Flying All Colors
Nantucket’s glorious Rainbow Fleet has brightened summer skies for almost a century.
Nantucket Island, the former whaling capital of the world, possesses a unique, yet tiny, maritime symbol that characterizes its connection to the sea and history. It is the image of a colorful parade of toy like boats sailing around a perfectly scaled lighthouse. It is known as the Rainbow Fleet, immortalized on a hand-colored postcard 80 years ago.
What makes the picture so memorable are the colors of the sails. Each of the 12-foot, gaff-rigged, shallow draft Beetle Cats sports a beautiful unique color. Taken together, the group is known as the Rainbow Fleet. The tradition of their sailing bow to stern, all in a line, dates back to 1930 when August Strong, a well known playwright, screen writer, and step grandson of Robert Louis Stevenson, was thinking of ways to promote the Nantucket Yacht Club and the island as a tourist destination.
Strong enlisted the aid of H. Marshall Gardiner, a local photographer, to create a photo of the fleet rounding Brant Point Light, the country’s second oldest lighthouse. The boats’ perfectly spaced parade was no accident or lucky shot. Since there was no wind and a large reflex camera on a tripod to consider, extraordinary steps had to be taken.