One of the most magnificent and attractive spots in the U. S. is the Rainbow Fleet at Brant Point Light on Nantucket Island, off the coastline of Massachusetts. It becomes even more stunning and colorful when the legendary Rainbow Fleet of catboats sail during their popular annual summertime races.
Most folks have seen the Rainbow Fleet make its way around Brant Point. However, few people are familiar with the story connected with this remarkable flotilla.
To learn more, keep reading!
The Incredible Tale of Nantucket’s Rainbow Fleet.
This enthralling memorial has a fascinating backstory.
A catboat was formerly defined as any vessel having a “cat rig,” meaning a single mast holding a solitary gaff-headed sail. This rig went hand in hand with beamy, shoal-bottomed centerboard sailboats.
They were meant to function in the windy, stormy, and low seas of Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts Bay, and Lower New York Bay.
The catboat is the iconic Nantucket vessel after the whaleboat. Although not unique to the area, from the 1860s until the 1920s, the catboat was the most common vessel in the native fishing industry. It was also the typical celebration boat for summer guests.
Huge catboats up to 40 feet long grew in popularity, capable of catching fish in Nantucket Sound and transporting passengers on leisure cruises around the harbor.
These enormous workboats gave way to tiny catboats intended for racing, especially during the first quarter of the 20th century.
Several other kinds of boats have cruised on Nantucket, but the catboat standout as a symbol of the village’s dual functions of rigorous work and joyful play.
Before Nantucket Yacht Club was built in 1906, recreational boating was a very well part of the holiday scene on Nantucket. The club quickly established races for individuals to compete with their catboats, knockabouts, and other leisure craft.
The boats had varying capabilities, whereby those with better sailing power won most competitions. This was considered unfair. To even the playing ground, only vessels with comparable rigs or designs were contested against each other.
Soon after, the yacht club, like many others across the nation, attempted to get participants to invest in boats that were of the same layout, making racing fairer.
A club council authorized 25-year-old B. Karl Sharp (1884–1962) to build a 13-foot catboat for participants to use as a “one-design” competition boat in 1910. It was the first move towards this approach. Sharp was a long-time island summer inhabitant.
He was also the son of Dr. Benjamin Sharp (1858–1915), a skilled naturalist and sailor who made significant contributions to Nantucket’s contemporary culture.
While growing up, his father fostered a profound love of boating. This led Karl to a lifetime of sailing and a degree in naval architecture from MIT, which he received in 1907.
Soon after graduation, he and his brother E.A. Sharp created Edwards and Sharp, Mechanical Engineers and Naval Architects firm.
About the Rainbow
The charming small boat, often known as a Beetle Cat, has a fascinating backstory. It is part of a long line of catboats that have operated on Nantucket since the 18th century.
Larger catboats were utilized for leisure and commercial ventures in the late 1800s, such as scalloping and fishing in the winter.
John Beetle of New Bedford created the 12’ gaff-rigged, thin draft wooden vessel in 1921 as a safe, pleasant boat for youngsters to sail. The boat was brought to the island by the Nantucket Yacht Club in 1926 to create a racing flotilla for youngsters.
Each boat was painted a distinctive color sail so parents could track where their children were. As a result, the Rainbow Fleet was formed.
The Rainbows were initially memorialized surrounding the Brant Point on a poster by H. Marshall Gardiner in 1930. But they now appear on a wide range of Nantucket-themed merchandise, including candy tins, embroidered pillows, plates, jewelry, and various works of art.
Austin Strong, Commodore of the island’s Yacht Club, took the first iconic photograph of the Rainbow Fleet alongside Gardiner in 1930 to promote the organization and Nantucket as a holiday destination.
The Rainbows have become a hallmark of the New England island community throughout the years, attracting many people to Nantucket every year to view the colorful races from the beach.
Furthermore, the Rainbow Fleet continues to compete in the bay every Saturday throughout the summer. They first wait at Brant Point before beginning the Opera House Cup Regatta each year.
Did You Know that the Rainbow Fleet almost Went Extinct?
In the 1970s, the Nantucket Rainbow Fleet was on the verge of disappearance. Almost all of the boats had disintegrated in people’s sheds and backyards during that time. The kids were now riding slower, less thrilling fiberglass boats.
Alan Newhouse, a community sailor who first rode in a Rainbow in 1927, wanted to restart the fleet. So, he drove around to backyards and located many boats, reassembled them, and fiberglassed the bodies to hold them together.
He resurrected 15 Rainbows and leased or sold them to anyone who pledged to race them. Newhouse’s endeavors revived the Rainbow Fleet, and for the first time, grown-ups rather than children began racing the vessels.
Now You can enjoy the Rainbow Fleet!
