The Figawi Race, annually held over Memorial Day Weekend on Cape Cod and Nantucket, is the premier sailing event on the East Coast. Outside of New England, the Figawi may be a mystery to the general public. But, to real sailors, it is a treasured, not-to-be-missed event.
Brief History and Folklore
In 1972, three friends decided to have an informal race from Hyannis to Nantucket on Memorial Day. Signing on their wives and friends as "crew members," this first race involved three sailors determining who had the fastest sailboat. Others heard about the"race" and embraced the idea. Soon, a popular lay day was added to the Figawi, making it a fun weekend fixture. Few were as surprised as the three original competitors that their friendly, informal race became a Memorial Day Weekend staple, attracting sailors from around New England. In the early 1980s, the race really grew for those wanting to enjoy the holiday weekend, which signifies the unofficial beginning of summer. Folklore credits the founders or the charm of sailing to Nantucket for the immediate popularity of the Figawi. As race veterans know, the event name is not derived from a Native American word. Legend has it that the first sailors encountered fog, prompting them to wonder, "Where the Figawi?" In 1987, organizers added a Charity Ball, which has become a black tie event, to raise money for local nonprofits. This satellite event generates thousands of dollars, helping local charities fund their budgets.
The 43rd annual race in 2014 should attract over 200 sailboats (and some power boats) with thousands of crew members and spectators. On May 24, contestants will leave Cape Cod, one day after Friday night's Kickoff Party at the Hyannis Yacht Club. The lay day on Nantucket rivals the race itself. Competitors and spectators enjoy the Sunday shopping, dining or leisurely exploring the island, taking in the sights, sounds and beauty of Nantucket. Rumors about competitors and spectators foregoing the final leg back to Cape Cod to stay on Nantucket may -- or may not -- be exaggerated. The island has a magnetic effect on visitors and residents alike. The social aspect of the Figawi Race Weekend is a primary component. Events on Cape Cod and Nantucket reunite old friends, while generating new friends. The welcoming atmosphere affects every contestant and spectator.
Nantucket hosts the anticipated Competitor Party on Saturday night. There are also informal parties on the spectator fleet, which at times equals registered race competitor numbers. The Sunday lay day finds people exploring the docks of the Nantucket Boat Basin and watching the Figawi Invitational for high school teams racing one-design boats, the 420s. A competitive race, the young sailors try to win the Figawi Jr. Trophy, to capture "bragging rights" throughout the Cape and Islands until next year's Figawi. After trophy presentation, the main tent hosts Sunday night's party, an exciting repeat of Saturday's Competitor Party. This event "prepares" everyone for Monday morning, when their race faces appear for the final leg of the Figawi.