This Issue's Featured Article Jan

APBY 25th Annual Cat Gathering

By Tony Davis
Photos by Anita Winstanley Roark

There was a lot of anticipation leading up to Arey’s Pond Boat Yard’s 2017 Annual Cat Gathering. It was to be a special occasion in celebration of twenty-five years of setting aside one summer day for gaff-rigged sailboats to form a procession across Pleasant Bay. A three-day event was planned. Included in the entry fee was a warm-up race on Friday, 18 August; a commemorative 25th Pennant for the race on Saturday, 19 August; and a send-off on Sunday, 20 August, for those who had sailed into Arey’s Pond from distant ports.

On Friday morning, there was a brisk southeast breeze for the warm-up race. Twenty-seven boats from all classes participated. The race went quickly and smoothly led by Sea Lion, a wooden Wianno senior in the traditional class, skippered by Peter McClennen; followed by Rick Cain in Pleasant Dreams, a Marshall 18; and the Browns sailing the new APBY design, Caracal 19, An Cat Mathair. The conditions were perfect and the top boats sailed the course, which normally averages an hour and a half, in less then an hour.

On Saturday, it was a different story. The morning start had been scheduled to coincide with participants returning from Big Pleasant Bay through the Narrows at high tide. However, during the night, a storm had dumped a record amount of rain, washing out roads and swamping many boats tied up at the dock and on moorings. The APBY crew came in early to clean up and bail, and the committee made the difficult decision to delay the start by one hour to give sailors more time to prepare their boats. The gale that had been forecast was not happening and there was no longer any talk of reefing.

By the time the committee boat headed down the river, there were 96 boats registered. It was an overcast day with light air from the south. There were no issues at the line and soon, with cannon shots for the three staggered starts, all the classes were underway. A parade of gaff-rigged sailboats had set off across the bay towards the narrows.

As in other years, this gathering was family-oriented in nature. One sailor from Vermont and his young son, booked an APBY sailing school boat and drove down from Vermont for the weekend, as they had over many years, always with the intention of having fun no matter what the outcome. There were many others, including long-time customers, Mike Duggan, and John and Mary Kelsey, who had participated in just about every Cat Gathering. And so it seemed that all of these loyal participants were about to enjoy another typical Cat Gathering, but it was not quite to be.

All the boats made it from Little Pleasant Bay through the Narrows and headed to mark A off the Wequassett Inn. Some of the lighter boats in the 14' class were catching up to the heavier boats from the previous two starts, so mark A became a traffic jam as the wind lightened, however, in time, the fleet started to spread out and began to head for mark B.

As the wind was dying in Big Pleasant Bay, Pandora, one of the fastest catboats in the world, skippered by Burt and Drew Staniar, crossed the finish line first at 1.25 hours; followed by Bruce Almeida in Harvest Moon. Many of the Marshall 15's and APBY Lynxes also made it across the finish line.

And then the biggest fear that Cat Gathering organizers had labored under during its 25-year history began to unfold. Because of the delayed start, the tide was now turning against the fleet an hour earlier in the race than usual. So as the wind diminished and the tide turned, there were more than 60 boats becalmed in Big Pleasant Bay, and if the wind did not pick up, the finish line would have to be moved to them.

At about the 1.5-hour mark, as the 14s were approaching the narrows, the strongest current was beginning to push against them, and the wind completely died. The committee hoped that they would drop their anchors and wait for wind, but instead they were starting to drift backwards. So the committee called the finish line for the 14's at the Narrows. Thanks to communication from APBY staff in the patrol boat, there was reasonably controlled chaos calling off the finish times aboard Ben Zender’s Daisy, which served as this year’s committee boat.

Participants still in Big Pleasant Bay radioed the committee by VHF reporting that it looked like a breeze would come up shortly. On the committee boat, there was worry about the events planned ashore and the desire to get all the sailors in, but after 20 minutes, the wind did pick up out of the southeast and sailors who had been patient enough to wait made it to the finish line under sail.

Ashore at the boatyard, there was a celebratory evening of music, awards and catered cocktail and dinner hours. Musical entertainment for the cocktail hour was provided by the Bert Jackson Quartet, joined on bass by customer, Rick Cain, who won the M-18 class. The Vern-Mon Band played during the dinner hour. Food was provided by White’s Catering (Orleans, MA); and wine was generously donated by Vintages Adventures in Wine (Concord, MA).

Awards, featuring an image by artist Karol B. Wyckoff, were presented and stories were told of Cat Gatherings over the past 25 years, such as the year Bull and Bear from Barnegat Bay participated and led a great fundraising event for FOPB and local nonprofit sailing programs. As darkness came and the catboats rested on the docks and moorings, the fire pit was lit and the party went on well into the evening.

Sunday was a beautiful breezy day for the morning sendoff for the Catboat owners who had taken the time to sail from ports outside of Pleasant Bay to attend the weekend event. Marshall 22’s had sailed from Padanarum, Martha’s Vineyard, and Stage Harbor. As the visitors approached the Narrows, many Pleasant Bay Catboat owners came out to show their appreciation and joined in a sail through the channel. The Arey’s Pond crew shot the cannon to bid the guests goodbye and wished them safe passage.

The central purpose of this year’s event, as it has been since the first Cat Gathering in 1992, was to honor the bay, its beauty and the FOPB volunteers who oversee its health, ensuring that the natural habitat is preserved as much as possible in this ever-changing world. As the organizers try to emphasize each year, all who participate are winners. As a group of sailors, Cat Gathering participants had Pleasant Bay to themselves for a few hours and celebrated the Bay’s beauty with their wind-powered vessels, leaving no trace.

The Arey’s Pond Boat Yard crew is thankful to all who participated and hopes that the annual gathering will continue into the future.

Cat Gathering Race Results can be found at, (

Friends of Pleasant Bay
The Friends of Pleasant Bay is a grassroots environmental group dedicated to the preservation of one of Cape Cod’s most stunning recreational and ecological resources. Since its founding in 1985, the group has been successful in achieving state designation of the Bay as an area of critical environmental concern, and was instrumental in development and state approval of a resource management plan for the Bay.
P.O. Box 1243 Harwich, MA 02645