History of Race Week

Race Week has been an important part of the history of Great South Bay Yacht Racing Association since the organization was founded. Initially it was held off a different club each day as a cruise week to begin at Babylon Yacht Club, move to South Side Yacht Club in Sayville, then on to Bellport Bay Yacht Club, and finally end at South Bay Yacht Club in Patchogue. Sailors raced during the afternoon, rendezvoused at night, then sailed or were towed on to the next location for the following race. Cruise Week was established in 1907. The earliest surviving mention of race week is a Bellport Bay Yacht Club Program and Instructions for Regattas to be sailed over the Club Course during the Season of 1913. From the beginning an entry fee was required and the race scheduled for 1400. An annual Association Special Prize Cup was awarded for the yacht making the fastest corrected time on a designated course for the first time in 1920.

Cruise Week 1924 began with evening entertainment at Unqua Corinthian Yacht Club and races at Babylon, Bay Shore, Bellport Bay and Sayville Yacht Clubs. Two special prizes were offered for boats sailing those races. Commodore Pearson offered an SS Class prize and Chairman of the Race Committee Harry Growtage offered an SB Class prize. The Association appointed George H. Walbridge of Babylon to measure all courses. Regular class prizes were awarded by the club over whose course the race was held. An often overlooked note is that three days of predicted log motor boat races became part of Race Week in 1925. Five Cups were awarded: two Carrillo Cups presented by Leo Carrillo of South Shore Yacht Club of Freeport, one for first class Cruisers and one to Elco Cruisettes; the Gillespie Cup presented by Commodore S. H. Gillespie of Westhampton to 2nd class Cruisers; the Schreiber Cup presented by R. A. Schreiber of South Shore to 3rd class Cruisers; and the Pinkham Cup presented by F. C. Pinkham of Bellport Bay to Speedboats.

Printed pamphlets of yachts in GSBYRA which list courses at Babylon, Bay Shore, Sayville and Bellport Bay Yacht Clubs, a dozen classes of yachts, yacht numbers, yacht names, owner names and time allowances exist from 1924 through 1926. From 1927 through 1929 small, stapled together Register books exist for Cruise Week with the GSBYRA logo on the front cover and an advertisement on the back cover. From 1924 to the present year, a 6 by 9 inch book serves as a yearbook to list the GSBYRA race schedule for the season, winners of trophies and other pertinent information.

In 1927 a fifth race day at Point O’ Woods was added between Bay Shore and Sayville race days. In 1936, Race Week expanded to a sixth race day when Timber Point was added to the schedule between Point O’ Woods and Sayville, then dropped by 1938, when Bay Shore replaced Babylon with two race days and Patchogue replaced Bellport Bay with two race days. In 1927, Fire Island donated a Gold Cup perpetual trophy to the yacht club whose registered yacht received the greatest number of points in her class, provided that an average number of 4 boats start in her class in the 5 races scheduled. The Middleton Trophy for the Cruiser handicap race of power boats was awarded for a 23 mile race at Fire Island Yacht Club in 1928.

One design classes emerged. Exciting episodes of storms at night, mad bailing to keep tows afloat, losing a tow or two, taps on a bugle, dances, clam chowder at Point O’ Woods, a four hour ordeal across Patchogue Bay and around Howell’s Point to Bellport in the teeth of a cold, rainy easterly gale mark colorful events in the history of Cruise Week.

World War II restrictions halted Cruise Week as it had existed and brought racing to a central location. With smaller fleet participation and one 2:00 race per day scheduled, Cruise Week became a six day Race Week. Bay Shore Yacht Club hosted Race Week during 1941-45. After the war Race Week shifted to Timber Point Club on Nicoll Bay during 1946-1954. The Star Class raced two series concurrently. That additional trophy, The Corry Cup excluded the Monday race for a total of 5 races. Wednesday night the Star Class held a dinner and on Saturday night the Narrasketuck Class sponsored a dance at no charge. Launch service was provided by the Timber Point Club. As Chairman of the Race Committee in 1946, Louis Delafield started Narrasketucks in two divisions, often 40 boats per division. Participation in Race Week declined from about 340 boats in 1936 to about 90 boats in 1954.

