Hundreds of competitive sailors from the Vineyard and Cape Cod are making their way to Edgartown harbor this week for one of the oldest sailing regattas in the United States.

The Edgartown Yacht Club Regatta celebrates its 100th birthday this summer, growing from a single day of racing in 1924 to a five-day series with more than 100 boats registered to compete this year. The regatta begins on Wednesday, July 12.

“There are not many clubs who have been running regattas as long as we have,” said EYC race committee chair Elizabeth (Tot) Balay, who also chairs the regatta centennial committee. “We started, and we just never stopped.”

Neither the Great Depression nor World War II brought a halt to the annual regatta, she said.

Race committee chair Elizabeth (Tot) Balay said there should be some great views of the race from the shore. — Ray Ewing

“There were always people who cared about it. There were always sailors who wanted to be out there competing [and] testing themselves against sailors from other clubs,” Ms. Balay said.

Along with its longevity, the regatta is known for its party scene, with sailors mingling at the club after the last race of each day, gathering for casual dinners there and dancing to live music at Saturday night’s Regatta Ball.

While those activities are limited to club members and guests, anyone can watch the races, either by boat — keeping a good distance from the course — or from shore.

“There’s going to be great views from the Chappy shore, from Lighthouse Beach, from Fuller Street Beach and from State Beach, because the [larger boats] are sailing in Cow Bay,” Ms. Balay said, referring to the 25-foot-long Wianno Seniors and 30-foot Shields sloops racing over the weekend.

“You’ll have some beautiful views of those classics, sailing long courses,” she said.

In partnership with Vineyard Preservation Trust, the yacht club also is inviting the public to a centennial exhibition of regatta history, opening July 12 at the Carnegie Heritage Center on North Water street.

Titled A Century of Sail, the show brings together vintage regatta photographs and EYC heirlooms such as race chronometers — a highly precise type of clock to determine start and finish times — and wooden half-models of the various boat designs used in club racing over the years.

The exhibition was initially scheduled for one week, but Carnegie program director Sissy Biggers asked to keep it on display for a month so that more Island visitors can learn about the regatta’s long history in Edgartown.

“A hundred years of sailing is certainly a story to be told, and the Edgartown Yacht Club has been our neighbor for more than 100 years,” Ms. Biggers said.

A centennial exhibition of regatta history will be at the Carnegie Heritage Center on North Water street this month. — Ray Ewing

To give non-sailors a sense of what happens on the water, the Carnegie show includes a chart of Edgartown harbor traced with all of the different race courses, as well as some of the signals used by the race committee to communicate with skippers on the water.

The exhibition’s carved, painted half-models of Beach Boats, International 110s, Rovers and other bygone classes help tell the story of how yacht club like Edgartown’s contributed to the rise in this country of one-design sailboat racing, in which identical boats compete against each other, Ms. Balay said.

In 1905, when the club was founded, American skippers sailed a variety of crafts, often designed and built to their owners’ specifications.  When competing against one another, as in the EYC’s annual Round the Island race and other ocean races, such disparate boats require handicap-style calculations, based on design and length as well as elapsed time, to determine the winners.

In one-design racing, which originated in late 19th-century Ireland, boats of the same model compete against one another in real time, with the winner crossing the finish line first.

As North American club sailors adopted the practice, regattas offered the waterborne equivalent of a level playing field, with the same number of crew and the same equipment aboard every boat.

Famous one designs from the 20th century include the Herreshoff 12 1/2, Optimist and Club 420 dinghies, all of which will be represented in this year’s regatta. The gaff-rigged Wianno Seniors, designed on the Cape, have been taking part in the regatta since 1928, Ms. Balay said.

“They are a big part of our history,” she said, adding that Wianno skipper Bill Lawrence of West Dennis will be racing his 40th Edgartown regatta this year, accompanied by his son Sam.

Kids hop out of their boat after a day's sailing — Ray Ewing

Ms. Balay, an accomplished skipper whose own sons became the family’s fourth generation of EYC sailors when they raced as juniors in the 1990s, also noted that women have been regatta competitors throughout its history.

“Women were racing all the way back to the beginning,” she said. “They were always in the fleets...Our dad got trounced regularly by girls who were racing against him in Rovers.”

Diana (Dinny) Dozier, now 84 and a perennial competitor, is registered to race her Herreshoff 12 1/2, ’Twas Brillig, this weekend.

And while the club’s race committee and flag officers were exclusively male for more than half a century, women now play a leading role in race management, Ms. Balay said.

“Nowadays, you go out and sometimes it’s all women [managing] the course,” she said.

The 100th Edgartown regatta begins Wednesday with a two-day junior competition, complete with its own dinners, teen dance and awards ceremony for Optimist and Club 420 sailors.

Three days of Shields racing, doubling as the class’s New England championship, begin Friday and the two-day regatta for Wiannos, Herreshoffs, J/70s and Rhodes 19s begins Saturday.

Saturday also brings the annual Catboat Parade of Sail, a separately-organized event the EYC will recognize with a party and a gun salute as the classic boats pass by the clubhouse at the foot of Main street, followed by a 1 p.m. catboat race in the harbor and the regatta awards dinner on Saturday night.

The Century of Sail exhibition will be on display in the Carnegie’s front rooms July 12 through August 5, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. More information about the regatta is posted on the EYC website,

Gazette senior writer Louisa Hufstader and Edgartown Yacht Club race committee chair Elizabeth (Tot) Balay are sisters whose family has been associated with club racing since the 1940s. Their late father, former EYC commodore Peter Hufstader, established the club’s junior sailing program in the early 1970s.