The Rainbow custom has been passed down through the years. The vessels are well-liked for their durability and ease of use. They can be brought to the shore for a picnic or paddled around the port in a light breeze.
You can let your children play on the boats and learn since the vessels are safe and comfortable. One of the children’s favorites is the blue Rainbow.
As at now, there are roughly 70 Rainbows on Nantucket, albeit not all of these are in the ocean. For numerous years, Anne and Dennis Cross served as fleet leaders for the Rainbow Class. They were also instrumental in getting the boats out of people’s backyards and onto the water.
A colorful sail is present on every Rainbow; however, not all are plain colors. There are stripes, stars, a cloud, and even an American flag on the vessels.
The Rainbow is still being manufactured to the same specifications as the previous — oak frames, cedar keel, and Douglas fir spars. You can order one for yourself through Beetle Inc. in Wareham, Massachusetts. For additional information, call (508) 295-8585 or visit www.beetlecat.com.
The Rainbow Fleet Ceremony at the Opera House Regatta
Nantucket’s harbor has remained lively over history, as it was once a thriving whaling port. The harbor attracts numerous recreational, sporting, and historic boats during the summertime.
The Opera House Cup Regatta is conducted on Nantucket each third Sunday of August. It was the East Coast’s first all-wooden, solo-hulled vintage boat race, and it draws several of the nation’s best sailboats.
This event is the spectacular climax of Nantucket Race Week, with the OHC Awards Party hosted on Jetties Beach beneath the tents on Sunday evening. The party continues into the night with delicious food, Spanky’s famed open bar, cocktails, photographs from the OHC race, prize presentations, and music.
Nantucket Race Week is the most thrilling week on Nantucket’s waterways. It’s also one of the best times to visit the docks and watch some of the world’s greatest sailing yachts. Even better, the Rainbow Fleet is usually among the competitors.
The summer is an opportune time to visit the island. Make plans to visit and learn about the community and culture surrounding the annual event.
Calendar of Events
On the afternoon of the Opera House Cup Regatta this summer, the Annual Rainbow Parade occurs near Brant Point, with multitudes of onlookers applauding from the beach.
Anne Cross organized the event to get the Rainbows out to the ocean by handing out pebble-weighted fliers to all catboats at the port.
Below is the schedule for the Rainbow Fleet events in, 2022
Saturday, August 13 (Day one)
- 12:30 pm One Design Regatta in Nantucket Harbor.
August 14 Sunday
- Nantucket Harbor, Hobie Regatta at 11 am
- Nantucket SoundIOD Regatta at 1:30 pm
- Nantucket Harbor, Kiteboard Regatta at 2:00 pm
August 15 Monday
- Nantucket Harbor, Youth Opti Regatta at 1:00 pm
- Nantucket Harbor, Open Laser Regatta (adults and youths) at 1:00 pm
- Easy Street Park, Radio-Controlled Model Boat Regatta at 4:30 pm
August 16 Tuesday
- Nantucket Harbor, Youth 420 Regatta at 1:00 pm
- Nantucket Harbor, Alerion Harbor Race at 1:00 pm
- Great Harbor Yacht Club, Family Cookout and Awards at 6:00 pm
Wednesday, August 17
- Nantucket Harbor, Women’s Regattaat 12:30 pm
- Great Harbor Yacht Club, IOD Celebrity Invitational Opening Dinner at 6:30 pm
August 18 Thursday
- Nantucket Sound, IOD Celebrity Invitational at 10:00 am
- Private home, IOD Celebrity Invitational staff gathering at 6:30 pm
August 19 Friday
- IOD Celebrity Invitational at 10:00 am
- Nantucket Sound, The Nantucket Regatta at 11:00 am
- The Nantucket Hotel, OHC 50th Gala at 6:00 pm
August 20 Saturday
- The Nantucket Regatta at 11:00 am
- One Design Regatta at 12:30 pm
- Nantucket Boat Basin, Classic Yacht Exhibition at 5:30 pm
- TBD, OHC Crew Dinner, Nantucket Regatta at 7:00 pm
Sunday, August 21
- Brant Point, The Rainbow Parade & Parade of Wooden Boat at 9:40 am
- Nantucket Sound, 50th Annual Opera House Cup Regatta at 10:45 am
- Jetties Beach, Opera House Cup Awards Party at 6:00 pm
Government safety regulations apply to all sporting and social activities. Inside, masks are compulsory, and evidence of vaccination is needed for all social gatherings.
Nantucket is famed for its remarkable sailing fleets, the most famous being the Rainbow catboats. These hand-crafted vessels in bold and vibrant colors will make you feel like you’re at the helm. The sailing series pays homage to all wind-powered watercraft.