In the summer of 1924, when the first-time racers unfurled their sails and battled to the finish line of the inaugural Edgartown Yacht Club (EYC) Regatta, most American homes were still without electricity. Competitors wore jackets and ties and two-toned leather shoes aboard their crafts. If the wind picked up, the race committee signaled to sailors that it was time to don their life jackets, which otherwise were not required.

Back then, the racecourse was set up around existing government marks, the red and green buoys marking the channel in every mapped American harbor. In this maiden regatta, over 100 boats competed, many from the Edgartown Yacht Club but some visiting from clubs in New York as well as other parts of Cape Cod.

The vessels were either classic East Coast catboats, with their single sails set well forward in a beamy, shallow drafted hull, or large keeled yachts in a wide variety of designs, built to the owners’ specifications. This meant that, in the keelboat category, to ensure fairness, the race committee had to use a handicapping system based on length and design.

In the century since, much has changed.

Deju Vu and Bit O Honey Race
“Just after World War II, the concept of ‘one design’ really took off,” says EYC Race Committee Chair Elizabeth “Tot” Balay. “One design means the boats in each category must be built to an exact standard, which levels the playing field and eliminates the need for handicapping. In addition, the competitors must adhere to strict standards around measurements and equipment. Electronics such as cell phones with GPS are forbidden.”

What started as a one-day competition in 1924 has since evolved into a five-day affair. This year’s 100th Annual Regatta kicked off on July 12 with the juniors in Optis and C420s; then moved on to the keelboat classes of Shields, Wianno Seniors, J/70s, Rhodes 19s, and Herreshoff 12 1/2s on July 14-16. The catboat race was held on July 15.

Marine photojournalist Rick Bannerot has chronicled his fair share of yacht races over the last 40 years and notes that the EYC’s Annual Regatta is a standout when it comes to the breadth of different boat classes and the age range of competitors. He says, “There are eight-year-olds, brand new to the sport, learning to race on one course, and octogenarians who have participated in this regatta for over 50 years sailing with and against 20-year- olds on a nearby racecourse. It truly is a sport of a lifetime.”

This year’s regatta had a total of five different courses, or “race circles,” with committee boats and judges often observing concurrent races. “With the
invention of inflatable markers, race organizers no longer have to rely on fixed government marks,” notes Balay.

J70 on Course
Despite these many changes, the annual EYC Regatta has impressively endured, outlasting almost every other regatta across the country in terms of continuity.

“Neither the Great Depression nor World War II nor the pandemic brought a halt to this regatta,” says Balay. “And while fleets and formats have changed, the Corinthian spirit of sportsmanship and hospitality remains. The sailors compete on the water and then meet as friends onshore. The EYC is known for its awesome regatta parties!”

In a nod to the past, this year’s centennial regatta included a classic catboat race around government marks in addition to a catboat “Parade of Sail” past the yacht club, a spectator favorite. Sailing in Cow Bay, the larger boats also drew crowds, who were able to watch from the shores of Chappaquiddick and from Fuller Street and State Beaches.

Reporting on EYC’s first regatta, an article printed in the August 22, 1924, edition of the Vineyard Gazette noted that “…this regatta day was given for the express purpose of rejuvenating the Edgartown spirit for yacht racing, water sports and everything that pertains to seamanship, so that the town will once again assume the high position it held in the past in this line…”

“I like to think that, over the course of its history, the annual regatta has accomplished just that,” says Balay. “There are a lot of people who care deeply about this regatta and its history and traditions. And we have every intention of ushering it into its next 100 years.”

Herreshoff 12.5 Patriot
Herreshoff 12.5 Foxy
Cape Cod & The Islands Magazine