MARBLEHEAD — Oh, Canada, here we come.
On Sunday at 1 p.m. more than 75 yachts, varying from 30 to 100 feet and including the Heat Wave from Gloucester, will set off from this sail-crazy town on a race to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Marblehead to Halifax Open Ocean Race is an event that’s been held bi-annually — with time off for world wars — since 1905. And it’s only grown in popularity.
In part to address that popularity, race officials have altered the configuration of the starting line in Marblehead’s outer harbor at Half Way Rock, making a kind of U-turn in order to send the yachts closer to shore and give landlubbers an opportunity to see the contest begin. This will be the second year, says spokesman Ed Bell, that you can get a good look at the excitement from Marblehead Neck.
“The best place to watch,” he says, “is from Castle Rock or Chandler Hovey Park.”
Up to 250 pleasure boats are expected to be bobbing around hoping for an even closer look. Bell requests that such spectators respect the starting line and the organizers, who might come along to tell them to get out of the way.
Of course, the yachts in the race are soon out of sight, but thanks to modern technology you can still watch them. Each contestant is now issued a transponder that will make it possible to chart their progress online, according to Bell.
The best racing times in the past have just exceeded 30 hours, while the slowest competitors might show up in Halifax as late as Thursday. Handicaps are assigned according to which vessels have a material advantage.
All this is no lark for those competing, says race director Jeff Smith. “The crews that race together in this sort of contest take it very seriously,” he says. They enjoy the sense of self-reliance that comes from moving about on the open ocean.” And they like competing with other people to see who can drive their boats the fastest.”