Taygeta was one of more than 60 boats participating in last Sunday's 25th annual George Moffett Memorial sailboat race. Named after one of the seven stars in the small star cluster Pleiades, Taygeta is also one of the longtime stars in this annual autumn race.
The 70-foot classic Q-sailboat has participated in most of the Moffett races over the years. She has been for a number of years the scratch boat - a key position in a race that attracts sailors from all over southeastern New England.
On Sunday her captain, Jonathan H. Churchill, 70, and his wife, Judith, took a spirited crew of sailors out for the race. Like most of the participants, they looked forward to a day of competitive sailing and fun.
It was a perfect afternoon for both. Roger Becker, acting commodore of the Holmes Hole Sailing Association, told the sailors they should race more against the clock than each other.
On Friday afternoon, Mr. Churchill showed up at the captains' meeting at the Gannon & Benjamin boatyard. He stood quietly among the 40 sailors and listened to organizers talk about how to complete the 19.6-nautical-mile race that runs from Vineyard Haven harbor out to Hedge Fence off Edgartown, to waters off Mashpee, then to Falmouth harbor and back.
Sunday morning's weather couldn't have been better, although the wind started out light. The captain's crew included his wife; longtime friend Norris Darrell, 73, of Edgartown, a step-brother; Katharine Sterling of West Tisbury, and John Thayer, another longtime friend and skilled cabinetmaker.
Taygeta dates to 1926, Alden design and Lawley built. She was built as a Q-boat, a class of wooden boat that was the forerunner to another class of sailboat, the 12-meter.
Mr. Churchill said these sailboats did competitive sailing in the Northeast in the years following World War I. There were about 15 boats built in the class, and there are only six left. A Q-boat sank last year off Fisher Island, N.Y.
Mr. Churchill's father, John White Winston Churchill, acquired Taygeta in 1958 and sailed her out of Vineyard Haven harbor. The son said he has always had great affection for the boat and has tried to keep its classic personality unaltered even through changing times.
Mr. Churchill, a corporate lawyer in New York city, finds great pleasure in getting away from it all by sailing Taygeta just like his father before him.
"I love sailing," he said. "On this boat, you get this really great sense of speed. When you sit in the cockpit you're below the water; there is a great sensation to sailing her."
Taygeta is fast, and finishes most Moffett Races in first or close to it in elapsed time, but places farther down the list in corrected time. The reason for her speed has much to do with her design. She draws seven-and-a-half feet and, at seven-and-a-half-feet wide, is a narrow boat. Comparing Taygeta to some of the more contemporary boats in the race is a lot like comparing the width of a kayak to a dinghy.
In the early part of the race, Taygeta took little time to get ahead of most of the boats in the fleet. When the wind picked up from the southwest, she became a wet boat, water on the deck, foaming seas running over the coaming and onto the teak deck. At times she reached eight knots.
Years ago there were two races within the Moffett race - while everyone was racing to get well placed in the handicap system adopted by the Holmes Hole Sailing Association, captains had a fun time watching Taygeta compete against another fast boat, a New York 30 called Banzai. The two were nearly evenly matched in speed, and a joy to watch as they raced head to head, in front of everyone, to the finish. But it has been a few years since Banzai competed in the Moffett race.
On this afternoon, Taygeta was overcome by a much more modern fiberglass boat called Three Boy Breeze, a J-44 captained by Gene Berardi. Halfway into the race, Three Boy Breeze passed far ahead of the old wooden classic in the race to the finish.
Judith Churchill said she enjoys being a sailing wife on Taygeta. There is a thrill, she said, in being on such a fast boat, so close to the water.
She is quick to help her husband with many of the chores and details of sailing. During the summer, they both like to cruise along the Maine coast. They've gone as far north as Canada and as far south as Long Island Sound.
They especially like Island-hopping, and Grand Manan Island - the very southernmost part of New Brunswick, off the coast of Maine - is on a long list of favorites.
Mrs. Churchill preferred to understate her skills: "I am good at sandwiches and the tiller."
She offered high praise for the camaraderie that is felt within the race and the community that supports it: "I think everyone enjoys the fellowship of this harbor. This harbor has some of the best boats in the East Coast."
At the conclusion of the race, there was a real-time race between Taygeta and a sailboat called Deneb, a blue 43-foot sloop captained by Roger Merrill. The two boats completed the race at the same moment, four hours and 0.6 seconds. The two were about 10 minutes behind the fastest boat in the race, Three Boy Breeze.
In the handicapping of the race, Deneb outperformed Taygeta, thus earning fourth place. Taygeta earned a 10th place. Because of handicapping, Three Boy Breeze came in 15th.
After the race and on the deck, Mr. Churchill told his crew he hopes to win the Moffett race some day: "If you are a scratch boat, some day you are going to win."
His colleagues agreed.