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Written by Stephen Rappaport   
Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 10:14 am

CASTINE — Maybe it was a testament to clean living and pure thoughts, or perhaps it was a response to the sailor’s frequent use of the deity’s name in one context or another during past races. But whatever the cause, the weather gods smiled on the Maine Retired Skippers Race Saturday afternoon and proffered sunny skies and enough wind to make for some excellent sailing without endangering life, limb, rig or sanity.

The fair weather was a marked change from what the fleet saw during the past couple of races. In 2007, gale winds gusting to 45 knots forced several boats to withdraw from the race because of damage or prudence. Last year, light winds forced the race to be shortened by 40 percent. This year, the fleet had a steady 10-12-knot southwest breeze that was perfect for sailing on Penobscot Bay.

The improvement over last year’s weather didn’t change the results for the race’s top two finishers. In last year’s drifter, Falcon, a Herreshoff New York 32 with Captain John Gardner at the helm, eked out a 1 minute 14 second victory over former Maine Maritime Academy sailing coach Butch Minson’s Cat’s Paw. On Saturday, it was once again Falcon by a whisker, leading Cat’s Paw across the line by a scant 40 seconds after just over two hours of racing.

It wasn’t all bad for Minson and Cat’s Paw. With Captain Dick Greenfield of Sedgwick at the helm, the 28-foot sloop was actually 20 seconds faster than Falcon over the 12-mile course, but not enough to make up for the one-minute difference in starting times for the two boats imposed by the Retired Skippers race handicap system.

Cat’s Paw enjoyed another victory. It finished nearly seven minutes ahead of Fearless, an identical boat owned by Minson’s sister, Betty, another highly competitive racing sailor.

The Retired Skippers Race uses a system of staggered starts, with the slowest boats starting earliest, to handicap the diverse fleet. Under that system, each boat’s elapsed time and corrected time are the same and the winner is the first boat to actually cross the finish line.

Last Saturday, the system worked well. Despite some problems with the official clock on board the race committee boat, the first three boats crossed the line within less than a minute and a half and the top six boats finished within a span of less than five minutes.

This year, just 33 boats came to the starting line, a half-dozen fewer than last year. The race requires that all skippers be at least 65 years of age and, on that score, there was no shortage of experience in the fleet.

At least three skippers had reached their 90th birthday. A former Maine Maritime Academy commandant, retired Adm. Ted Rodgers, 93, took the helm of MMA’s offshore racing sloop Revolution IX. He skippered the scratch boat — the last boat to start to a strong, 10th-place finish sailing with a mostly freshman crew. Captain Merrill Bradford, of Sandy Point, 92, took the helm of Pi-Mut, and Captain Ernest Burt, 90, sailed his Alden yawl Gitana. At least four octogenarians also skippered boats in this year’s race.

Falcon, her owner Robert Scott of Castine and her skipper, John Gardner, took home several awards for their first-place finish. Captain Walter Guinon, sailing Western Way, won the traditional Calm Hod trophy for finishing last.

For more maritime news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.