Screenshot 2016-08-30 18.04.43Classic Schooners: brawny yet elegant multi-masted sailboats that conjure up images of thick-skinned fisherman, white-gloved aristocracy and pirates. They date from a bygone era when oceans were the primary means of transport, and control of them made and broke nations. Most have succumbed to the ebb of fortunes and implacability of time, but a few of these legendary beauties still ply the waters. A recent renaissance in traditional shipbuilding has significantly increased their numbers, and many new “Spirit of Tradition” schooners have joined their ranks.

I first set foot on Mariette twenty years ago as a day worker with barely Screenshot 2016-08-30 18.05.03two French Francs to rub together. Although I was new to the yachting game, I knew she was special the moment I set eyes on her. Launched in New England in 1915, she was drawn by the hand of Nathanial Herreshoff, a renowned wizard of naval architecture. Gleaming brass, glistening varnish, a thousand antiquated blocks with lines and two massive wooden masts captivate you the moment you step on board. In her time she was one of the biggest private yachts in the world. Although several new mega yachts have surpassed her in length, she retains a certain mystique that none can touch. A siren luring veteran crew both young and old, Mariette entices us to travel far distances to rekindle the magic.

Screenshot 2016-08-30 18.05.42The Superyacht Cup in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, has brought together more of these timeless beauties than have been seen together in the Mediterranean in years. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Superyacht Cup is the longest running regatta of its kind in Europe. The course is set each day according to wind conditions in the Bay of Palma against distant mountains, a striking cathedral and the charming palm-lined old town.

On the first day crewmembers file across the passerelle and greet one another to ready the sails and deck. Stories of past regattas and shenanigans pepper the banter, with a few silent tears for those who will Screenshot 2016-08-30 18.05.14never return. ‘Ready on the main, ready on the fore!’ Tension fills the dry air, but the crew snaps into action as the wind fills in and sails are hoisted. Last minute adjustments and checks are made as start time approaches. All crewmembers know their tasks and hold positions, each one instrumental in the well-rehearsed orchestra about to begin.

As we near the start line, brisk commands are shouted to ease sails and depower the boat. Crossing the line too early would result in a stiff penalty that could be the difference between first or last. Clipped on to the headstay, the bowman stands precariously on the massive bowsprit, signaling boat lengths and direction to the helmsman. We cross just as the gun fires… a perfect start!

Screenshot 2016-08-30 18.04.53‘Sheet on, sheet on!’ comes the command as we power up into the wind. Standby crewmembers rush to the windward rail and huddle near one another, their feet dangling against the hull, while others keep a vigilant eye on sail trim. ‘Down on jibtop one, up on jibtop two!’ A last minute call to change sails triggers a chaotic burst of energy on the foredeck. Different combinations of twenty-eight sails can be shuffled and tweaked to maximize speed according to wind angle. Tacticians and captain constantly mull over options as they warily eye the competition. A few sailors nestle like albatrosses in the masts far above, ready to rig topsails for the next jibe. ‘Douse the jib, ease the fore and main!’ As we round the mark, windward sails drop while spinnakers are raised and other sails sheeted out in a flurry of energy. ‘Ease the kite sheet, ease kite sheet…you’ve got a kite!’ Blocking out the photography chase boats and helicopters incessantly whizzing about, you slip back into time for a Screenshot 2016-08-30 18.05.51moment and imagine these old girls alongside one another running cargo or rushing royalty across ancient seas.

Winning the last two days, we are in line to clinch our class if we can maintain our position. Well into the course we surge past the other schooners and all seems according to plan. ‘Tacking in 30 seconds!’ shouts the captain. A smooth tack, but a tad early-the boat gradually loses velocity as wind and sea set us closer and closer to the orange mark. If we don’t clear it all may be lost. A quick jibe spins the boat around and back into position. We edge past with only a few meters of clearance and crack off the sails as the wind builds. With a freshening wind, the old girl comes into her own, her thick keel slicing through the water as we rapidly rip towards the finish line. ‘Trim on!’ shouts the first mate as winches noisily crank in sheets. The deck goes silent on the final push, all eyes on sails and the finish. As we cross the line and applaud one another, the conversation quickly turns to time. Was our handicap enough? What about the staggered starts? Did we win on corrected time?

Screenshot 2016-08-30 18.05.29Once the mainsails are flaked and we begin to motor into port the deck bustles with energy, all hands packing sails and clearing the deck. As we approach our berth, a miniature cannon is fired off the bow, followed by a volley from a fellow schooner. Our crew flocks to the bow to give three cheers to the competition, and they return the goodwill. After a quick wash down, crewmembers lightheartedly jibe one another over gaffs as beers are handed up from the galley and music begins to throb from the nearby committee tent. Finally, the word comes from the aft deck that we’ve won! In the excitement an unfortunate birthday boy is tossed overboard into the drink. Toasts and handshakes all around as beaming sunburnt faces congratulate one another. Much has changed in the century since Mariette’s steel-riveted hull first splashed, but the age-old tradition of regatta racing is still preserved through her and a handful of these other living works of art that have weathered the test of time.



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