If you thought Gloucester's 2009 schooner races ended with the 25th anniversary of the Schooner Festival held Labor Day Weekend, think again.
For, the day after Labor Day, another schooner race began here, with the second annual Sperry Top-Sider Challenge for the Fishermen's Cup focusing on a race from Gloucester to Provincetown — and it, too, is rooted in Gloucester and Essex schooner history and heritage.
Capt. Cheryl Andrews, chairman of the 2009 Fishermen's Cup Race Committee, comes from a family who resided on Cape Ann.
"The Burnhams and the Andrews came over from England in the early 1600s and settled in Chebacco Parish," she said. "But my family left Essex just before the Civil War and moved to Manchester."
Many of her relatives still live in this area. Andrews noted that she is also a distant relation to Essex boat-builder Harold Burnham, who is captain of the 46-feet pinky schooner, the Maine.
"There's a friendly family rivalry between the Andrews and the Burnhams," she said.
Harold Burnham, who also built the schooners Lannon, Fame and Lewis Story, took part in the race to Provincetown this year as well as the Gloucester festival. But the conditions couldn't have been more different.
In the Gloucester race, the vessels competed in about a 12-mile race with plenty of wind. The day of the Gloucester to Provincetown race, which is a 44-mile race, there was very little wind.
"The sailing conditions in the Gloucester race this year made it a great sail, only slightly topped by last year's sail when we had just a little more breeze," said Burnham. "In the Provincetown race, regardless that there was light air, we had a fantastic time and the race committee was so welcoming and they made it into a fun day."
In fact, the race committee allowed the schooners to motor for a bit, so they traveled within sight of each other. But by about 6 p.m., the race was finally called and the 90-foot schooner, the Alabama, took the prize for being in the lead. A Rockport resident and his son, both named Joe Perry, were on the first-place vessel.
Perry got on board through a happenstance meeting last year when he heard about this new race and he went out to Dog Bar breakwater to take photographs. But as he was doing so, he met Ian Ridgeway, who was the captain last year and needed crew.
Perry, who used to sail a small sailboat, said he was interested.
"But it's so different than when you're on your own boat and you're the captain," he said. "On the schooners, they have heavy — and I mean heavy — canvas sails and hemp rope. It's all muscle work. It's a much bigger operation."
Perry said he enjoyed it, and this year went to find the Alabama captain again. This year, Capt. Morgan Douglas was at the helm — and Perry and his son were able to be crew.
"He was big Joe and I was little Joe," said the father Joe Perry. "There is over 5,000 square feet of sail. It's just an amazing experience. I don't consider myself a sailor even though I have past experience. But then you're sailing a schooner and end up in Provincetown, now that's sailing."
He described the ocean as a "sea of glass" on the Fishermen's Cup race day.
"It was Mother Nature's show," he said, "with tuna, seals, whales, dolphins, possibly a basking shark and a sun dog."
In fact, the whale watching on Stellwagon Bank was so good that day, that the Roseway, who was in Gloucester last weekend, left the course to enjoy the pod of breeching whales it came across.
The race committee is planning for its third Gloucester to Provincetown race next year after Labor Day.
"Many towns that have great harbors want to have festivals centered around boats," said Andrews. "Provincetown has a lot in common with Gloucester, a significant maritime history, whaling, boat building and fishing. They were similar ports that way."
She noted that Provincetown schooners used to race against Gloucester schooners in Boston a century ago.
"Many of these ports that had schooners that were fishing boats were interested in racing once the fishing was done," she said. "So you had local fishermen's races and international fishermen's races."
Burnham said he finds the best sailing on Cape Ann is yet to come in the fall.
"We like to think of these two festivals as not the end but as the beginning to the best part of the sailing season," he said. "We will run our charters out of Gloucester until Nov. 1 with mulled cider and hot cocoa. The more the wind blows, the happier we are."
Andrews, a fan of the city, looks forward to next year.
"Gloucester is a great town and they are great to us," she said. "We have learned a lot watching them run these successful schooner festivals."
Gail McCarthy can be reached at email@example.com