CLASSICS Under Sail -August 2016
by: Dean Geddes
photography by: Jim Powers
Now in its 44th year, the OPERA HOUSE CUP, part of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge, is about competition and racing wooden sailboats on the open water. But there was a time, in its earlier days, when the Opera House Cup was as much an exhibition as it was a race, a chance for proud owners to show off their boats to other sailors.
In an effort to rekindle the spirit of those earlier days, Nantucket Community Sailing launched the Classic Yacht Exhibition in 2014 as part of its nineday Race Week, providing the public an opportunity to see the beauty of these wooden yachts up close, step below decks and speak with the skippers and crew.
“Some of these boats go through meticulous restorations where they rebuilt pieces of bronze hardware that you can no longer buy. They want it accurate
down to the last little cleat. It’s like floating history,” Community Sailing chief executive Diana Brown said. “It’s a special opportunity for the public to see these boats up close.”
This year the Classic Yacht Exhibition will take place in conjunction with the Opera House Cup skippers party at Straight Wharf Saturday, Aug. 20 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $50 and proceeds benefit Nantucket Community Sailing.
“For the last two years we’ve had it separate (from the skippers party). It made everyone crazy because they wanted to see the classic boats, but they were also in the party,” Brown said.
The list of entrants in this year’s Classic Yacht Exhibition is still being finalized, but Brown is expecting 15-20 boats, the majority cruisers and racers, but there will also be a group of five or six 12-meter former America’s Cup boats included in the exhibition.
“We try to pick some of the most special boats racing in the Opera House Cup that people want to see. Every boat has a wonderful story,” Brown said.
Brilliant, a 62-foot schooner from Mystic Seaport, will be the host boat for this year’s exhibition.
“The really cool thing about Brilliant is, we are going to send a bunch of NCS (Nantucket Community Sailing) kids to Mystic and they are going to sail her over to Nantucket,” Brown said. After the Opera House Cup, another group of NCS students will sail her back to Mystic.
Brilliant was built in 1932 as an ocean-racing yacht, and made her maiden voyage across the Atlantic, from the Nantucket Shoals to Bishop Rock Light, England in 15 days, one hour and 23 minutes, which at the time was a record for ships of that size. Brilliant also had a brief military history. During World War II the U.S. Coast Guard mounted machine guns on her deck and patrolled the New England Coast.
Although it’s been nearly 10 years since Brilliant has raced in the Opera House Cup, she has the distinction of being a multi-cup winner, taking the title in 1986 and 1997.
Another ocean-racing yacht, the 1929 Olin Stephens-designed Dorade, will also be part of Saturday’s exhibition. Dorade took first place in the 1936 Transpacific Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Sev-
enty-seven years after that victory, Dorade’s current owners won the 2013 Transpacific Yacht Race, making her the oldest boat to ever win the race.
“That’s what’s so cool about these old sailboat designs. When they were designed they were fast boats then, and they’re still fast boats now. It really hasn’t changed,” Brown said.
By way of Germany, the 39-foot 1912 Sonder class Tilly XV will bring some international flavor to the exhibition.
“She’s small and very open, and in the early 1900s the Germans initiated a German-American sailboat competition out of Marblehead with these Sonder class boats. I believe she raced in Marblehead in 1916 so this will be her 100-year anniversary of racing in the United States,” Brown said.
Fresh off a complete restoration, Santana, a 55-foot schooner built in 1935, will be available for tours. The boat was owned by the late movie star Humphrey Bogart from 1945-1957 and is sometimes affectionately referred to as “Bogie’s Boat.”
The Classic Yacht Exhibition debuted in 2014 with eight cruisers and seven 12-meter boats taking part, culminating with a reception on board the Nantucket Lightship, docked at Straight Wharf. Highlights that year included Sumurun, a 94-foot Fife custom ketch that won the Opera House Cup the next day and was originally built in 1914; and Ticonderoga, a 72-foot Herreshoff custom ketch originally built in 1936. The Hinckley sailboat Nirvana, built in 1950, made her Opera House Cup debut in 2014 and also participated in the inaugural Classic Yacht Exhibition.
In 2015, the lineup featured a new cast of famous boats including Amorita, Cara Mia, Kestrel, Rugosa, Blue Peter, When and If, and Zingara, and some boats returning from 2014 like Ticonderoga and Wild Horses. The host yacht was the Westmoor Club’s 1929 motoryacht Belle.
“You never get to do this. Nobody ever gets to go aboard Ticonderoga unless you’re chartering her, and for this event you do,” Brown said. “This is where you really get to see the beauty of boats.”
The late Alan Newhouse and Suzanne Landers Zavatsky founded Nantucket Community Sailing in 1994, with the goal of making Nantucket’s waterfront accessible to everyone.
With the Opera House Cup and Race Week its primary fundraisers, the organization has grown from a small operation of less than 100 students its first summer to an operation with more than 1,000 students enrolled this summer and 140 boats ranging from kayaks to a pair of 35-foot J105 keelboats. ///
Dean Geddes is a sports reporter for The Inquirer and Mirror. He writes occasionally about sailing.