Ever since the first European explorers made their way to the Alabama Gulf Coast, sailboats gliding across Mobile Bay have been a common sight. But Bienville and d’Iberville never saw anything like the Dauphin Island Race.

Billed as one of the largest point-to-point races conducted in North America, the event is marking its 56th anniversary on Saturday, April 26. Race committee chairpersons Margaret and Harvie Jordan of Buccaneer Yacht Club, which is serving as host of this year’s contest, are expecting almost 200 boats to compete over 18 nautical miles from north of Gaillard Island to the Dauphin Island Bridge.

“The summer racing season really kicks off with the Dauphin Island Race,” said Jennifer Vereen, who sails out of Mobile Yacht Club. “This is the race everyone looks forward to.”

For those skippers interested in entering, forms can be downloaded at www.bucyc.com. Registration cannot be completed online, and forms must be mailed to the Buccaneer Yacht Club by Wednesday, April 23.

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Vereen said competitors do not have to belong to a yacht club to participate in the race. For more information, call 251-454-1976 or send an email to harvie.jordan@gmail.com.

Activities will begin on Friday, April 25, with a Skippers’ Party at BYC. Food and live music will begin at 6 p.m., with the actual meeting set for 8 p.m.

Saturday’s race gets underway at 9:30 a.m. The Island Raft-Up Party will take place at the Dauphin Island Rodeo site starting at 3 p.m., with live music scheduled throughout the event. The trophy presentation will begin at approximately 7:30 p.m. On Sunday at 10 a.m., two return races will take place — one heading to Fairhope Yacht Club and the other to the Dog River Channel.

“This is really a fun time,” Vereen said. “Some boats have as few as two aboard, and others 10 or more, and then there are their families and friends who come for the celebration. It is a big boon for Dauphin Island.”

The Dauphin Island Race is one of the country’s largest regattas.

The Dauphin Island Race is one of the country’s largest regattas.

Sailing season just getting started

The sailing schedule on Mobile Bay for the rest of the year is full of regattas. The races on tap, with the hosting yacht clubs, are as follows:

May — 10, Great Circle (MYC), 17-18, Spring Regatta (BYC), 24, Single Handed (FYC), 31, Ring Around The Bay (FYC);

July — 12-13, Summer Regatta (MYC);

August — 9, Round The Rig (MYC); 23-24, Children’s Hospital Charity Race (FYC);

September — 13, Leukemia Cup (BYC); 20, Middle Bay Light (BYC); 27-28, Wadewitz (FYC);

October — 11-12, Fish Worlds (BYC); 19, Broken Triangle (MYC); 25-26, Fish Class (BYC);

November — 1, GoDaddy.com Bowl Regatta (FYC).

Three of the races are part of the Gulf Yachting Association’s Capdevielle series, an interclub competition involving the Flying Scot class. Those are the Spring Regatta, Summer Regatta and Wadewitz.

“It is kind of like NASCAR, where clubs pick up points all season long to decide a champion,” Vereen said. “Just finishing first is not enough. The more boats that are entered can make a difference.”

The Spring Regatta is for one-design vessels only. These include Fish Boats, Flying Scots and X1s. The Great Circle will involve only sailboats larger than 19 feet.

“The Spring, Summer and Wadewitz are the most fun to watch for spectators,” Vereen said. “They are shorter courses, with lots of action and just more to see.”

For more casual competition, Mobile Yacht Club hosts races each Thursday night. “There is a little competition, but it is more about camaraderie and enjoying the sunset,” she said.

Nautical knowledge available

For those wishing to learn more about the skill of sailing, Buccaneer, Fairhope and Mobile yacht clubs all offer classes for youths each summer. And now for the second year, MYC is adding classes for adults. Sessions are opened to non-MYC members, with the next one beginning May 31.

The Mobile Bay Sailing School is a 501(c)(3) non-profit group that is separate from Mobile Yacht Club, but the classes are offered on its property near Dog River. There are several different levels, starting with a four-hour introductory course for $100. “It gives people a chance to test it out and see what they think,” Vereen said.

The skill levels continue up, with a basic course over two days; followed by an intermediate course. For more information, send an email to mbssadultprograms@gmail.com.

The youth program at MYC has been around more three decades. There are eight weeks of summer camps for those ages 8 to 18, starting June 9. Participants must know how to swim. The cost is $250 per week.

For those ages 7 to 9, there will be half-day classes from June 23-27 for $125. For more information, visit www.mobilebaysailingschool.com or send an email to mbss@kangal.com.

Nearby at Buccaneer, a session is set for June 9-19 for those ages 7 to 17. The Monday through Thursday schedule is from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and the cost is $250.

A registration form can be found at www.bucyc.com. For more information, send an email to ereasonover@southalabama.edu. The class is limited to 14.

Across the Bay, Fairhope Yacht Club is offering multiple sessions in June and July. There will be beginner and intermediate sessions for Optimist class boats, along with instructions for 420 and Sunfish boats.

For prices and information on the individual classes, visit http://fyc-junior-sailing.com/summer-sailing/, or send an email to awd1959@mediacombb.net or mdonald@me.com. According to the website, all of last year’s sailing sessions at FYC were sold out.