The Catboat Rendezvous
09 August 2013 | Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard
It had been two full days of pouring down rain and with the promise of Andrea's strong winds to continue, we weren't sure what to expect from the Catboat Rendezvous. Though we have owned a catboat for over twenty years, this was to be our first direct experience as a member of The Catboat Association. Will there still be a parade and race as previously announced? Surely they will still hold the luncheon. Will anyone even show up? We wondered these questions as we walked into the Vose Family Boathouse, sitting on the edge of Edgartown Harbor, and found ourselves surrounded by fifty or more catboat enthusiasts. Evidently we had underestimated the hardiness of New Englanders, not to mention the passion of catboat owners.
Not only had a few stout sailors brought their boats over from Cape Cod in the midst of an impending tropical storm, but some had come as far away as Western Massachusetts, just to enjoy the camaraderie and love of catboats. I asked Jay, "What is it about catboats? Why is there such a following for this type of boat?" I sail her. I have even fallen in love with her. But I've sailed many other boats. And I love some of them too, particularly our Hardin 45, Cadenza, on the west coast. So what's so special about a catboat? "It's the history," he said. "They are a part of the New England culture, tradition."
One might add that they are comfortable and sturdy too as the typical catboat has a wide beam. The mast sits far forward on the bow. She almost always has one sail, the mainsail, which is gaff-rigged. She also sports a centerboard which on our boat draws three feet of water when she's down and eighteen inches when she is up. This allows for sailing into shallow ponds, of which there are many on Martha's Vineyard.
No one really knows when the first catboat was built, but they can be traced back to the 1800s. Known for their versatility they were used for both pleasure and work. Many a fisherman would sail in the summer and then remove the mast, utilizing its wide beam and low freeboard to scallop in the winter. The catboat became a common sight in New England as they became more and more popular. And by the looks of the gathering at the boathouse, these boats still hold their allure.
Never quite sure how to engage myself in conversations in a room full of strangers, I stood in the background watching as groups of people mingled on the deck excitedly reconnecting with old friends and sharing new stories of their adventures. Jay, eager to join in, introduced himself and instantly became one with the catboat community. Lingering about, I slowly fell in step as I came to see the rendezvous as laid-back and informal, the participants warm and welcoming.
The event formally started as Mark Lovewell began introductions. His brother, Frank Lovewell, said a blessing and we were regaled by beautiful poetry thanks to Steve Ewing and Joe Eldredge. With a promise from Mark that, "something will happen" (A parade? A race maybe?), he declared the festivities officially begun. I smiled at Jay and noted how this "ceremony" was not unlike Opening Day for yacht clubs.
After enjoying a bite to eat - delicious fish chowder made by Mark and a scrumptious ham soup made and brought all the way over from Mashpee by Moe & Bill McCay - Jay and I noticed the weather changing. It looked like it might cooperate after all. Not wanting to miss the fun, we quickly left to go and bring our catboat down to the boathouse.
We keep Skipjack moored up in Katama Bay. We often laugh about the journey we have to take just to reach her. It's a bike ride from the house to the boat and then pull the dinghy across deep sand, turn her over and row her out to the mooring. Needless to say, after doing this, it wasn't surprising that we were almost late for the festivities.
As it turned out, the race was cancelled. A good call, I would say, as we all struggled to properly set our sails - which meant reefing - in 15 to 25 knot winds while being pulled by current and dodging moorings and boats.
Soon we were dressed and ready for the parade. Though there were only seven boats that actually took part - Vanity, Sea Chantey, Glimmer, Ocmulgee, Sea Smoke, Calico and Skipjack - there was diversity and much history displayed for the viewing audience.
Vanity, a 22' wooden catboat built in 1923 by Edgartown's infamous Manuel Swartz Roberts, is steeped in local tradition. Now run by the Martha's Vineyard Museum, she was once owned by Captain Oscar Pease. She is also known to be the last working catboat as Captain Pease continued to use Vanity for scalloping as late as the 1980s. Both Sea Chantey and Glimmer are Marshall 22's, owned by Mark Lovewell and Jim O'Connor, respectively. Ocmalgee, though owned by Steve Ewing, was crewed by a "younger" group who I never got a chance to meet. They had energy and a competitiveness that challenged our cat. Riding our stern with their Marshall 18', I thought for a moment - maybe we are racing. Sea Smoke, another Marshall 22', is owned by Bill Gately who brought it all the way from Bass River. And then there was Calico. 116 years old! And the first yawl rig on a catboat that I'd ever seen. Owned by Bill and Moe McCay, I hear they have great stories to tell. And finally, there is our catboat, a Herreshoff 18' America, Skipjack. She was built by Nowak and Williams in 1974 for the Bicentennial and Jay has owned her for over twenty years. Seven boats, all with the title, "catboat," yet individual and unique, quietly displaying their classic beauty and ancestral heritage. I finally understood the loyalty and devotion attributed to this tradition, the catboat history.
The parade ended as we doused our sails and headed back to the boathouse where a few die-hard catboat fans were waiting for us. They welcomed us with hats and beers and tales of catboat regattas. And so the day ended as it had begun; sharing stories and our love of catboats.