July 3, a day of sun, wind, high spirits, and then little wind on Penobscot Bay

A perfect day for a Great Schooner Race aboard the American Eagle

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 9:15pm

ROCKLAND — Small boats carrying upwards of four crew members from schooners gathered off Islesboro Thursday, July 2, circumventing the perimeter of the windjammers anchored there before the following morning’s race to Rockland Harbor. In the lead of small boats, muscling her strength in a rowboat by herself, American Eagle crew member Hannah Grischuk dominated a competition embraced by a field capable of shimmying up rigging, pulling anchor, and tightening sails. Stroke by skillful stroke, she wove around the Angelique, the Stephen Taber, the Victory Chimes.

When the small sailboat races commenced, fellow crew members Christa Miller-Shelley, Eric Famiglietti, and 14-year-old passenger/crew member-in-the-making Louis Nordlund in winning that race, as well. Not only did they make the course at top speed, but they proved their capabilities with food fights. Undressed, leftover spaghetti cooked by Andy Jackson on the galley’s cast iron stove, apparently, is good for chucking at competing crews.

So when the American Eagle found herself beating a tack towards Rockland Harbor the next morning, July 3, with a great rear view of competition’s sterns, passengers decided that not dominating all the races of the weekend was probably for the best.

As far as competitions went, the annual Great Schooner Race was in a league of its own. In other events, the time parameter is set, the race course strictly followed. Expectations for getting through that course are strictly adhered to.

Not so in the art of windjammer races.

In those races, it is not necessarily vessel against vessel, but vessels against brother wind.

In search of favorable winds, competitions got underway before the official 11 a.m. start time, and the destination moved across the way to Ensign Island.

American Eagle moved gently to the start line, marked by the Ensign buoy and a powerboat. Steering for the powerboat, time seemed to stand still. We continued to move forward, but the distance did not shorten. As we pulled forth, we craned our necks over our right shoulders. Why were the Mary Day and the Heron, our class competitors, way behind and so far to the right?

The answer became clear as the powerboat changed course and motored away.

But as has already been stated, our quarter-mile advantage at the start of the race, marked only by a distant crack sound and someone on board simply stating that the race had begun, a head start made no difference.

The wind took us to the start line at a speed of 2.2 knots. Shortly after, we fell to 2 knots. Later we would fall to .6 knots.

This is the life for Captain John Foss, owner/operator of the American Eagle since 1984, who started sailing in the summers during high school. When asked if his almost lifelong career at sea was his destined path, he replied in jest that it was more that he was “unemployable at anything else.”

Foss is a calm captain. He’s polite, talkative, and mixes technical marine jargon such as ‘hard a lee’ with vocabulary such as ‘higgely-piggely.’ (“Set the stay ‘sel. Hurry now. Higgley-piggely.”)

For 39 years Foss has sailed the Eagle in the windjammer races in the Midcoast, as well as carrying passengers north to Canada and south to Massachusetts. Passengers appreciate the rustic atmosphere of the American Eagle, known as the last fishing schooner to be launched from Gloucester, Mass, June 2, 1930. The vessel has the tight-space packing (one passenger shares her cabin with the ship’s vegetable supply) the easy creak of the rigging, and the all-hands-needed atmosphere.

Take, for instance, the command order “Food line.” Immediately, hearing just once the order “food line,” passengers leapt to their feet and formed a line, passing the flower bouquet, utensils, the main entrée and each condiment from downstairs galley to deck, despite the pitch of the vessel and the fact that we were ‘racing.’

After lunch, some passengers fell asleep on our vessel, as well did other passengers on most other vessels in the race.

When, at 2 p.m., the fleet continued to beat a hard tack with no likelihood of finishing the predetermined route in the near future, the course was shortened.

The training ship Bowdoin turned away and headed for its Castine home. 

Two and a half hours, later the American Eagle approached the Rockland Breakwater. Another hour and a half later the Eagle tied up to the Angelique, and the food line formed again.

Officially, the Stephen Taber won. But really, it was the wind.


Winners from the 2015 Great Schooner Race included:

Cutty Sark Award: First Overall: Stephen Taber
Flying Jib Class: First Place: Heritage
Flying Jib Class: Second Place: Olad
Coasters Class: First Place: Victory Chimes
Coasters Class: Second Place: Stephen Taber
Coasters Class: Third Place: Lewis R. French
Leeward Class: First Place: Angelique
Leeward Class: Second Place: Heritage
Leeward Class: Third Place: J. & E. Riggin
Windward Class: First Place: Heron
Windward Class: Second Place: Mary Day
Windward Class: Third Place: American Eagle
3-Masters Class: First Place: Victory Chimes