Block Island Race: “One never knows, do one?”
Published on May 29th, 2017
With the planned start of the 72nd edition of the Block Island Race on May 26 off of Stamford, CT, conflicting weather models had navigators and skippers scratching their heads as they planned their strategies. Hiro Nakajima – the highly experienced owner of perennial entrant Hiro Maru – made a comment along the lines of “The only thing the weathermen can agree on is that the race starts on Friday!”
Even under the best of circumstances, the 186 nm Block Island Race is a complex one given the number of exits from (and re-entries into) Long Island Sound, the significant currents that occur at multiple points along the course, local thermal winds, other geographic effects, etc. This year’s race promised to be one of the more challenging outings for the 66 entrants.
The breeze at the first start was a shifty 4 knots, but by the third start, settled into a stiff northwesterly of 15 knots with significantly higher gusts. Most of the fleet popped their kites right at the start, with the majority paralleling the CT coast for the first 15-20 miles.
A number of forecasts predicted a big wind hole in the middle of L.I. Sound in the Bridgeport-to-New Haven area, and soon the leading boats in the fleet began to see the first signs of its unwelcome appearance. The quandary was which side of the Sound would be better for getting around the hole – the CT shore, or the Long Island shore – and it was likely that this decision was of the “bet the whole race” variety.
Some gybed toward the LI shore, and others decided to stay the course along the CT side. Cutting across the Sound carried an additional risk of not making it to the other shore before the wind shut down. Getting caught in the “Death Zone” between two competing breezes is a common-enough circumstance in this part of the world.
Andrew Weiss, skipper of Christopher Dragon, the 2nd place finisher in IRC Class 3, said “We had to make a decision whether to go hard north or hard south, and we were only able to get three-quarters of the way south. We were passed by a few boats (on the other shore), but then recovered the lead.” They then continued along the LI shore carrying a fractional Code 0 in a northerly breeze and went out through Plum Gut where the current was still favorable for them.
As it turned out, there were boats on both sides of the hole that did well, but having the fleet divided as the sun sets leaves navigators feeling lonely and nervous. The key – in hindsight – was being close to either shore: It mattered less which shore you were on, as long as you weren’t out toward the middle.
The hole, however, didn’t last nearly as long as some of the gloomier forecasts had predicted and the fleet made good progress toward buoy 1BI off the north end of Block Island, with most flying spinnakers all the way to, and then around, the island. As they passed the south side of the island, the fleet was faced with a NW breeze and back toward Long Island Sound. The forecasts indicated a good chance the wind would shift toward the SE, with a light and fluky transition period…yet another potential “make-or-break” decision point.
After the fleet leaders re-entered the Sound (most through Plum Gut), the wind from the NW faded to a period of calm before the southerly wind began to fill in, but somewhat erratically. Back in Long Island Sound, the age-old battle between the Northerly and Southerly winds was playing out once again.
“We had to play the currents and swirls to keep the boat moving,” said Brian O’Farrell, navigator aboard Justin Bonar’s YYZ, the winner of PHRF Class 4. Leads in several classes shifted back and forth as the winds of fortune veered and backed.
On Scott Weisman’s RP-45 Pterodactyl – who took 2nd Place in IRC Class 4, navigator Steve Minninger saw a clearing sky and positioned the boat for the southerly that would be spurred by the heating of the land. As the wind died, Steve Benjamin – owner of the TP52 Spookie – sent a crewman to the top of the mast to look for the wind, and from his lofty perch the crewman saw the southerly coming, but they could also see some competitors near the CT shore “motoring” in a northeasterly. Decisions, decisions!
Eventually, the southerly took precedence and by Saturday afternoon (May 27) the lead competitors began to reappear on the Stamford horizon. The first yacht to cross the line was Prospector, a Mills 68 that finished at 14:38:17 Saturday afternoon – 23 hours and 13 minutes after her start.
Spookie finished 24 minutes later and corrected over Prospector for 1st in IRC Class 4. Lir – John McNamara’s Swan 45 – took First in IRC Class 3 and took a second on corrected time in the IRC fleet overall. First place overall on handicap in the IRC fleet went to Jay Turchetta’s xp38 Amadeus V, who captured the William Tripp Junior Memorial Trophy.
In the PHRF fleet, Libertas – a J/111 skippered by John Donovan – took first place on corrected time, followed by James Coffman’s Hanse 375 Gemini. The double-handed Class was led by Gardner Grant’s J/120 Alibi, winner of the Gerold Abels Trophy, and who also managed a fifth overall within the fully-crewed IRC fleet.
Of special note was American Yacht Club’s “Young American Juniors’ Big Boat Team”, continuing its collective winning ways with a first place in the Double-handed PHRF Class with Jazz – a J/88, a first place in PHRF Class 3 with their J/105 Young American, and rounding out their Roddie Williams Team Race Trophy win was Varekai – a J/120 that finished 5th in IRC Class 2. This truly is an excellent example of the results of fostering the next generation of world-class blue water big boat sailors.
At the post-race awards ceremony, the crews were relieved that despite their fears of a drifting contest, the race ended up being a moderately fast one. As jazz great Fats Waller once famously said, “One never knows, do one?”
