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A Sail Aboard the Gaff Sloop Vela:
The 22nd Annual Moffett Sailboat Regatta

Martha's Vineyard Times September 16, 1999


Vineyard Haven Harbor bustled Sunday morning as more than 60 vessels prepared to compete for the 22nd Annual George Moffett Sailboat Regatta. Provisions were being carried down the dock at Owen Park and loaded into skiffs, and guests were being ferried out or picked up at the dock. A few young people lined the dock hoping to secure a spot on a boat for the race. They each had a forlorn, but hopeful look; the start was to be very soon, and their chances were growing slim.

There was a slight breeze from just north of west, and light air jibs were being brought out and hanked on. Havilah Hawkins, the jocular skipper of Vela, an Edgartown charter boat, said, "If we don't get a little more wind, we're not gonna stand a chance against some of these little guys." Vela is a 50 foot, heavily built gaff rigged sloop which performs well in the strong winds that can overwhelm a smaller boat, but, as Capt. Hawkins pointed out that morning, it takes at least 10 or 15 knots just to get Vela going. He and his wife Beverly helped their guests aboard from the dinghy, and cast off the mooring.

As the 11:30 start approached, the wind died, and the race committee postponed the race. Sixty boats milled about in slow motion between the chops. Aboard Vela, Capt. Hawkins noted that a couple of smaller boats which lacked engines had not made it out to the starting line. He motored over to offer a tow. Ted Okie, aboard his little black sloop Latona, accepted the offer. It was noted that Mr. Okie had taken aboard three of the wayward souls who were hitching rides at Owen Park. What goes around comes around.

While awaiting the start Capt. Hawkins grumbled that he didn't like the fit of his mainsail. The heavy canvas hung flat in light air, and wouldn't belly out to provide the needed lift. He decided to loose foot the main, and his son Caleb, 10, unlaced the mainsail from the boom. Robert Hawkins, the captain's brother, set about securing the sail to the end of the boom while the kids went swimming.

Finally, around 1:00 the merest puff emanated from around West Chop, and the starting sequence began. Division II, which included the smaller boats, was first to start, and a mass of white sails pulled past the committee boat. The adjustments to Vela's mainsail were still unfinished, and Capt. Hawkins paced nervously. At the starting gun for Division I, Vela was far back in the pack. As Vela glided past the committee boat, Capt. Hawkins asked if there was an award for being last over the line. Someone on the committee boat quipped, "What happened? I had my money on you."

The Hawkins Family and Vela
Indeed, Vela and Capt. Hawkins have quite a reputation. Capt. Hawkins is known as a shrewd and experienced sailor, as well as an amiable and talkative person. His running commentary to no one in particular from the helm of Vela during the race on Sunday was in contrast to Beverly's measured tone. They seemed a good match, and they have been sailing together for a very long time.

Havilah Hawkins is named after his father, who pioneered the windjammer business in Camden, Maine. He grew up sailing traditional boats and carrying passengers. He and his wife Beverly operated the family schooner Mary Day out of Camden several years.

The Hawkins family designed Vela to be a heavy, stable and simple vessel. Capt. Hawkins built Vela with Twig Bower in Maine, and she was launched in 1993. Vela is an unusual boat by any standards. She has a well-balanced, very traditional rig, which gives her a look very much like an old schooner, but she is simpler to sail with only a main and jib to handle. Accommodations below are simple and comfortable, mostly of unfinished wood, very much like a Maine country cottage.

Shunning the crush of the Camden windjammer business, the family moved to Edgartown three years ago where they live aboard Vela and operate a summer charter business from Memorial Wharf. Last winter, they cruised the southeastern US, and Beverly home-schooled Caleb and Mari, 8, while Havilah supported them by taking boat repair jobs.

A Fickle Wind
Given the light wind and an opposing current, Capt. Hawkins hugged East Chop where the current was slower, while most of the larger boats tacked far out into the Sound in the light northwest wind. As Vela rounded the green can at East Chop, the wind veered northeast as predicted for the afternoon, and it seemed that the strategy of staying out of the current was paying off. Much of the rest of the fleet had been swept by the current away from the first mark, the red gong buoy at the far end of Hedge Fence off of Edgartown, almost directly upwind.

Capt. Hawkins was constantly fine tuning the rig to get the best performance out of Vela. Caleb was often enlisted by his father to adjust the peak jig, and the sheets were eased or hauled taut here and there.

As the wind freshened, the vessels on the north side of the sound had a stronger breeze than those on the south side. The mainsail was laced back onto the boom, and Vela began to make broad tacks across the sound, but lost critical time getting out of those south side doldrums. Capt. Hawkins' commentary from the wheel grew more animated, as he vented his good-natured frustration, and he was easily goaded to a higher level of excitement when Caleb exclaimed, "Hey, how did they get ahead of us?" or when a guest innocently asked, if this boat or that boat was passing us.

In the hallowed halls of the Times on Monday, Editor Doug Cabral was heard to say about this part of the race, "There were evil mutterings from the foredeck crew." He was aboard his sloop Liberty for the race.

Many a sailor cursed the fickle wind that afternoon, and breathed a sigh of relief when the red gong was rounded and the faster downwind legs of the race began. By then, Vela had lost much of the ground she had gained early on. The children frolicked on the outstretched boom. Mari swung from a reef pennant and Caleb inched his way out to straddle the end of the boom.

The run back to Vineyard Haven was quick and painless for the Vela crew. The commentary from the helm quieted to some degree, but would spring forth anew with a well-placed verbal jab from the peanut gallery. Vela placed 40th in corrected time across the line. The vessel pulled alongside Coastwise Wharf just before sunset. The children had their sights set on the party at Owen Park, and seemed unfazed by the low standing.

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