts with great racing. The 100th edition of this classic Martha's Vineyard-based event is open to Shields, Wianno Seniors, J/70s, Rhodes 19s, and Herreshoff 12 1/2s, and is set to unfurl on the waters of Edgartown's Outer Harbor and Cow Bay.

From all descriptions, the regatta's celebration of its saline-infused history will continue with events that are aimed at generating an appreciation for the amount of water that has (metaphorically) funneled through Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds since the EYC's first Annual Regatta. The regatta will of course also involve well-run racing, and good times afloat and ashore with friends new and old.

I checked in with Elizabeth "Tot" Balay, event chair for the EYC's centennial edition of their Annual Regatta, via email, to learn more about this exciting and historic event.

100 years is a long time for any tradition to stay alive, let alone a regatta. Heck, plenty of governments and corporations have failed in a lot less time. What's the secret sauce that makes this event a popular one across the ages?

Honestly, the secret sauce is that once having started, we never stopped!

We've always run an invitational regatta, and we welcome sailors from all over. Our approach honors the Corinthian spirit - the quality that brings great sailors together to match their skills on the racecourse, then meet as friends at shoreside gatherings and parties afterwards.

While racing formats and fleets have changed over the years, that spirit of sportsmanship and hospitality has endured for a hundred years - and we look forward to another century of competitive sailing!

Can you please tell us about the Annual Regatta's culture, and the kinds of sailors that it attracts?

The Edgartown Yacht Club is known for two things: great race management and awesome parties. So, when sailors come to race in our waters, they know they'll have a first-class competitive experience, and a warm and generous shore-side welcome.

From champion keelboat sailors, to up-and-coming juniors who compete internationally in Optis and C420s, to the youngest Green Fleet sailors in their very first regatta, everyone is guaranteed a great time.

What kinds of numbers and interest levels are you seeing ahead of the 2023 event compared with recent editions?

Last year's regatta hosted 130 keelboat sailors and 134 juniors racing 135 boats on five race circles.

For our 100th Annual Regatta, we're excited to be running the three-day Shields New England Championship, and we anticipate a good turnout from the Marion and Newport Shields fleets. Our two-day junior regatta is a qualifying event for the SMSA Grand Prix for both C420s and Optis, so that's a draw as well.

And the classic Wianno Seniors have been racing over from the Cape every year since 1928—they add an unmistakable flair to our events!

Has the regatta always involved three regattas (juniors, keelboats, and catboats) in one, or is this something that the EYC organized as part of their 100-year anniversary celebrations?

Over the years we've had quite a few different formats.

Early on, competitors were mainly catboats and large private yachts, and there was very little One Design racing.

As a nod to the old days, this year we're running a classic catboat race around government marks, to take place following their Saturday Parade of Sail past the clubhouse. It should be a splendid sight!

Generally speaking, what kinds of conditions can sailors expect to encounter off of Edgartown in mid July?

Edgartown's known for good wind, with a strong southwest sea breeze at [10 - 13 knots] most afternoons.

There are no guarantees, but we have our fingers crossed for "just right" Goldilocks conditions.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting and local sailors, what would be it?

Read your sailing instructions, and go to the pre-race skippers meeting! There's a wealth of information you're going to want to know - and you'll get to meet your principal race officer and fellow competitors in advance of the racing.

What kind of onshore/evening entertainment do you and the other organizers have planned?

The EYC is Party Central during regatta week!

We kick off the celebration on Tuesday with a reception to open our Century of Sail Exhibit, showcasing one hundred years of regatta history, images, and artifacts at the Carnegie Heritage Center.

Before their awards ceremony on Thursday, junior sailors will enjoy ice cream from Mad Martha's trolley on the Anchor Deck; later on, there's an All Fleets keelboat party.

[Then there's a] regatta cookout Friday, the Parade of Sail reception at the clubhouse mid-day Saturday, and the Regatta Ball with the Dukes of Circuit Avenue on Saturday evening.

Our generous sponsor Bad Martha has crafted a signature Century Sail Amber Ale in honor of our 100th Annual Regatta, which will be available throughout our celebrations.

Can you please tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

We have a beautiful harbor and we're serious about environmental stewardship. To reduce paper waste, all race documents are available to sailors on a digital Official Notice Board; we encourage the use of refillable water bottles, and junior support boats have water stations for young sailors to replenish and stay hydrated during a long day out on the water.

Spectators are encouraged to "boat-pool" to reduce congestion in the race areas. As for signal and support boats, we are committed for safety reasons that each race circle [has] adequate coverage to respond to emergencies.

That being said, we probably burn less fuel in a day than any one visiting powerboat coming over from the Cape!

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

Check out our regatta page at www.edgartownyc.org and click on "regattas" for more information on the full schedule, registration links, and our gallery of photos from the last hundred years.

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