Everything You Need To Know About The Figawi


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For nearly half-a-century, Memorial Day Weekend has marked the unofficial start to summer on Cape Cod with a now-legendary sailboat race from Hyannis to Nantucket.

Unlike other seaside communities where the sailors and their crafts come back in drips throughout the season, mariners have a specific reason for ensuring their return to the Cape this weekend.

The Figawi Race has become synonymous with the start of summer on Cape Cod. The race itself appeals to three types of people.

There are, of course, the very good sailors, the average sailors, and then the people with little sea-faring ability, but whose financial acumen has allowed them the disposable income to afford a fancy sailing vessel and the friends that come along with that.

You don’t need a yacht necessarily; a couple sails, a rudder, keel of some kind, the appropriate lines and gear and you’ll be just fine – provided you know the basic rules of sailing etiquette (who yields to whom and under what circumstances). I’m going to stop myself here. When discussing Figawi it’s easy to get bogged down in the sailing aspect of it all, but one must try not to do that. You see, over the last 48 years Figawi has become so, so much more than a sailing race.

Time tends to have an effect on stories like this but the basic history is that way back in 1972, four friends decided that they would sail over to Nantucket for a nice weekend getaway, bring their wives and some other friends too. Yes, that sounds like a perfectly fun time they agreed, but what would make it even better would be if they raced to the island. It would all start, as so many great adventures do, at Baxter’s Boathouse on Hyannis Harbor.

The trip was a hit and became an annual tradition for the friends, and as word spread the crowds grew for what was billed simply as a “fun race to Nantucket” to the winner went bragging rights.

Within six years there was an official race committee and the addition of a holdover day on the Island before a second race from Nantucket back to Hyannis. Alas what was once a single day jaunt amongst pals had become a three-day extravaganza, and things were just getting started.

As the race’s popularity grew so too did the caliber of the skippers who entered – the Kennedys, eventual America’s Cup Champ Bill Koch, etc. Boats and crews from across the country and the world began to enroll and with than came amplified hoopla surrounding the race itself.

With the increase in participation and money surrounding the event, by the mid-1980’s race officials decided to do something good to give back to the community, and Figawi Charities was born.

With the charity came a desire to raise more money and to do so by incorporating more events into Figawi Weekend. Enter: The Figawi Charity Ball.

 In 1987, Figawi organizers invited sailors, local businessmen, and friends to the first Ball. With around 700 guests, money was raised with the commitment to support only local charities. In the decades since, the Figawi Ball has become the party of the season.

Men in tuxes, ladies in swanky ball gowns, there is music, food, plenty of booze, and auction items ranging from home goods, to golf excursions, to gift certificates, to impressive getaways, and it all goes to local charities.

What charities? you may ask. Well, how much time do you have. There’s A Safe Place, Academy of Performing Arts, African Meeting House/Nantucket, Aids Support Group, Alzheimer’s Services of Cape Cod & the Islands, Arts Foundation of Cape Cod, Baby Center, Barnstable High AAU, Barnstable High Hall of Fame, Barnstable High Sailing Boosters, Big Brother/Big Sister, Boys and Girls Club of Cape Cod, Boys and Girls Club of Nantucket, Boys Scouts, Brewster Day Camp Scholarship, Cape After Prom Parties, Cape Cod Children’s Museum, Cape Cod Conservatory Children’s Music, Cape Cod Hospital, Cape Cod Times Needy Fund, CC Therapeutic Riding Center, C-D Youth Symphony Orchestra, Child and Family Services, Children’s Cove, Compassionate Care ALS, and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation – and that’s only up to “C” there are dozens and dozens more. Organization that support children, or the environment, or the indigent, or the sickly, they all get support from Figawi and their generous donors.

According to Figawi officials, over the last 20 years, the Figawi Charity Ball has become the largest single night of fund raising for local charities allowing the organization’s 501c3 to support Cape and Islands causes.

“Now each year our event attracts 1200 zealous and diverse individuals and is considered to be the premier social event of the season.” They say, “It is not only famous as a great night out, but thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and proceeds from our raffles and silent auction, Figawi Charities Inc. generates nearly $200,000 each year and has provided over $2.2 million in support to local organizations who would otherwise go without.”

The competitors get their own party too. A Kickoff Party under a tent at Hyannis Yacht Club takes place the night before the race. Then, promptly at 10 am on Saturday the first racers set off. There are more than a dozen racing classes now, and start times are staggered. There are boats as far is the eye can see, it’s a great event for spectators, tall masts, huge sails, colorful spinnakers.

The race itself isn’t much to describe, you try to sail faster than the others. Except a lot of people don’t. For many the race is very, very competitive, but for many more it’s just a good time. They drink, and feel the wind in their hair, and have a beer or six, and admire the hundreds of other boats which surround them. It’s an excuse to be out on the water.

On Nantucket the party continues, both organized and otherwise. There is an official Figawi bash under a tent on New Whale Street with music and sponsors tables and drinks, but just as popular are the series of other gatherings at bars, restaurants, rented homes, and halls.

Sunday is a time of relaxation for many, sleeping off the worst of the night prior or wandering through the local shops, but for the younger crowd this is their big day.

Sunday is a day to enjoy Nantucket Island whether visiting local shops, enjoying restaurants, or walking on the docks at Nantucket Boat Basin.

The Figawi Invitational features high school sailing teams from across the Cape and Islands who compete in a regatta for the coveted Figawi Jr. Trophy. The races take place off the docks of Nantucket Boat Basin.  There’s a prize ceremony, and then more celebrating, particularly for the over 21 crowd.

Then, on Monday everybody sails back. It’s another race, called “Redux”. Back on Cape there is the official awards ceremony, winners are announced, sponsors thanked, trophies handed out, for both performance and spirit. And then one more party. And that’s it.

For the rest of the season, for the rest of the year really, you see people walking around in red Mount Gay Rum hats. The company produces them for the 140 global regattas that they sponsor, Figawi included. Only three are given to each entered boat each year, they are labeled with the year, and can fetch a pretty penny online. This is one of the older Figawi traditions and dates back to the 70’s. Unlike most things, having the latest hat is not a sign of status, just the opposite actually. It’s the old hats, the ones that are worn, sun-bleached, and tattered that denote standing, that provide their owner with the respect then comes to those who have been part of a local tradition, a “fun race to Nantucket” that has, through the decades become much more.

By CapeCod.com Staff

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