Generations Round the Mark

The Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club continues
to make waves while holding fast to tradition

Photos provided by Chris White & Abby Ford

In 1998, the Nantucket Yacht Club hosted the Cumming Cup, the triple-handed junior regatta of the Southern Massachusetts Sailing Association. The team from Cotuit—three 16-year-old girls and one 15-year-old boy—showed up ready to compete but without any paperwork; their coach was back home on the other side of the Sound, scrambling around to cover the sailing classes they normally taught, and no one had thought to bring a parent. When the race organizers tried to make sense of this apparently feral pack of children, they discovered that the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club had not yet paid its annual dues to SMSA. Given the circumstances, they felt there was no choice but to declare the team forfeit, saying something to the effect of: “Sorry, kids, but we cannot allow you to participate unless your commodore sets things straight.” 

“Wait,” said Lydia Jackson. “I am the commodore. And this is our treasurer.” At this point, Caitlin Riordan produced the club’s checkbook and asked, “How much do we owe, again?”

Flabbergasted, the well-meaning adults of Nantucket were at a loss. It’s rare enough to find a woman commodore, but one who is also only 16 years old? Unheard of. And besides—liability. Lawyers were everywhere. Riordan recalls, “No one would believe us. But then this super old dude from the Hyannis Yacht Club asked us where we were from. When we said Cotuit, he said he’d vouch for us because he knew our yacht club and ‘it sounded par for the course.’”

Whether his assessment was meant as a slight or a compliment is unclear, but the elder statesman’s advocacy clarified the situation, and the organizers relented. Caitlin Riordan would recount the full events of their adventure in an essay that she wrote for the club’s centennial celebration in 2006, but in brief summary, she says: “What was really funny was that a group of teenagers—and we were the only girls in the regatta that year, by the way—would show up with nothing, no knowledge of the Rhodes 19 we were racing in, no spinnaker skills, yet we still finished in second place. And it was totally normal to us.”