Best Distance Race on the Chesapeake

Published on May 23rd, 2015

When the 2015 66th Down the Bay Race for the Virginia Cruising Cup saw a slight increase in entries when the race got underway on May 22, Benjamin Cuker joked with organizers from Storm Trysail Club and Hampton Yacht Club that he was responsible.

“I was saying that when other skippers saw that a schmuck like me could win with a smaller, slower boat they figured they had a good chance as well,” Cuker said with a laugh.

In all seriousness, Cuker did wonder if other participants considered it somewhat of a fluke that an IOR-influenced design launched in 1976 was able to secure overall victory in the historic 120 mile race from Annapolis to Hampton, a course that has always been considered a true challenge of seamanship and skill.

Cuker and his crew aboard Callinectes proved that what happened last year was certainly no fluke by capturing a second consecutive Virginia Cruising Cup. Patrick O’Bryan served as co-skipper as the Cal 3-30 posted a corrected time of 13 hours, 40 minutes and 50 seconds in placing first in PHRF C and earning the overall victory for the 66th Down the Bay Race.

“It’s absolutely fantastic to win this great race again. I’m still on Cloud Nine,” Cuker said. “Going in as the defending champs, there was a measure of pressure. I give all the credit to the crew for working hard from start to finish. It was another rewarding result.”

Callinectes crossed the finish line off Fort Monroe just prior to 5:15 a.m. with an elapsed time of 19 hours, four minutes and 50 seconds. That was almost three hours faster than its winning time in 2014 and the crew’s attentiveness throughout proved crucial in the end. Callinectes wound up winning on corrected time by just 3 minutes and 15 seconds over PHRF B victor Invictus, a Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 skippered by Paul Fenn of Annapolis.

Callinectes is the seventh boat to claim the Virginia Cruising Cup two seasons in a row and the first since Smoke, a Nightwind 35 skippered by Dan Smoker, accomplished the feat in 1998-99. Prior to that, the last back-to-back winner had been Al Van Metre’s famous Running Tide in 1975-76.

“Our strategy was to stay in clear air and sail the shortest distance possible. There were several boats in our fleet that we knew would be tough, but we focused on sailing our race rather than trying to cover or get into passing battles,” Cuker said. “Indeed, right after the start, three of our competitors got into a fight, bringing each other up and out to the edge of the course while the rest of fleet sailed the rhumb line.”

Invictus is one of only three Jeanneau Sunfast 3600s currently sailing in the United States. Designed by Frenchman Daniel Andrieu, the brand new build boasts a powerful hull with hard chine, twin rudders and lead keel.

“The boat is really geared for shorthanded distance racing. It was designed for offshore racing and is very stable, very fast,” said Fenn, an Annapolis resident who served as president of Jeanneau America for 18 years.

Testament to that is the fact Invictus cover 370 miles in 48 hours during a delivery to Newport following the Down the Bay Race.

“This was the first time we had a chance to do a distance race with this boat and we were very pleased with the results,” Fenn said. “We didn’t have high expectations and were somewhat surprised to find out we were in first place overall after we finished.”

Learning later that he had the Virginia Cruising Cup snatched away by Callinectes by a mere four minutes, Fenn regretted that Invictus did not have a more complete sail inventory.

“We only had two spinnakers aboard and what we really needed was a Code Zero. We would have been able to sail faster and closer to the wind with a Code Zero,” Fenn said. “There were times when we wanted to sail higher than a beam reach and could not because we didn’t have the proper sail. We had to use a very small genoa on that sail angle and gave up two knots of boat speed immediately. If we put up the chute, we had to crack off the rhumb line and couldn’t sail the direction that we wanted.”

Nick Harvey, the new president of Jeanneau America, was part of an Invictus crew that also included Annapolis residents Catherine Guiader, Chris Brady and Alon Finkelstein

Dick Neville of the Storm Trysail Club-Chesapeake Station started the 32 boats in four classes in 18-knot northwesterly winds that enabled most boat to cross the line under spinnaker.

Donnybrook, an Andrews 80-footer skippered by Annapolis Yacht Club member Jim Muldoon, easily secured line honors with an elapsed time of 11 hours, 21 minutes and 51 seconds. Willy Keyworth and Bert Collins served as watch captains while James Gray was navigator aboard Donnybrook, which achieved a maximum speed of 22 knots on multiple occasions.

Muldoon said Down the Bay was the first overnight race he ever entered, capturing class honors aboard a C&C 41 some 35 years ago.

“I’ve always enjoyed this particular race because you get the challenge of sailing the whole Chesapeake Bay,” Muldoon said. “This year was another fun race and I cannot say enough about the wonderful welcome we received at the Hampton Yacht Club.”

Donnybrook fell into a lull near Point Lookout and the crew changed sails seven times in the span of an hour with the wind coming from all directions. Muldoon said the breeze eventually piped up to 15 knots and the Andrews 80 reveled in close reaching conditions the rest of the way.

Heron, a J/120 skippered by Greg Leonard of Bowie, Md., placed first in PHRF A and wound up third in the overall standings with a corrected time of 13:50:01. Amara, a Tartan 3700 owned by Ed and Aimee Darling of Portsmouth, Va., took first place in the PHRF Non-Spinnaker class.

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