Promoting shorthanded racing on Chesapeake Bay

Published on July 8th, 2020

The inaugural Annapolis Yacht Club Double-Handed Distance Race, held in September 2019, will be building on the experience for the 2020 edition to be held October 3-4 on the Chesapeake Bay.

Last year, 17 entries in two classes exceeded expectations of organizers, with Hall of Fame sailor Randy Smyth and teammate Christina Persson winning the mixed crew J/105 one-design class, while Erik Haaland and Andrew Watters claimed top honors in the open ORC handicap division. Both teams seek to defend their titles.

“What I liked most was the challenge. There were so many facets to the event – planning, preparation, strategy, navigation, tactics, driving, and sail trim,” said Haaland. “I would encourage anyone looking for a challenge, both physically and mentally, to take part. Not only is it a test of your sailing abilities, but also your mental awareness, patience, and relationship with your co-captain.”

Already committed are R.J. Cooper and Courtney Cumberland, siblings who both competed collegiately at the University of Florida, who will be racing aboard a borrowed J/105 for the second straight year.

“We like the double-handed distance racing for several reasons. First and foremost is the versatility it requires – helming, trimming, eating, navigating, thinking strategically, tactics, sail changes. There are a lot of different skills that are required,” Cooper said.

“I like that you are always busy with meaningful work. There is always something to do. We like the distance aspect as well and the endurance necessary. For sure the racing is challenging – physically, mentally, and emotionally,” Cooper added.

Because of the pandemic, Annapolis Yacht Club has implemented numerous safety measures for its events with the goal of protecting its members, staff, and guests. Double-handed racing is an ideal pursuit during these times as the risk is greatly reduced.

Event chair Kathy Parks said the inaugural AYC Double-Handed Distance Race was enlightening on numerous levels with competitor feedback leading to some subtle changes. While the initial idea was to have the race last for approximately 24 hours with a noon start on the Severn River and a finish in front of Annapolis Yacht Club around the same time the next day, Mother Nature had other ideas.

Conditions resulted in predominantly windward racing with the fleet beating down the Chesapeake Bay to Hooper’s Island Light then beating on the return trip as well. Along the way, the wind dropped out and the 17 boats were becalmed for almost five hours.

Race committee officials were forced to finish the fleet off Poplar Island, resulting in the ORC class sailing approximately 97 nautical miles and the J/105 class covering about 82. The original course set forth in the Sailing Instructions was 119 nautical miles.

“We created a race that featured several mandatory turning marks. Because the wind shifted 180 degrees, many of those marks essentially became irrelevant,” Parks said. “This year, we’ll have wider legs and we won’t send the fleet all the way to Hooper’s Island. No matter what course conditions, the race will include elements of beating, reaching, and running.”

Principal Race Officer Dick Neville will develop four potential courses that will be included in the Sailing Instructions. Neville will announce which course will be sailed the morning of the race based on the latest weather forecast and wind direction.

“Competitors are looking for longer legs that are more windward-leeward oriented so there are passing lanes,” Neville said. “They are a very competitive group and would like to do some reaching. Longer legs will allow them to play more tactics with the competition.”

Neville intends to keep the course closer to Annapolis in case it needs to be shortened. That way, the fleet finishes closer to home no matter what.

Organizers have prepared a safety checklist that makes it easier for participants to comply with the requirements of an overnight race.

This year, communication with competitors will be conducted through multiple channels. AYC will send alerts via email and text messages in addition to the standard radio announcement.

All registered boats will carry YB Trackers that allow family, friends, and supporters to follow along during the race. That proved a popular feature in 2019 with 1,254 virtual viewers from eight different countries watching an average of 20 minutes of action.

Big Boat double-handed racing has seen a surge of popularity since it was announced as a discipline for the 2024 Olympics being held in Paris, France. Many major offshore races, including the 2021 Annapolis-to-Newport Race, have added a double-handed class because of the increased participation.

Many of the competitors entered in the AYC Double-Handed Race are Olympic hopefuls, including the aforementioned brother-sister duo of Cooper and Cumberland.

“I think this new discipline is growing because it is fun and in the Olympics. Having the event in the Olympics gives it some curb appeal and draws better sailors into the field,” Cooper said. “Most people that compete in these events won’t actually go to the Olympics, but the quality of Olympic-class events is always quite high.”

Ethan Johnson and Cat Chimney, instructors with Oakcliff Sailing, are also using the AYC Double-Handed Race to bolster their Olympic campaign with an eye on earning the lone United States berth.

“This discipline is both mentally stimulating and physically challenging with no two races being the same. Endurance matters. When there are only two people on board finding the right teammate is critical,” Chimney said. “Ethan and I are continuing to sail double-handed in hopes of pursuing the 2020 Offshore World Championships then setting our sights on Marseille in 2024.”


Source: Sierra Kelly, AYC

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