President Cappy Arink resumed Race Week as Cruise Week, with Delafied as Chairman in 1955, imploring families to participate and welcoming the Cruising Club as a member of the Association. The Coast Guard patrolled the courses. That year the fleet raced at Babylon on Monday, proceeded to Bay Shore, Point O’ Woods, Bellport Bay, and finished at Westhampton on Saturday. Course charts were printed in the book along with the registered yachts by class.

The following year, for the 50th Anniversary of the Association, Cruise and Race Week began with a beach party rendezvous at Moriches, and continued on the successive days with racing off Westhampton, Bellport, Point O’ Woods, Bay Shore, and ended with two race days at Babylon, with a social event scheduled for each night. Participation increased. Cruise and Race Week subsequently alternated direction on the bay each year. The social events evolved into huge family gatherings ashore.

John Fenner succeeded Delafield as Chairman of the Race Committee in 1958, initiated separate turning marks for two groups into the schedule, and printed handicaps for 30 classes in the book. Participation was over 300 boats. The Association yearbook named a season champion in each class. The 1959 book published the Racing Rules of the North American Yacht Racing Union adopted for that year. At Race Week John Titterington created controversy after three first place finishes with the light weight Narrasketuck he had built over the winter. He then placed second, fourth and fifth in following races. Frank St. John won the class followed by septuagenarian Wilbur Ketchum.  Minimum weight became a strong issue in the class.

President Fenner and Chairman of the Race Committee John O. Zimmerman adapted a uniform scoring system in 1960 to determine Race Week winners and used the Cox-Sprague system to determine season champions; required a yacht club identification emblem with the participant’s name; and required each club to provide chaperones for the activities ashore.

Tropical Storm Brenda damaged about three dozen boats at Race Week in Babylon on July 30, 1960 to force the cancelation of the final race. Charlie Axtmann’s Narrasketuck Teaser 143 won the class, but another storm brewed. The class protested the decision due to Axtmann’s refusal to comply with a request for weigh-in and measurement. George Furman, an attorney threatened a $25,000 law suit against the Narrasketuck Class when his boat weighed in under the minimum weight. Narrasketuck Class attorney Wilmurt Linker settled on the mathematical average weight, 860 pounds, of the last eight boats built.

By 1962 Chairman Zimmerman initiated separate divisions carrying colored streamers in some classes: 3 divisions of Blue Jays, 2 of Beetle Cats and Sailfish. He grouped midget divisions of Blue Jay, Beetle Cat, Tech Dinghy and Seaford Skiff into their own signal sequence as well. Louis Orr succeeded Zimmerman as Chairman of the Race Committee in 1962. Most one design skippers dry sailed their boats by the early 1960’s and permanent hoists were available for launching and lifting out at Babylon, Bay Shore, Sayville and Bellport Bay, while a crane was used at Long Island. Bay Shore and Bayberry sponsored a supper dance at the Brightwaters Beach and Cabana Club.

Another type of boat made its appearance on the bay for the first time. Skippers raced the first multihull boats, Cougar, Thai, Tiger Cat, and Cat Fish classes at club races, with the Pacific Cat and B Lion classes first racing in the 1966 Race Week.

Chairman of Race Week John E. Barnes of Narrasketuck conducted a different format for 1967 in an effort to increase participation. Races were held for two days at each of 3 clubs: Long Island, Bay Shore, and Sayville. That year the GSBYRA book listed participation by class and by the 18 member clubs beginning with 1960 Race Week data. Participation had declined from 292 boats to 228 boats. Alternating the racing direction of the Race Week Clubs continued yearly. In 1969, John J. Fauth succeeded Barnes as Chairman of the Race Committee. Fauth was followed as Chairman by Harvey McChesney of Bellport in 1972. Under President Ted Zimmerman the entire Race Week format returned to Great River. Class Captains were appointed to stimulate participation and provide input into courses, class start sequence and number of times around the course. For many years until his death in 1973, John Fanelli, a reporter for the New York Times, sat below deck on the committee boat and typed results to be published the following day. The highest participation recorded by catamarans with over 30 Hobie Cats and 10 Tornado Class cats was during the mid 1970’s. Afterward, they slowly declined in numbers. In 1979 Bill Ludlum became Chairman, to be succeeded in 1980 by Richard M. Daytz.

