The fog hunkered down on the glassy, green water, obscuring the horizon. The damp morning breeze was sticky with salt. Clumps of slick yellow seaweed drifted by, headed for the rocky Maine shore.
Simon Morin, 18, perched at the bow of Sinbad, his family’s wooden sailboat, squinted through the haze looking out for other craft that might be in their path. Behind him, his aunt, grandmother, sister, and cousins organized tangles of line, trying to find a routine before the starting gun went off. Cousin Will Conover, 21, was at the stern, radio in hand, waiting for updates from race organizers who had called for a delay due to low visibility.
“Over there!” Simon shouted, spotting a faint outline of a mast. Another drifted into view. Simon’s aunt and Sinbad’s captain, Jen Conover, swung the boat around and headed for the others queueing for the launch of the 21st Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, technically a race but really more a gathering of devotees of a past era of sailing.
The Brooklin, Maine, event, which saw 94 boats compete earlier this month, had humble beginnings. The brainchild of Brooklin Boat Yard owners Steve White and Frank Hull, the event allowed the owners of wooden boats longer than 24 feet to get together and compete over a 15-mile course that remains unchanged. The first race took place in 1985 and drew just 13 boats before eventually ballooning to roughly 100 in recent years. This year’s race drew mostly single-masted sloops, but there were also ketches and yawls with two or more masts. The boats were split into race classes based mainly on sail rig, keel shape, and length.
“We really try to keep the regatta as informal as possible, and we rely on the participants to conduct themselves in a sportsmanlike way,” said Taylor Allen, one of the regatta’s organizers. “To some people, this event is more important than Christmas.”
Fondly called the “Egg” by its participants, the event was not about speed. Today, most sailing regattas, such as the America’s Cup, focus on sleek, modified sailboats that adopt the newest technologies and materials to achieve ever faster times. Traditional wooden sailboats like the ones in the Egg tend to be slower and quieter because of their weight and older designs. Prices of boats tend to range widely depending on whether the vessels are new or used, their type, condition, length, and appointments, but dealers agree that wooden vessels tend to be significantly more expensive than fiberglass. They also require significant upkeep and attention. The Conovers revarnish Sinbad every year. (Jen puts Sinbad’s upkeep at $5,000 to $6,000 annually.) Many of the boats that compete were built in the 1950s and ’60s. The oldest competing boat, Nellie, was built in 1903.
Peter Gallant, a boat builder from Portsmouth, N.H. who attended the Egg, said wooden boat aficionados tend to be older people who grew up sailing them. After fiberglass vessels grew in popularity starting in the 1960s, wooden boat sailing became increasingly niche. And in New England, a hotbed of enthusiasts where the sailing season is only five months long, many owners spend a good chunk of the rest of the year taking care of their beloved vessels. Gallant said it would be much harder to care for a wooden boat in Florida, which has a yearlong season, because of the humidity.
“I can sense the difference between wood and plastic,” Gallant said. “I relate more to wood because I grew up here, surrounded by trees. No one grows up surrounded by piles of plastic. It’s just a different sensibility.”
Over the years, the Egg spawned two feeder races — one from Castine to Camden on Thursday, and the other from Camden to Brooklin on Friday. About half the boats that compete in the main regatta on Saturday participate in the feeder races, according to Allen.
For most regatta-goers, competing in the Egg was about tradition. Unlike most regattas, there was no prize money involved — just bragging rights.
Instead, the event was about admiring the beauty of wooden boats and catching up with old friends. Many of the young people present had been coming to the race since they were infants and had grown up together.
For Sinbad’s crew, it was definitely about family.
The Conovers have been sailing for generations. Jen’s mother, 82-year-old Deedee, learned to sail when she was 6 in Bayside, Maine. After she met her late husband, Connie, on a ski slope, they began taking boats out together. In 1972, they moved to Camden with four children and continued sailing, crossing the Atlantic to Ireland when Jen was just 17.
The family arrived in Brooklin in different ways the day before the regatta. Jen biked over 60 miles from Camden to Brooklin with her 15-year-old son, Ethan Andrus, and her 20-year-old niece, Lydia Morin. Deedee sailed Sinbad from Camden with two of her grandchildren, Will and 23-year-old Emma Conover. The rest of the crew — 12-year-old Elli Andrus, 17-year-old Cedar Andrus, and Simon — drove.
‘Racing just kind of became a tradition. For my own kids, it’s just something that they’ve . . . always done.’
A Hinckley sloop built in 1959, Sinbad was originally owned by family friends, and the Conovers inherited it in 1995. Connie, who had worked at the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, had known about the Egg for a few years. He took Sinbad out to compete for the first time in 1996.
“Racing just kind of became a tradition,” Jen said. “For my own kids, it’s just something that they’ve done ever since they’ve been born. I’ve dragged them here as infants. It’s just something that they’ve always done.”
“The fact that we have a three-generation crew competing in the regatta is really heartwarming to me,” said race organizer Allen.
On the morning of the race, it became clear that the fog was going to be a problem. Jen began planning their route, reminding everyone of the mistakes they had made in past races.
“We’re going to be fighting the current going out of here,” she said, eyes glued to the map.
Sinbad was not an easy boat to race in. In the last few years, the sailboat has finished near the bottom of the pack in its class. Without a spinnaker — a lightweight sail designed for maximizing a boat’s speed when it is sailing downwind — the crew had to employ a maneuver called a jibe, which slowed them down.
When they finally crossed the finish line more than five hours later, the whole crew cheered. The race had been exhausting, especially on a day with low visibility and little sunlight. Sinbad had finished ninth in its class of 16 boats.
“After being away and seeing our friends and other people from our schools at this race, it’s such a magical experience,” Emma said. “It just makes us all value our childhoods and families so much more.”Bethany Ao can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethanyao.