For the Love of Catboats
11 June 2014
June 8, 2014
It couldn't have been a more perfect day. The sky was clear, except for a few puffy, white clouds off in the distance, the temperature was a comfortable 74, and there was a 12 knot breeze from the WSW. It was the kind of day when the bay sparkled with what looked like a scattering of diamond pieces. Compared to last year's blustery 25 knot winds where everyone had to reef, this day provided the perfect setting for a catboat parade and race.
Jay and I were heading down Katama Bay on SkipJack when I first spotted them through the multitude of boats now moored in the harbor. Catboat masts are distinct as they are three quarters tan and the top quarter is painted white. There they lay, ten catboats of various styles and sizes, surrounding the Vose Family Boathouse, swaying on their moorings, seemingly anxious to be let loose. I was anxious myself, to see these beautiful boats sailing in full form, together through the harbor.
The boathouse was already a flurry of activity. Catboaters mingling about, admiring each other's boats while Mark and friends busied themselves with the task of setting up lunch.
"Ah, the bread!" Pam exclaimed as I walked inside. "I was wondering where the bread was."
We were given the task of driving to Vineyard Haven and picking up the bread from The Black Dog Bakery. Evidently there was a momentary thought that we might not keep up with our end of the bargain.
"Oh, and butter! You remembered the butter! Thank you so much." Pam continued as she put me to work.
It is an annual tradition, this Edgartown Catboat Rendezvous. It is a weekend-long celebration, but the Saturday afternoon gathering at the Vose Family Boathouse is the main event. It is a time for commaraderie and refreshements, namely the famous, delicous, soups; Fish Chowder and Ham & Vegetable by Mark Alan Lovewell and Maureen & Bill McCoy, respectively. (So important is this tradition, Maureen and Bill brought their soup in Friday night, all the way from the cape, even though they wouldn't be participating in Saturday's luncheon - as they had to head back to Mashpee for their grandaughter's graduation.) Hence, the bread, to go with the soup.
The informal ceremony began with Mark warmly welcoming all the catboaters who had traveled in for the weekend. Some people came with their boats, others not. There must have been over fifty people listening as Mark regaled us with the history of his family's boathouse. It is generations old and much love goes into the preservation of such a building that lies over the water. The most interesting fact he shared was that, long before the boathouse was on the property, Manuel Swartz Roberts learned to build catboats on the very land we were standing on. This is the beauty of catboats and Edgartown and the people who love both; the history is respected and kept alive in the storytelling.
The ceremony continued with Mark inviting his brother, Frank, to say a blessing over the fleet. Next up was Steve Ewing, Edgartown's first Poet Laurete. He recited two touching poems he had authored about family and boating. And finally, and always a delight, was Joe Eldredge who, instead of sharing his poetry this year, talked about sea shanties and challenged us to write one about catboats. Of course I looked at Jay and said, "I think that means you."
We broke bread and shared a few more stories and laughs. Then, excited to get to our boats and have a sail, we headed out. All ten boats parading out of the harbor, showing off the unique design and character of our cats. The race itself was a bit loose, as were the rules, but still quite competitve. A few close calls at the start and around the mark. Luckily, no damage and not much yelling, either. It was all in good fun. Pandora rounded the mark first and it was Pandora that won the race.
Pandora is a stunning 20' catboat; an original, one-off wooden boat, designed and built by Bernie Huddlestun around the Marshall 18' hull. She is owned by Burt & Drew Staniar and is sailed out of Stage Harbor, but it was the father-son team of Drew and Parker who proudly took home the trophy this day.
With the formalities over, it was time to take SkipJack and head back up the bay and put her to bed. The sun was lower in the sky, now, so it was cooler and the water had turned a deeper shade of blue. Jay was at the helm and I was sitting on the bow, both of us quietly reflecting on the day's activities. A few lone sunbathers were packing up their picnic along the beach. A speedboat of teenagers passed us by. They waved. Jay looked at me and asked,
"Are you happy?"
"Delighted!" I said, unable to wipe the smile from my face.
For what could be better than "messing about in boats!"