Another Race Week format developed by President Bill Ludlum for the 75th anniversary year held 6 races over 4 consecutive days at Babylon and included a throw out race. Crew prizes were awarded for the first time and participation averaged about 115 boats. Later in 1985, President Bud St. John of Babylon and his Chairman Ralph B. Maust of Bellport spanned Race Week over two weekends at Bay Shore. Maust was succeeded by Bill Ludlum as Chairman in 1987. President Lawrence N. Deering of Bellport and his Chairman Phillip Linker of Sayville returned Race Week to a single location over 4 days at Sayville in 1988 and invited PHRF auxiliary yachts to participate. A dozen Lasers and 11 PHRF yachts increased participation that year. The following two years Race Week was held at Bay Shore and Babylon respectively. In 1998, three separate race courses, each with their own race committee, were set up for Optimist, one design divisions and PHRF fleets. This practice continued into 2006 along with the rotation of Race Week continuing among those three clubs.

Race Week 2007 made history as Frances Graham of Westhampton Yacht Squadron became the first female Chairman of the Race Week Race Committee. Fran's innovation of grouping classes together for one design and PHRF starts shortened the sequence and allowed starts to be taken in any order. Optimist sailors continued to have their own course. Fran served again as Chairman in 2008 at Bellport Bay Yacht Club, who after nearly fifty years once again hosted Race Week. Tom Conlin of Bellport Bay Yacht Club became Race Week Chairman in 2009 under President MaryAnn Deering. Conlin continued grouping classes together for the start, and used a separate start and finish boats. President Deering presided over Race Week 2010 held at Westhampton Yacht Squadron for the first time in more than five decades. As Race Week Chairpersons, both Conlin and Graham were certified US SAILING race officers.

Ending with Standish F. Medina’s continued quote from Mrs. McClintock is appropriate. “Finally the great day would come.” “Moorings were cast off and the great fleet of boats, like a tremendous flock of gleaming white birds, bore down on the starting line. What a scene of activity it was there: speeding launches, hurrying rowboats, busy officials, enthusiastic fans, pennants, racing stakes, guns, all the paraphernalia of the regatta. Then the jockeying for position, the Machiavellian planning as each skipper did his best to be first over the line when the gun gave the starting signal; the captain sat alert and keen, eyes flashing from starting line to opponents; the sheet tender squatted behind him, muttering advice and warning, the time-keeper, in low, tense tones counted: ‘1 minute to go - 30 seconds - 15-14---3-2-1!’ Bang! and off they sped, a bunched group, seemingly a most intricate tangle of hulls, sails and halyards. But soon the faster boats would pull ahead and a long, lovely line of flying sails would string out down the course as the captains settled to their business of outsailing and outthinking each other. Away and away the little crafts flew, almost alive in their quick response to wind and helm, as a stake was rounded, and graceful, sensitive boat pointed up or hauled off on a new course. The intent, keen crews did their appointed tasks with mathematical precision and then once again settled down to a long sail to the next stake. Sometimes the distance was covered by tacking into the wind, and then it was ‘all hands on the windward side!’, and often away over the side; sometimes by a long leg before the wind, with the crew in the cockpit, motionless to avoid spilling any of the precious breeze from the sail; and again it was a protracted reach, with tension relaxed, and plenty of time to let loose high spirits, - and well do I remember the ridiculous hilarity of those gay intervals. Finally, the last lap of the course, with the first two or three boats grimly fighting it out together: the breathless excitement as one or another pulled ahead, the over flowing glee of the winners, as they sped down the home stretch, helmsman and crew beaming and jubilant, and the gallant little boat proudly flashing over the finish line. The gun boomed, the flags dipped, and on the shore the crowds cheered, proud parents attempted to look unconcerned, and fat little brothers and sisters leaped and squealed in highest glee, - and the race was over. Over, yes, but as the boats got under way for their home ports, all young crews would have one topic of conversation: the next race; how their boats would be tuned up a bit, some mistake in sailing or in strategy remedied; how, in fact, each one would be sure to win the next time. And so it went, through the long, lighthearted months, until the sad day when the boats were dismantled and put up for the winter, when the hoarde of reluctant sailors turned away from nautical affairs, and went back to the city to study - and to dream of last summer’s joys and next summer’s triumphs.” The thrill remains!