The Block Island Race was first held in 1946 and is a qualifier for the North Ocean Racing Trophy (IRC), the Double Handed Ocean Racing Trophy (IRC), the New England Lighthouse Series (PHRF), and the Gulf Stream Series (IRC). The Block Island Race is also a qualifier for the Caper, Sagola, and Windigo trophies awarded by the YRA of Long Island Sound and the “Tuna Trophy” for the best combined IRC scores in the Edlu and the Block Island Race.
Top three in each class
IRC – DH (IRC – 7 Boats)
1. Alibi, J 120 40, Gardner Grant , Westport, CT, USA – 1 ; 1
2. Pegasus, Beneteau First 36.7 36, Hartmut Ludwig , West Windsor, NJ, USA – 2 ; 2
3. Lora Ann, Express 37 37, Richard du moulin , Larchmont, NY, USA – 3 ; 3
IRC – 2 (IRC – 9 Boats)
1. Amadeus V, Xp 38 38, Jay Turchetta , Harvard, MA, USA – 1 ; 1
2. SKYE, Mills 41 40.7, Michael Bistany , Montauk, NY, USA – 2 ; 2
3. Dragon, Swan 48 48, Hugh Balloch , Darien, CT, USA – 3 ; 3
IRC – 3 (IRC – 10 Boats)
1. Lir, Swan 45 45, John McNamara , Darien, CT, USA – 1 ; 1
2. Christopher Dragon, Ker 43 43, Andrew & Linda Weiss , Mamaroneck, NY, USA – 2 ; 2
3. LUCY GEORGINA, Xp44 44, PETER BACON , NOANK, CT, USA – 3 ; 3
IRC – 4 (IRC – 5 Boats)
1. Spookie, TP52 52, Steve & Heidi Benjamin , South Norwalk, CT, USA – 1 ; 1
2. Pterodactyl, R/P 45 custom 45, Scott Weisman , White Plains, NY, USA – 2 ; 2
3. Privateer, Cookson 50 50, Ron O’Hanley , Boston, MA, USA – 3 ; 3
PHRF – DH (PHRF_ToT – 4 Boats)
1. Jazz, J/88 29, Young American Jr. Big Boat Team-Mckeige , Mamaroneck, Ny, USA – 1 ; 1
2. Max, Pogo 10.5 34, Moritz Hilf , New York, NY, USA – 2 ; 2
3. Tartaruga, Jeanneau 409 40, David Messenger , Westport, CT, USA – 3 ; 3
PHRF – 2 (PHRF_ToT – 8 Boats)
1. Gemini, Hanse 375 37.25, James Coffman , Westport, CT, USA – 1 ; 1
2. Hiro Maru, Swan 43, Hiroshi Nakajima , Stamford, CT, USA – 2 ; 2
3. Jonrob, Ericson 39 39, John Storck, Jr , Huntington, NY, USA – 3 ; 3
PHRF-3 (PHRF_ToT – 8 Boats)
1. Young American YCC, J 105 34.5, Young American Jr. Big Boat Team , Rye, NY, USA – 1 ; 1
2. Charlotte, Beneteau First 36.7 36, Richard West , Darien, CT, USA – 2 ; 2
3. Raptor, J 105 34.5, Frank Conway , Franklin Lakes, NJ, USA – 3 ; 3
PHRF – 4 (PHRF_ToT – 5 Boats)
1. YYZ, Jeanneau 53 53, Justin Bonar , Stamford, CT, USA – 1 ; 1
2. Sawtooth, Thomas 35 35, Peter Schmiedeck , Weston, CT, USA – 2 ; 2
3. Sapphire, J 35 35.5, Jim Farrell , Fairfield, CT, USA – 3 ; 3
PHRF – 6 (PHRF_ToT – 5 Boats)
1. Desperado YCC, Custom 40 40, Leo Vasiliev/Webb Sailing , Bayville, NY, USA – 1 ; 1
2. Spectre, J 125 41 , Brian Prinz , East Haven, CT, USA – 2 ; 2
3. Dire Wolf, IMX-45 TMDK 45, Larry Hennessy , Middlefield, CT, USA – 3 ; 3
PHRF – 5 (PHRF_ToT – 4 Boats)
1. Libertas, J 111 36.5, John Donovan , Southport, CT, USA – 1 ; 1
2. threebeans, NEB / Kernan 39 39, Christopher Rosow , Southport, CT, USA – 2 ; 2
3. Summer Grace, J 122 40′, Kevin Kelley , Riverside, CT, USA – 3 ; 3
NEMA-Multi-Hull (PHRF_ToT – 1 Boats)
1. Infidel, Dragonfly 32 32, Daniel Galyon , Binghamton, NY, USA – 1 ; 1
About the Storm Trysail Club
The Storm Trysail Club, reflecting in its name the sail to which sailors must shorten when facing severe adverse conditions, is one of the world’s most respected sailing clubs, with its membership comprised strictly of skilled blue water and ocean racing sailors. In addition to hosting Block Island Race Week presented by Rolex, in odd-numbered years, the club holds various prestigious offshore racing events (among them the annual Fort Lauderdale-to-Key West Race and the Pineapple Cup Montego Bay Race); annual junior safety-at-sea seminars; and Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta for college sailors using big boats.
Source: Ron Weiss