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A Race for the Ages

After 50 years of Figawi, nobody is wondering where we are anymore.


Time and the accretion of myth have clouded many details, but Bob Horan, his brother Joe, and Bob “Red” Luby competed in the debut regatta. It was an, “I can sail my boat to Nantucket faster than you, and let’s make it interesting!” kind of challenge after a few drinks at Baxter’s Boathouse in Hyannis.    

Luby won the race on Memorial Day 1972.  

Luby would later say of that first race that “Nobody had anybody onboard who knew how to sail a boat, but it was a lot of laughs.” Indeed, at one point Luby was spelled at the helm and in the time it took him to visit the head, the neophyte crew had managed to turn the boat on an opposite heading, essentially sailing back toward Hyannis as fast as they could!

The first race ended with a jarring anti-climax.    

Nobody was waiting to hail the triumphant sailors, indeed the Nantucket Boat Basin was closed! The second year, by word of mouth, Figawi grew to 15 boats. Stan Moore won aboard a crazy-looking contraption called Moby Dick.  

Puritan of Cape Cod’s Howard Penn brought his redoubtable organizational abilities onboard and the newly organized Figawi Committee booked Cap’n Tobey’s Chowder House on Nantucket’s Straight Wharf to host the 1973 post-race party. By 1979, they added a lay-day on the island; a Sunday without racing meant they could relax, maybe throw a clambake.  

1979 also brought the first Figawi tent, a modest affair perched on the end of New Whale Street.

Today Figawi is not one event, as much as several overlapping carnivals.  

Certainly, it is a great regatta. There is a palpable sense of camaraderie among the crews, captains congratulate or commiserate, and to walk the docks with a just-won silver trophy in your hands is to be granted temporary celebrity status. But Figawi is also an all-the-trimmings lobster clambake. It is a dance party—boisterous live music fills the big party tent while revelers take their life in their hands on the drink-slick dance floor. It is a joke telling session as the tent temporally becomes a stand up comedy revue. It is a high school regatta, it is a fundraiser, and it is mainly a chance to get together, sail fast, and see friends, as the event heralds the unofficial start of the summer season. 

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