Social distancing distance race

Published on May 11th, 2020

There is no magic template to activate boating amid the coronavirus pandemic as restrictions vary based on local or regional government health regulations, and to take the leap to competition requires a detailed understanding of what is permitted and strict adherence to these rules. Adam Loory reports on what worked in his region:

The 2020 sailboat racing season on New York’s Long Island Sound started out with a doublehanded “pick-up” race. With all organized races cancelled for several months, this race was not run by any yacht club or sailing association. There was no entry fee, no committee boat, no trophies and no party.

The idea of the race was to have a chance to get out on the water and have some competitive fun in a virus-safe environment. Eight boats came out to race on a blustery Mothers’ Day Sunday to do a 19.5 leeward/windward course in 18-26 knots of wind.

In lieu of an entry fee, all sailors were encouraged to donate to the Larchmont/Mamaroneck Food Pantry, which feeds those in need during this time of massive unemployment. This resulted in $1700 being donated, which made the weekend doubly rewarding.

The race was originally scheduled for Saturday, but the weather was too extreme for a doublehanded race with winds of 28 to 35, gusting to 40. Twenty four boats had signed up to sail and only 11 were able to make the change to Sunday.

Another obstacle was Sunday morning’s spring low tide, one of the lowest seen on the Sound because the strong westerly wind blew most of the water out of the Western Sound. It was so low, that three boats we stuck in the mud and couldn’t leave their slips. Others had to power through the mud to make it out. As a result, only eight intrepid teams made it to the startling line.

To sail without a race committee, the pursuit format was used. The slowest boat in the fleet started first and boats started later based on how much time they owed the slowest boat on the 19.5 mile course. PHRF time on distance ratings were used. At the end of the day, the PHRF numbers worked well.

The finishes of the top four boats were extremely close. Soulmates, the last boat to start finished first by 20 seconds over the two boats who tied for second and third (One Too Many and Turning Point). Southern Cross finished fourth two minutes behind the second and third place boats.

Rich Gold, the skipper of the New York 36 Turning Point, summed up the day this way, “What impressed me was the building enthusiasm by respondents wanting to get out there and go sailing. Applying our collective passion for sailboat racing in a socially challenged environment, without the benefit of a lot of oversight, is way cool.

“The challenge and skill required to compete doublehanded in high wind circumstances may be hard to fathom. Watching One Too Many deal with the puffs as we worked out way back into the sound from the Rye Rocks was amazing. For all of us it was the doing that counted. A demonstration of life worth living for.”

Brian Higgins, owner of the Frers 33 Southern Cross said, “We definitely were aware of the boat’s IOR ancestry yesterday, she didn’t want to sail flat in those conditions with the kite up, she was happiest with 15° of windward heel and 1-2° by the lee, and a little bit rolly, but absolutely fun, and we only dunked the pole once!”

Todd Aven raced his new J/99 for the first time ever and said, “That was a really fun race! We had a great time once we finished rigging the boat on or about our start time. No real war stories to share… our biggest challenge was dealing with minor spinnaker wrappage on the set followed by a ‘dry’ broach when it filled.

“We had a clean douse at 32A with a simple stretch-and-blow. We had better upwind speed than I expected, but managed to squander it going off to the wrong side of the course. Congrats to the smart sailors!”

The big smiles were shared by everyone in the fleet.

A big thank you goes to Dobbs Davis of the ORC US rating office. Hearing about the race, he offered to create unofficial ORC Club Doublehanded rating certificates for all the boats in the fleet based on previously rated boats and the fleet’s PHRF certificates. The results using the ORC ratings will be compared to the PHRF results over multiple races.

The course was set up to be simple with only one mark to round since many of the boats were not set up to be doublehanded. The fleet only sailed doublehanded to minimize health risks and to respect social distancing. On my boat, Soulmates, the sail plan is massive and we usually race with 10-11 people to handle running backstays that hold the four-spreader rig up.

The asymmetric spinnaker is 178 sq/m and the luff of the spinnaker is 70 feet. When it came time for our final jibe to the turning mark, we started our letterbox take-down 1.5 miles from the mark. With the chute down and stuffed below, we did a chicken jibe (270-degree tack), then we raised the No. 4 jib to jib-reach to the turning mark. The maneuvers were slow, controlled and safe.

Figuring how to sail safe was a must as everyone was powered up and sail fast dead downwind for 9.77 miles. Everyone had to jibe at least once.

Since everyone enjoyed the concept, we will run a race between 10 and 24nm on May 16 and then a 48nm course around Stratford Shoal on May 23. Contact me for details:

Final Results
1. Soulmates, Custom Rodger Martin/Eric Goetz 40
2&3 a tie between Turning Point (New York 36) and One Too Many (J/88)
4. Southern Cross, Frers 33
5. Atalanta, J/42
6. Thin Man, J/99
7. Dancing Bear III, Alden 50 CB
8. Rascal, Dehler 38

Video from the event published May 14, 2020:


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