Chester Grows Up
Chester Grows Up
|Situated on the Front Harbor at the head of Mahone Bay, Chester YC (above) has hosted the regatta now known as Chester Race Week since 1902.|
This time, the crew that partied as a team also won as a team; thanks to some strong breezes, the 28,000-pound Festivus cruised to first place in the distance fleet. "Scary thought," says Holden. "We may actually be taken seriously next year."
Rick Thompson, a Bermuda native who summers in Chester, is leading the development of the local International One Design fleet. With class president Jordy Walker, Thompson is helping interested sailors acquire boats and join the summer racing series. Thompson hosted Walker and other Bermudian IOD sailors for Race Week and threw a party at his house for the classics fleet. "Nothing is nicer than to share a good thing with others," he says.
This year, Thompson's Race Week included a trip to the Chester Playhouse for a showing of "Rockbound," a theatrical adaptation of a 1928 novel set on an island in Mahone Bay. "At Race Week, the combination of socializing and racing is really quite palatable," says Thompson, whose Mighty Mo placed second in the classics fleet. "I've been to race weeks in places like Cowes and Bermuda. Chester's a lot lower key."
Thompson's houseguest was impressed with his first taste of Race Week. "Chester really is a unique little town," says Walker. "The place comes alive for Race Week. We really enjoyed the entertainment. The Hopping Penguins were always playing late into the night. "
One aspect of the regatta that has never needed help is the post-race scene at Chester YC, where the Keith's IPA flows freely and the Hopping Penguins lay down a lively groove. The band got its start at a Race Week party 27 years ago and has toured Canada and Europe with its repertoire of hard-driving reggae and funk tunes. "Chester Race Week has been a way of life for us," says Edwards. "We know it's where we're going to be the third week of August every summer. This year, we had four bandmembers racing every day."
Singer/saxophonist Andrew Lordly and keyboard player Ian Mosher sailed on the C&C 39 Ceilidh, owned by Randy Stevens, Chester YC's rear commodore. Stevens is a Race Week fixture, having competed regularly since 1974. He knows precisely why the regatta works, why, despite the sluggish economy, the 2009 event still attracted more than 100 boats. "The race management is good, but it's more than that. It's the Hopping Penguins. It's the ambiance of the community, and what Chester has to offer. And it's the bay itself-it's just a great place to go racing."
If Philippe Paturel has his way, Chester Race Week will become a regular stop for North America's most competitive big-boat campaigns. "This is one of the great sailing havens that should be better known," says Paturel, who skippered the Archambault 40 CIAO! and, as North American distributor for Aigle outdoor gear and Archambault Boats, served as an event sponsor. "I'm hoping that more boats from the States will come. That's really the only thing that's missing."
Paturel is a native of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a group of French islands south of Newfoundland. His fondness for Chester and the potential he saw for Race Week inspired him to purchase a house on the Back Harbor. He has taken it upon himself to raise the profile of the event by bringing in a top-notch, international crew and promoting intense, Corinthian racing. "It's a good occasion to invite my friends from France and California to come in for the regatta," he says. "Having two or three races each day, more time on the water, makes it worth coming."
With world-class talent on board, CIAO! was the team to beat in the PHRF-1 division. The French-speaking crew battled all week against David Murphy's J/122 Pugwash, based out of Westport, Conn.
"We had been to Chester the previous summer, cruising on our powerboat," says Murphy. "Race Week was going on at the time. We enjoyed ourselves so much, we decided to come back and race. This year, the battle with CIAO! made it a lot of fun. We went head to head all week."
At the start of Race 3, CIAO! and Pugwash approached the boat end of the line overlapped on starboard. CIAO! had the leeward advantage and the opportunity to shut the door on Pugwash. At the last second, with his rival on a collision course with the race committee, Paturel bore off slightly and let Murphy through. "I could have closed them out," says Paturel, "But then they would have plowed right between the pontoons of the committee boat."
CIAO! went on to win that race and the next, but Pugwash won the series. "We had a great week," says Murphy, whose new J/122 won four of the seven events it entered in 2009. "Chester's in such a beautiful part of the world. The water is ten degrees warmer than it is down in Maine, it's relatively undeveloped, and it's only an hour flight from Boston."
Teams like CIAO! and Pugwash can't help but raise the level of competition for all Race-Week sailors. Even Edwards, the drummer who yearns for the point-to-point racing of the past, admits that the more competitive format has its advantages. "This year was the first time in many years that I sailed with a truly serious crew," he says about his experience as pitman aboard CIAO!. "Everyone was really focused, and I got the chance to get more involved. In past years, I'd be exhausted from the parties and I didn't really care as much about the races. This year, competing at such a high level gave me a renewed energy for the sport."
As Chester Race Week revives the racing spirits of its faithful and becomes a bigger and bigger blip on the radars of travelling teams, one thing does not change: the regatta is addictive. Nobody sails just one. Some racers have been hooked for decades. Others have only just recently made the discovery. But from here on out, they all have plans for the third week of August.