Bringing Racing to the Upper Bay
Georgetown Racing Fleet
HISTORY OF THE GEORGETOWN RACING FLEET
In about 1948 or so, a group of old salts who kept their sailing vessels in Georgetown, Md. Harbor on the Sassafras River would often find each other in a little cove just East of the entrance to the River on a weekend evening. There was nothing there but an old granary, ready to fall down and a wharf in front of it, ditto. This was listed on the charts as “TURNERS CREEK.“ It was a calm, serene place to anchor, although not too much depth of water. As sailors will do, they made the most of it and rafted together for fun,, companionship, tall tales and many drinks to cool their throats. Soon they formed a real “family” and decided to sharpen their nautical skills by racing a few times a year just outside the river on the upper Chesapeake Bay. They named this organization “The Georgetown Racing Fleet” and put down a 300 pound mushroom mooring anchor with suitable stainless steel cable and float in the creek. The earliest membership list in print is from 1975 with 66 families on it. One can see how fast this little group grew as the organizing salts were only about 10 in number. They included Bill and Claudia Burkey, Don and Audrey Doolittle, Brad and Henny Smith, George Abel, Brookie and Betty Brewer, Al and Barbara Furbeck, Lynn and Muffie Hendrickson, Bob and Dell Black, Oscar (Olie) and Viola Olsen, Hugh and Ruth Mahaffy and Bill and Marge Winter. The only power boat permitted was owned by Jim and Peggy Morford for they served this little group well as “THE COMMITTEE BOAT.” Claudia Burkey designed the fleet burgee and logo with the colors Black and Blue as she said that is what appeared to cover the body the next day after racing.
. The Fleet was soon divided into classes according to size. Several courses were laid out using the Coast Guard buoys in this area as marks and the course to be sailed that day was determined by the committee boat depending on the wind direction. Starts were at 10:00 for class “A” and 10 minutes later for class “B.” Starts and finishes were just off Lloyd Creek East of Betterton. Delta was the rating used for determining times and corrections. Published race results results from the 1977 Series show 8 boats in class “A” and 6 in class “B.” From the git-go it was decided there would be no protests, and that policy prevails today. Three Saturday races in June and three in September comprised the Spring and Fall Series. After the middle race in the spring series a “Ladies Day’ race was held the next day, Sunday. After the middle race in the fall series a “Man Overboard” race was held on Sunday, which again really sharpened nautical skills.
For most of the late 50’s through the late 60’s race weekends consisted of sailing to Turner’s Creek on Friday evening, rafting up and having a social hour or two. Then getting up to race early the next day and rafting up in Turner’s Creek afterward for Happy Hour and hear announcements of the race results, where each racer was boo’d and/or applauded as the case might be. Most spent the night rafted up there. Tall tales were told, tactics discussed and family news and gossip spread. Much fun was the order of the day along with good grub consumed. They found so many good chiefs in the Fleet, they even published a cookbook called, “The Two Burner Miracle.”
A week long cruise on the Bay was also put in the works after the spring series in early July. Destinations were planned with most participating boats with all the kids aboard. This too continues to this day.
Some social activities were added for the winter to ward off those chilly doldrums days. A dinner dance was held at the Hercules Country Club where all came outfitted in their best regalia, so much so that no one recognized anyone else. The race results were announced and prizes (pewter mugs, suitably engraved) were awarded. The “executive committee” announced the officers for the coming year and the race schedule. The treasurer gave his usual report in terms such that no one could understand him except for the final sentence which went thus, “the treasury is in good shape and the bar is open after dinner.” Clan members living outside the Wilmington area were put up by those members residing in the vicinity so no one had to drive far to get a bed to lay their head down that night. But, what to do with those visitors the next day? Thus was born the annual Sunday brunch. Everyone brought a dish to share to the Commodore’s house and had a real ball. Later it was discovered that dressing up, “ was not our thing,” so the dinner dance was scrapped for just the brunch, which remains a staple of the chilly days social diet.
Changes occurred over time. Ratings changed and now PHRF is used. As the Fleet grew, two more moorings were put down, increasing the Fleets’ accommodations by two thirds. Since commercial crabbers kept boats at what remained of the wharf and a road led down from Route 296, this made for a very easy way to pick crew up coming by car for racing. Most crews were family members, but others, having no family nearby, enlisted efforts of friends and others. Crews got to be “regulars” soon forming a real clan.
A relationship with the Chesapeake Bay Racing Association (CBYRA) was formed in 1977 with the Fleet being one of 7 Clubs in Region 1, the Northern Bay. This continues to this day and this Fleet sponsors, the BAY JAM regatta in early August. Many of the Fleet join other CBYRA regattas sponsored by other Region 1 organizations.
The County of Kent, Maryland bought the land, wharf and granary. It rebuilt the wharf and granary and built a pavilion at the top of the hill with a wonderful view of the river and made a park. Parking was enlarged and restrooms were installed in a small house on the property. Thus this made for a ideal spot to have some great parties to include those that did not race, such as small children and older grandparents taking care of same..
Many members have become very good representatives of the Fleet, bringing home much hardware. One in particular, won two Bermuda Races. Several others won their classes in races around the Bay and beyond.
Family members participating have changed as old members join the landlocked fleet or have ended up in that great fleet in the blue of the sky instead of the blue of the waters. But the Georgetown Fleet continues in its traditional family ways of racing for fun and fun afterwards. It should endure as long as fair winds blow across the water.
We cordially invite all others to join us aboard for sailing and fun.
Respectfully submitted, Barbara Holmes, member since 1958