One of the bigger and heavier entrants in the Marblehead to Halifax race is the historical twelve metre yacht Valiant, owned and raced by Gary Gregory of Marblehead, Now a race veteran, Valiant first competed in the race in 1991.
Originally commissioned in 1970 by Robert W. McCullough as the New York Yacht Club’s entry to the America’s Cup Defender Trials, Valiant’s first home port was New York. One of the “jumbo twelves” she was the heaviest ever built. Valiant was eliminated from the 1970 Defender Trials by Intrepid but went on to win the NYYC’s Lipton Memorial trophy that year.
Valiant was donated to Brown University (Providence, RI) and in 1973 she went to the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point NY where she served as the trial horse to Mariner for the 1974 Defender Trials. In 1978, she was purchased by William Edwards of St. Petersburg FL who installed an engine. From 1982-1988 she was owned by Charles W. Kern of Long Beach, California.
Gregory bought her in the fall of 1988 and trucked her across country from Long Beach, the boat on one trailer and a truck full of parts following behind. At that stage she had no interior and a makeshift deck from the mast aft. She was designed to have the grinders and winches below decks, with canvas deck covers removed while sailing and the helmsman standing on a box, a configuration banned in 1974.
Gregory wanted to race Valiant, but there was very little data available for assigning a PHRF rating, and at any rate her displacement made a single-number rating problematic. Her designer, Olin Stephens convinced Gregory to consider IMS (predecessor to ORR), even though that would require a substantial refit to the interior.
They first raced the boat in the fall of 1989 with 13 sheets of mahogany marine plywood lashed down below amid the beginnings of an interior and a new deck. Then that winter they made a lot of progress getting the boat put together to race in her first Halifax race, or Marblehead race as it is known in Nova Scotia, in 1991. Since then she has competed in eight more races, notably missing 2001 when she participated in the America’s Cup Jubilee in Cowes and 2007 when she raced in Valencia.
The 1991 MHOR was a learning experience for Gregory and the crew of Valiant. “I had never been on an extended and windy close reach on a twelve metre before, and it was wet! We arrived at the southwestern corner of Nova Scotia after dark in a howling Northeaster and dense fog, so we reefed and slowed to about 8 knots. Turns out we should have been going 10+ knots.” Gregory said after finishing ninth out of ten in class.
Still, the hook was set, and Gregory resolved to attempt Halifax again, “It’s quite exciting going to new places that you discover for the first time, you feel a bit like one of the explorers. Halifax is a delightful city that goes all out for the ‘Marblehead’ racers”.
The next race in 1993 featured a pleasant broad reach in moderate air to Nova Scotia, only this time it was clear with a moonlit sky. Gregory was horrified to note the number of small fishing boats adrift with lights out and crews clearly sleeping in the same area where Valiant had blissfully charged through two years before, vowing to get radar for the next race.
Only 26 miles from the finish going 6.5 knots, Valiant heard Starlight Express checking in with Halifax Control. Out came the beers in (premature) celebration and things quickly went pear shaped. According to Gregory, “We got becalmed and were drifting around in circles all night at St. Margaret’s Bay. All the smaller boats arrived during the night, and it was very discouraging that morning when the wind came back”.
Valiant ended up finishing more than 19 hours after Starlight Express, correcting out about 10 hours out of first place at sixth in class. “We also learned about the currents that come down the coast, and the effect their cold water has on the breeze”. Gregory said. “Every race became an adventure, and we got better and better, climbing up the fleet”.
One of the most enjoyable and successful races was in 2005 when he won his class and came second overall. “That year we had three generations on the boat. Our main sail trimmer was Ralph Carlton and he had his son in law, Cutter Herlihy and grandson, Will Herlihy on board, while Gregory’s son Oliver sailed as well.
“It really changed the race for us,” Gregory said, “as it went from the romance of racing a big old boat into a family adventure”.
In 2009 Valiant switched from symmetrical to asymmetrical spinnakers which eliminated three crew positions, making it easier to sail the boat shorthanded. You can sail Valiant with eight people, Gregory said, but in a race that is going more than 24 hours you need at least two crews. This will be the 10th year that Valiant competes and it is getting to the point where the kids want to take over and organize it themselves, Gregory said.
Gregory grew up in a small fishing village in Alaska, but went to college in Boston where he claims he was good ballast and did not mind getting wet. With a bunch of fraternity guys he got involved in sailing and they ended up getting a boat as an excuse to spend time together.
Gregory decided to stick with a 12metre boat because he loves the adventure of going to different places and the excuse to spend time with his family and friends. Valiant is big and heavy enough that we are not bothered about the weight on board, he explains, comparing it with smaller boats where size and weight of the crew is so important that it is harder to bring beginners and smaller people out.
In addition to racing, Gregory is well known locally for his philanthropic sailing endeavors, taking disadvantaged kids or terminally ill patients out on Valiant.
“Marblehead is like an exotic resort” he said, “go inland ten miles and you will find kids who look out of bus windows and have never seen the sea, and who would just love the opportunity to go out on a boat. One of the first groups he supported was Girls Inc, the Lynn based charity. “We take groups of the girls out and they just want a picture at the wheel, to send to their mums” Gregory also takes out groups for Sailing Heals which provides a sailing experience for cancer and other stressed patients and their families.
Looking forward to this year’s race, Gregory says that actually, the kids have reached the point where they don’t need us, but we still want to go along for the ride.