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Marblehead gears up for the National Offshore One-Design regatta

(Spenser Hasak)

MARBLEHEAD — Three major yacht clubs contained within the 19.58 square miles of Marblehead ought to tell anyone the degree to which sailing plays a part in the town’s culture.

There something going on every weekend from April through October at  the Eastern, Corinthian, or Boston Yacht Clubs, says Susie Schneider, executive race director for this year’s Helly Hansen National Offshore One-Design (NOOD) regatta — also known in town as Race Week.

This year’s NOOD regatta begins Thursday and runs through Sunday, with Eastern serving as host. However, the race will also serve as a prelude to an extra special conclusion to summer on Marblehead Neck when Eastern hosts the international championships for the J70-class boats in September. The J70s will be featured during the NOOD regatta as well.

The J70 is a relatively new sailboat, first designed by Alan Johnstone and built in 2012. It is part of the J Boat class — a single-masted yacht that first came into existence around the turn of the 20th century.

“Right now, the J70 is kind of the most popular racing boat in the country, and probably the world,” said Dave Reed of Sailing World, the magazine that began running the regatta as part of a series of races on the East Coast about 15 years ago.

“Sailing World needed an event in July,” said Schneider, “and noticed that we had our regatta in July. So, they decided to adopt us.”

Race Week goes back to 1889, when the first regatta was run. Not everyone associated with the regatta was happy with it being absorbed into Sailing World’s series of regattas. Schneider, who has been a part of the Marblehead sailing community since she was a child, was, and is, fine with it.

“Its difficult for volunteers to run a regatta like this one on a yearly basis,” she said. “Just in terms of getting sponsors, and organization, and scoring — especially scoring — it was getting more difficult.

“We were so local,” she said. “You’re asking the same people year after year to sponsor, and that’s difficult.”

This year, as in the past several, Helly Hansen, an internationally recognized manufacturer of boating apparel, will serve as the principal sponsor.

“Every day during the race, there’s what we call a ‘free pour’,” she said. “They (the sailors) can get their ‘dark and stormies’ there (a highball cocktail made primarily with rum and ginger beer).

“Also, there’s a big dinner every night,” she said. “A big part of the expense goes to food. And then there are awards, which also take up a big part of the expense.”

Sailing World has been operating its series of regattas — formally known as National Offshore One-Design (NOOD) — since 1988. It is the longest-running popular sailboat racing series in North America. Other events are run in St. Petersburg, Fla, Chicago, Annapolis, Md., San Diego and in the British Virgin Islands.

In one-design racing, boats of a similar class compete against each other. Hence, the J70s race together, plus several other types of yachts, including Town Class boats, among the oldest yachts still on the water.

“They’ve had a resurgence,” says Reed. “A lot of people buy the old ones and fix them up for racing.”

Accommodating the J70s this year will prove to be a challenge, said Schneider.

“We have a lot of entrants,” she said.

And Reed says there probably will be more.

“A lot of sailors will use (the NOOD regatta) to scout so they’ll be prepared for the one in September,” he said.

The festivities got underway today with the junior regatta, run out of the Pleon Yacht Club (which is on Eastern’s property) and which features sailors who are under 21. It’ll end Wednesday.

Thursday starts the main regatta, which will run daily through Sunday, weather permitting. And Schneider is well aware that Mother Nature plays a big role.

“We had nor’easters last year, both in the junior races and in the regular regatta,” she said. “Rain doesn’t deter us. But we won’t let them go out if there’s lightning in the area.”

Also, exceptionally choppy seas present a problem too, she said.

Because of the influx of J70s, there will be two courses, one for them and one for all the other yachts.

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