A 106-year-old wooden boat proved once again at last weekend’s Swiftsure race that technology and lightness do not necessarily trump smart design and tactical savvy.
The 1907 schooner Martha won the Inshore Classic at the 2013 Swiftsure International Yacht Race, one of the most high-profile regattas in the region. Martha came in first overall among 59 boats participating in the Inshore Classic, the largest fleet of any of this year’s Swiftsure races, and also placed first in her division — beating out racing boats including Melges 24s, J boats and C&Cs.
The win means Martha’s name will be the first inscribed on an 1860s trophy made in Scotland that was recently purchased for the Swiftsure Inshore Classic.
“It’s amazing,” said the schooner’s captain, Robert d’Arcy. “Martha‘s been sailing very, very well the last few years and we’ve been racking up a pretty impressive record of wins in various events that are usually dominated by modern boats.”
Those wins include first place overall in the 2009 and 2011 Round the County regattas, which take racers on a course through the San Juan Islands. Last year, Martha won her division and took second place overall in Round the County.
The oldest working sailboat in Washington state, Martha was built in San Francisco in 1907 for the commodore of the San Francisco Yacht Club, who named her after his wife. The vessel was owned by actor James Cagney for a time, and a subsequent owner brought her to Washington in the 1960s. In 1996, d’Arcy founded The Schooner Martha Foundation, which now owns the vessel and uses her for sail training programs.
The 68-foot, 80,000-schooner has become known on the Northwest racing circuit in recent years for beating out dozens of faster, newer racing boats. d’Arcy attributes her performance in part to a ballast keel replacement last year that removed 4,000 pounds of weight.
But Saturday’s race, put on by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, was no easy win. The day got underway with almost 200 boats queuing up for the start in light winds. By the time Martha rounded the third mark, she was in the lead, d’Arcy said.
But near the end of the 23-mile race, the fleet ran into a strong current. As she approached Baynes Channel, Martha came to a halt and was being pushed backward. There were two options: tack across the channel and try to navigate a back eddy, or ferry through the current and pass behind an island and on to the finish line. Recognizing that tacking is not Martha‘s strong suit, d’Arcy chose the latter.
In the end, two Melges sailboats squeezed past Martha, which took third line honors and won the race overall. d’Arcy attributes the win to a crew that knows Martha well and is able to play to her strengths.
“When we’re racing with our own ilk, the big schooners and vessels of our type, we all sail very similarly,” he said.
“But when we’re sailing with modern boats, we have to remember to sail Martha‘s race, not Icon’s race or Pegasus’s race. I think it’s understanding what Martha needs to excel, and pursue that course.”