It's smooth sailing in Marblehead's harbor

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Colonial Marblehead, where the nautical spirit of America was born, has long been called the yachting capital of the world. On an average summer evening, as many as 2,500 pleasure craft cram the harbor along the Massachusetts coast, 15 miles north of Boston.

Marblehead's colorful Race Week in late July is an 80-year tradition which attracts spectators and participants from afar. Regattas, such as the Bermuda and Halifax races, are run alternate years by local yacht clubs.

Marblehead has one of the most snug and safe harbors on the Atlantic seaboard. A mile long and a third of a mile wide, it is just the right depth for anchoring, deep enough to come up to the granite shore on either side, and so arranged by nature that only a Northeaster storm can get in among the boats at rest.

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You can be in open water in minutes from Marblehead. Fishing has thrived because boats can sail out into the open sea, make a half turn to starboard, and head straight for the fine fishing waters of Georges Bank.

All sizes of ships abound -- from little dinghies in which youngsters first learn the difference between a halyard and a sheet, to 60-foot yachts which battle for trophies.

Many Marblehead skippers have defended the America's Cup, including Capt. Charles Barr, famous at the turn of the century for his daring and brilliant seamanship, and Ted Hood, who designed his 12-meter sloop, Courageous, made its sails and raced it to victory. Nathaniel Herreshoff and Edward Burgess are among Marblehead's famous names in naval design.

The America's Cup race was sailed out of Marblehead for three years running ( 1885-1887). It would be difficult to name a class in which Marblehead sailors have not excelled in New England, national or world championships.

Marblehead's reputation has been enhanced by winning four or five trophies in races with Kiel, Germany. Among the illustrious names associated with these races are Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, and the English Earl of Dunraven.

Visitors who linger over boatyards can see the oldest still in business -- Graves Yacht Yards, at two locations, off Beacon Street and at 89 Front Street. They have produced wood or fiber-glass designs, from dories to America's Cup defenders.

James E. Graves, born in Marblehead in 1860, first built a dory for his own pleasure but it performed so well he was soon building them for other oarsmen. He has built for famed designer Bowden Crownenshield and others.

Among the ships from the Graves yards are America's Cup candidate, Easterner, designed by C. Raymond Hunt and skippered by Chandler Hovey's son, William, in 1958; America's Cup candidate, Nefertiti, built in 96 days, designed and skippered by Ted Hood in 1962; the Minotaur, the 1960 United States Olympic victor of the 5.5 meters at the Bay of Naples in Italy; and Nam Sang of West Coast and Honolulu racing fame.

The town of Marblehead is a patchwork quilt of historic houses which slant and slope at various angles. Many were built in the 1700s, on winding lanes and crooked, cobblestone streets. The great sea captains lived here and most of the streets are named after them, keeping alive the romance and mystique of this old New England town.

Opulent mansions from the clipper ship days of wealth built for the merchant princes still stand as fine examples of Colonial architecture. During the American Revolution, Marblehead sent an entire regiment under General Glover to help transport George Washington and his army in the famous crossing of the Delaware. In 1775, General Washington commissioned the Hannah, manned and owned by Marblehead men, as the first American warship, supporting the town's claim, "Birthplace of the American Navy."

The finest clipper ship ever conceived was The Flying Cloud, with the Yankee skipper Capt. Josiah Creesey of Marblehead at its helm. In 1851, with his wife Eleanor as his navigator, he set sail in a race against time.

While the rush to California for gold was now on, the single goal for The Flying Cloud was speed. Captain Creesey reached San Francisco from New York in 89 days, an all time record for that run under sail. This was considered a national triumph by the Merchant's Exchange on Boston's State Street and showed sure promise of a great US future on the seas.

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