MARBLEHEAD — Hundreds of eager racers gathered Thursday to raise their sails with one thing on their minds: Be the first to coast over the finish line.
About 130 boats and 750 sailors will compete in the Helly Hansen NOOD regatta at Marblehead Race Week, one of the longest withstanding traditions today, established in 1889.
While people travel from all over the country to take part, event director Jennifer Davies said one of the most special things about this race is the crowd that is overwhelmingly made up of locals and family members.
Davies said that about 90 percent of racers hail from 200 miles or less, making this a fairly local affair.
“This particular location is a big family event,” she said. “There are generations of families on the water, which is unique to Marblehead.”
IOD and Rhodes 19 classes began the 4-day event Thursday. The Rhodes 19 is one of the biggest competing fleets taking off this week, with more than 29 boats lining up at the starting line.
Two sailors getting ready to take to the sea on their Rhodes 19s were Stefan Thibodeaux of Marblehead and Mark Rubin of Annandale, Va.
This is Rubin’s 20th year competing at the event, while it is only Thibodeaux’s third.
Having sailed before, the two said the quality of the racing is top-notch, making it an interesting race.
Amateurs to professionals are looking to earn a spot at the Helly Hansen Caribbean NOOD Championship.
“With (29-plus) boats on the line it creates a lot of competition,” said Thibodeaux. “One minor mistake (and) you can go from the middle to the back. There’s no taking off. Going up wind is hard, going down wind is hard, going around the marks is hard. There isn’t a place to relax until the race is over.”
He added that if you relax, you’ll get rolled.
Rubin said that the competition is impressive and includes former national champions and race week winners.
They will be racing all four days and said by the end of the week, the racing takes a toll on the boat and their bodies.
The J70 class will be joined by Helly Hansen junior sailors, the youngest crew joining the fleet.
“They are with the big boys this weekend,” Davies said. “Helly Hansen outfits them and we let them into the regatta to get youth out on the keelboat circle with the big guns.”
The host club rotates among the Corinthian, Eastern and Boston yacht clubs.
Rubin said that the leadership team organizing the event has been extraordinary at setting racers up for smooth sailing.
He said the committee has done a great job staying on top of conditions of the races to provide one quality race after another, making it a truly impressive series of events.
“It’s the highlight of the summer,” said Rubin.
Two of the 10 classes competing in the Helly Hansen National Offshore One Design (NOOD) Regatta in Marblehead took to the water on Thursday to start the annual competition. A rare summer nor’easter storm may make things interesting for those sailing in the national regatta series’ final stop of the season.
After three races, team Tough Cookie of Stoughton, Mass., led the Rhodes 19 class at the end of the first day. The two-person crew came back after a fifth-place finish in the first race to win both of the remaining rounds, besting Boston-based The Mighty Rhodes by a single point.
In the classic IOD class, Peter Stahle’s Spirit of Georgetown held steady at second place for both of the day’s races, putting the team at the head of the fleet’s leaderboard leading into day two. A local Marblehead crew on Tango and team Javelin of Lexington are tied for second.
Six additional classes will begin racing today, and Laser fleets will round out the regatta on Saturday.
At the culmination of the event Sunday, regatta organizers will announce an overall winner based on the strongest individual finish in the most competitive class. The winner earns a berth in the championship regatta, held Oct. 22-29 in the British Virgin Islands.
The Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta is a spectator-friendly event. Races can be seen from private yachts along the race courses. Race start times are dependent on wind and weather, but racing is scheduled to begin at noon each day.