The Pure Nature of Sailing: The Herreshoff and IYRS Newport Classic Yacht Regattas

Photo by Jens Lange

This August’s Herreshoff Classic Yacht Regatta and September’s IYRS Newport Classic Yacht Regatta served as the sendoff to Rhode Island’s abbreviated summer regatta season. With predominantly beautiful weather and a tremendous gathering of classic sailing vessels, both events celebrated Rhode Island’s sailing legacy, while paying particular attention to the safety of all participants and volunteers.

A part of the CYOA’s Classic Yachts Challenge Series, the 2020 Herreshoff Classic Yacht Regatta presented by Bristol Marine took place August 28th-30th. The regatta typically opens with a feeder race from Newport to Bristol on Friday afternoon followed by a race around upper Narragansett Bay on Saturday and a race back to Newport on Sunday. This year's event, however, was interrupted by the arrival of Laura on Saturday, so two races were held Sunday: an 8-mile "hot lap" around Hog Island followed by a wild sprint back to Newport in a 15-20 knot westerly. 

For Peter McClennen, owner of Gamecock, competing in Herreshoff’s annual regatta has always been of the utmost importance; “She is a Herreshoff and being in Narragansett Bay it has always been important to support the museum and classic yachting in this area.” The R Class racing sloop was designed by N.G. Herreshoff in 1925, and McClennen has raced her in five consecutive Herreshoff Classic Yacht Regattas since her most recent restoration. “I always look forward to it, and we make sure we are there every year.” 

Friday’s race saw the vessels out from Newport to Bristol in a straight-forward run. While the day began with a light rain up the bay, the weather cleared up and the vessels were able to take off with a windward start. “It was truly critical to follow the currents so we sort of bounced side to side up the bay, ” describes McClennen. “We flew a couple different spinnakers to lead us up to the finish line. It was a beautiful, wonderful weather day.” McClennen took third place behind Harvey Jones’ Outlier and Steve Eddleston’s Weatherly. 

Saturday’s weather was less than ideal with the arrival of Hurricane Laura and damaging gusts predicted for the afternoon. After a digital polling of the skippers via a quick deployment of an online survey, organizers decided to cancel Saturday’s racing but agreed to start early on Sunday for one race before the Bristol-Newport distance race.

New Zealander Steve Eddleston, who refers to himself as “Kiwi Steve”, competed on his newly acquired 1958 classic yacht, Weatherly, winner of the 1962 America’s Cup.  Kiwi Steve described what can only be entitled “a true showdown” between Weatherly and Race 2 winner, Nefertiti in both of Sunday’s races. “When you have your sister right next to you giving you a run for your money, it is truly exhilarating and exciting.”

Eric Hall’s Blackwing and John Taft’s Fortune took the top honors for both of Sunday’s races for the Spirit of Tradition and Vintage classes respectively.  The full results for the regatta can be found at

This year's IYRS Newport Classic served as its 41st annual regatta held on Labor Day. With 24 boats signed up, this year's event included 14 under CRF in addition to 10 Herreshoff S-Boats. The Ida Lewis Yacht Club served as the race committee and organizing authority, setting the Narragansett Bay course. 

“We had an absolutely beautiful course plotted from Newport going out to Narragansett Bay” described regatta chair, Jens Lange. The regatta included three different classes but began with a single run and start time. “The race committee started a really, really long starting line with plenty of room. It was pretty amazing to see all of the boats coming across; boats ranging from 22-meter long Ticonderoga down to the Luders, which is obviously a huge range.” 

The day offered beautiful weather with a steady 18 knots, gusting to an occasional 20 knots, a “typical southwesterly” as described by Lange. “It was a very tame event: good racing, perfect conditions. Everything went like clockwork. I am so happy that we had this event. It is setting us up for next year to be stronger and better than ever.” 

This year has forced many regattas to rapidly evolve due to the necessary mandates and regulations regarding COVID-19. For both the Herreshoff and IYRS Newport Classic Yacht Regattas, ensuring the safety of all participants and volunteers stood at the center of concern for event organizers. 

For both the IYRS Newport and Herreshoff Classic Yacht Regattas, this meant canceling or radically transforming many of the shore events that have previously welcomed crowds in past years. Herreshoff Classic competitor McClennen describes, “The museum did such a great job this year. On one hand it was odd not having the events, but on the other hand this really brought out the pure nature of sailing.”

For IYRS’ traditional Sunday classic Boat Parade, organizers made the decision early on to exclude any commentary and discourage the gathering of crowds to ensure everyone’s safety. The parade included 20 traditional boats doing a slow harbor burn led by Rum Runner. “It was so good to see that people were out, happy, and socially distanced,” states Lange. 

Sailing rests at the core of Rhode Island’s collective spirit, and both the Herreshoff and IYRS Newport Classic Regattas have maintained that spirit despite physical limitations. 

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