Photo: Len Burgess
International Fisherman's Cup
The twilight of Gloucester’s sailing fleet was the setting for one of the most legendary racing series in sailing history. The International Fishermen’s Races of the 1920’s and ‘30’s had a following that rivaled the America’s Cup. The vessels and the men that sailed them put on such a show that we still talk about them a century later.
It all started with a telegram from our sister city of Lunenberg Nova Scotia, challenging Gloucester to send a schooner to race their DELAWANNA for a silver cup, some prize money and all important bragging rights. Gloucester’s ESPERANTO, under Captain Marty Welch retuned victorious from the inaugural 1920 series. In 1921 the Canadians wrested the championship back under Captain Angus Walters and the BLUENOSE. The stakes were high and the Essex shipyards of the 1920’s were employed to build some of the sleekest hulls to ever fish under sail: MAYFLOWER, PURITAN, HENRY FORD, and COLUMBIA.
By one way or another, BLUENOSE remained undefeated until 1930, when Gloucester’s final entrant the GERTRUDE L. THEBAUD defeated her during the Lipton Cup Challenge. Although Gloucester never regained the championship, the exploits of Gloucester’s “racing fishermen” as they challenged BLUENOSE were chronicled in newsreels and made headlines across the globe. The legacy of the International Fisherman's Races carries on today in our local fleet of schooners and the Gloucester Schooner Festival.
The “Esperanto Cup” is the coveted prize of the Mayor’s race, and is the symbol of the rekindling of the schooner races of the 1920s and the fishing fleet that the races represent. In 1920, the first International Fishermen’s Race was held off Halifax, Nova Scotia between the Canadian Schooner Delawana and the U.S. flag Schooner Esperanto. Leading up to this first of a kind international event, a very elaborate silver cup was created called the “Halifax Herald Perpetual Trophy” donated by its namesake. The races were held in October of 1920 and the Gorton-owned Esperanto took the series two straight! The third race was never required!
Esperanto’s skipper, Captain Marty Welch of Gloucester, commended the Delawana and her crew after the race by stating “In the light wind the Delawana had us, but in the heavier wind, as we approached the harbor, we loped ahead. But she is a game vessel, a very fine vessel, and has a splendid crew.” Welch was presented with the trophy, and some years after his death, it was purchased by Gorton’s to be maintained as part of the company’s history. Currently on loan from Gorton’s, the “Esperanto Cup” is on display at Maritime Gloucester.
Although the famous Fishermen’s races were long over, the love of these majestic vessels was still strong. Also, anytime schooners gather, there is bound to be some sort of race. The annual races held during the Gloucester Schooner Festival, began with the first Gloucester Schooner Festival in June 1985. The original Schooner Festival began as a three-day “rendezvous” between the American and Nova Scotian Schooner Associations. About 40 small and medium schooners participated in the informal event. The schooner FORTUNE won the inaugural race for the Esperanto cup.
The event was such a success and created such a buzz in the port that a committee was formed to organize a race for small, medium, and large schooners the next year. The second Gloucester Schooner Festival took place on Labor Day weekend in 1986, with PILOT taking the Cup. Medium sized schooners compete for the Ned Cameron Cup and smaller vessels race for the Betty Ramsey Plate. A new category and award, the 1923 Columbia Trophy was added in 2016 for 21st century-built schooners. The large traditional vessels still compete for the original cup brought home by Captain Marty Welch and the crew of the ESPERANTO in 1920.
International Dory Races
Gloucester and Lunenberg still compete against each other, but no longer in schooners. Since the 1950’s the two fishing communities have been racing in traditional Banks Dories, the former workhorses during the days of the schooner fleet. Every year, the winners of the local elimination races twice face off against their Canadian competitors. The first series takes place in Gloucester Harbor in June, with the second series in Lunenberg in August. The Gloucester International Dory Racing Committee also hosts other dory races as well as programs to get locals on the water and rowing.