“…if we don’t put on one of the premier boating events on the Chesapeake next summer, we’ll have only ourselves to blame.” – Jack F. McJunkin, Dean of Students in 1974
It is August. For St. Mary’s College, this means the practice of many of our school’s most sanctified rituals is underway. Preparing the residence halls for new and returning students, squeezing the last few weeks of daylight out of the waterfront before the semester begins and bemoaning the humidity in Southern Maryland are in full swing. August also signals the arrival of one of the College’s greatest and longstanding traditions: the annual Governor’s Cup Yacht Race.
Unlike most traditions which grow from little and eventually become a part of a community, the Governor’s Cup has acted as a reflection of the St. Mary’s identity from its very conception. The brainchild of three St. Mary’s student sailors, the race was first held in 1974, with then President Renwick Jackson presiding over affairs. Spanning a course of over 70 miles, the race begins in Annapolis in the late afternoon and ends the following morning as various yachts round Point Lookout and push their craft to the limits in order to finish their journey from Maryland’s current capital to its first seat of governance on the banks of the St. Mary’s River.
Writing of the first race in 1974, the school’s journal, The Mulberry Tree Papers, described it as “everything its organizers hoped for, and then some.” Over 50 vessels took part in the first race, including the Gesture, the state’s official sailboat at the time. Winning the maiden run of the Governor’s Cup was a sleek vessel known as the Running Tide, which dropped anchor in the St. Mary’s river at 7:10 AM, 11 hours, 23 minutes and 40 seconds after crossing the start line in Annapolis. Following her arrival, over 200 sailors and spectators converged on the St. Mary’s shoreline over the following hours to eat, drink and to celebrate, as former dean of students Jack F. McJunkin put it, “the possibilities of the Saint Mary’s River as well as…the connection between the old and new state capitals.”
Little about the race has changed since 1974. The “Gov Cup” has added additional legs to the course, placing alternative starts on the northern Potomac at Dahlgren and near the mouth of the Chesapeake at Mobjack Bay, stretching the race across the Mid Atlantic. Additions aside, the Governor’s Cup remains a natural institution of St. Mary’s, bringing together the adventure, community and miles of shoreline that makes our school so unique.
Editor’s note: The College’s 42nd Annual Governor’s Cup Yacht Race was held Jul. 31 – Aug. 1, 2015. It remains the oldest and longest race down the Chesapeake Bay. The race was completed in light westerly winds with 106 boats competing. View pictures from this year’s race at http://bit.ly/1M6wnqB.