Block Island Race: Good Mix of Distance and Challenge
Published on May 18th, 2016
Most racing sailors are familiar with the Storm Trysail Club’s (STC) penchant for running world-class races across the country, and it’s safe to say New England sailors particularly prize the organization’s Block Island Race, which starts on Friday, May 27 at 1400.
In its 71st year, this 186 nautical mile race for IRC and PHRF boats starts at The Cows off Stamford Harbor (Conn.), runs down Long Island Sound, around Block Island (R.I.) and back to Stamford. (A Plum Island Course of 125 nautical miles is a shorter option for PHRF, and doublehanded classes are hosted on both courses.)
“Offshore distance racing is what the Storm Trysail Club is all about; it’s what we love to do,” said STC Vice Commodore Lenny Sitar (Holmdel, NJ), who will skipper his J/44 Vamp with a mostly New Jersey crew and several STC members aboard, including STC Rear Commodore and Vamp Watch Captain AJ Evans (Atlantic Highlands, NJ). “It’s one of the club’s most iconic races primarily because of the sailors’ interest and repeat entries every May. We’ve never won it overall, but we’ve had a few class wins, some decent overall places, and quite often, a good time.”
According to Evans, the Block Island Race course poses unique challenges. “Its complexity with different ‘lanes’ in and out of Long Island Sound (Connecticut shore, middle, or Long Island shore), and then out and back through either the Race, Gut, or Sluiceway provide numerous opportunities for positions to change,” he said. “It’s a race course of opportunities, even when you’re behind, right up to the end. We’ve seen leads change in the last moments of the race near The Cows. It’s not just a parade.”
Ray Redniss, PRO for the event over the past 17 years, also noted that the Block Island Race “is just long enough not to be a sprint, and not too long that it kills the whole Memorial Day three-day weekend.” Most of the fleet – currently 74 strong – finishes overnight on Saturday, and with the awards scheduled for Sunday afternoon, the sailors still have Monday to spend with family.
Last year, had it not been for the 100-foot Comanche, Andrew and Linda Weiss’s (Mamaroneck, N.Y.) Sydney 43 Christopher Dragon would have won overall. As it was, the team settled for a class win (their eighth at this event) and are back this year with a vengeance as Weiss counts it his 21st Block Island Race and prepares, like the Vamp crew, for June’s Newport Bermuda Race. (This is Weiss’s eighth Newport Bermuda; he has twice won it in class.)
“I’m not sure what our chances are for winning the Block Island Race, but most of our crew has been sailing with us for over ten years; the boat is in good shape; and we have tailored our sail inventory for what we think will be good for this race,” said Weiss. “The competition in a Bermuda year is always good in the Block Island Race. It’s a great tune-up race for Bermuda. If we get the weather conditions like last year, I think we would stand a good chance of doing well. If the wind is from the westerly quadrant, it will make a nice run out to Block Island. Then it depends on the tidal gates and a bit of luck.”
From the Doublehanded group, Gary Grant (Westport, Conn.) will be back for his 13th Block Island Race on the J/120 Alibi. His team has won the doublehanded division twice (2006, 2013) and in both years also won the Harvey Conover Memorial Trophy for Best Overall Performance. “The Doublehanded fleet is very strong this year,” said Grant. “Perennial top competitors are Lora Ann and Mireille, who have both sailed this race and won more times than any other boats in the fleet. Three new boats to the division (Helios, Inigo Montoya and Oakcliff) are of newer and more cutting-edge design and threaten to upset the old order. It will be interesting to see how the old guys in the old boats do against the speedy newcomers.”
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). It 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 (40%) and the Block Island Race (60%). Last year’s Tuna Trophy was won by Christopher Dragon with first place finishes in both events.