Stamford, CT – 80 boats crossed the starting line in big breeze to begin the 73rd edition of the 186 nm Storm Trysail Club Block Island Race. The good times lasted until most of the boats had rounded the Island, but on the return leg conditions became increasingly variable. Massive holes appeared at seemingly random times and places; a veritable mine field that the fleet had to pick their way through carefully. The winners attributed their victories to skill, and the non-winners cursed their bad luck. Such is human nature.
With wind conditions ranging from 30+ knots to zilch (a technical term), the gods favored those who picked the right path, and those who paid the most attention to making the adjustments that the constantly evolving conditions required. Highlighting this variability is the number of boats that retired from the race; some with damage from the high winds, others with their patience exhausted after seemingly endless hours of drifting in circles. After 186 miles, even the last mile presented challenges: Leads in several classes changed hands on the final approach to the finish as fickle winds and a strong ebbing tide frustrated many a crew.
The 90-mile leg from Stamford to 1BI at the North end of Block Island was epic. The wind was a steady 20 knots or so, resulting in many boats flying down the Sound, setting “personal” speed records as the waves built, and providing the surfing/planing conditions that are the most exciting (at least in in a good way!) conditions in the sport.
The easterly side of Block Island saw the most rugged conditions with high winds complemented by impressive seas as the open ocean came up into the shallow waters around the island. Steve Benjamin – owner/skipper of the TP 52 Spookie (winner of the IRC Class 7) and veteran of countless Block Island Races – described the conditions: “We saw gusts close to 30, oh boy! BIG wind on the backside of Block with warm gusts coming off the land. On the first leg, we were seeing boat speeds of over 20 knots.”
The navigator of Christopher Dragon (winner of IRC Class 5 and perennial race entrant), Larry Fox, pointed out the wide variety of conditions: “It was the fastest BI race I’ve ever done, and I’ve done around 30. It was a great ride overall. We even beat our most optimistic computer projections. As we were approaching the Race exiting the Sound, we were doing 14 knots and we didn’t have to worry about the foul current. We were seeing mid-20 knot gusts. But then, back in the Sound off of Norwalk, we had the exact opposite. We even had the anchor ready and almost put it down in no breeze and foul current. It was pull-your-hair-out stuff…with the holes here and there, and breezes filling-in front of us, and then behind us.”
Experience definitely helped some of the winners, but many faces on the podium were fresh, and several winners were first-time entrants. The “freshest face” might be Lindsay Gimple, a watch captain on the Swan 48 Dreamcatcher (Second Place – IRC Class 2). Dreamcatcher was recently donated by Steve Kylander (who won his class on this boat in the race last year) to The Mudratz – a 501(c)3 youth sailing team focused on getting kids unique racing experiences.
Lindsay is a recent graduate of Cornell. Although she was on the dinghy team, this race was not only her first Block Island race, it was her first big boat race. “I had an overwhelmingly positive experience. We had a lot of different conditions out there. It tested our knowledge of the boat and the ability of the crew to make adjustments. I was a dinghy sailor, and was always crew in junior sailing. A lot of that is body placement, but that’s not nearly as important on a boat like ours. You have to have your head out of the boat, looking at the sky, the water, and the competition, talking to the helmsman, trying to keep the boat going fast.” When asked how distance racing applies to her budding professional career as a mechanical engineer at Electric Boat, Lindsay noted that an important aspect is “Learning about situational stress and handling people in those situations. Like work, you have deadlines, you have to navigate relationships and different perspectives and backgrounds and mesh all that together.”
Another Block Island Race “newbie” is Rory Cummings. An experienced inshore racer, Rory bought a Dehler 38 last year – which he named Rascal – as a performance cruiser. But the fact that it was the competition model drove him to try his hand at a different facet of the sport. “I learned a lot about organizing and managing a distance racing crew. We also pushed the boat hard and there were a few surprises. We stopped counting our wipe outs at 20! We realized that the rudder was just a suggestion, and the sails are what keep it on course.” Asked about the contrast between offshore and inshore racing, Rory replied, “Distance racing gives you a lot of time to tweak and learn what makes your boat go fast.” Would he do it again? “I will absolutely do it again! But if you had asked me that at 3 o’clock Saturday morning when we were drifting around, I might have given you a different answer!” Rascal finished Second in PHRF Class 3, a great start for a first-timer.
Another winning Skipper, Chris Lewis of the J/44 Kenai and winner of IRC Class 3, has competed in the race twice before. After campaigning the boat on the Gulf Coast for almost 20 years, he decided that the waters of Long Island Sound offered new challenges. “The Gulf Coast is nice sailing but not really challenging for distance races. They are mostly straight-line, with much less current and more predicable weather. The added complexity of the Block Island course and the wind ¬– not to mention the rocks! – makes it more exciting. We’re still getting to know the Sound, so we need to go with our guts because we don’t have the experience and don’t know all of the “conventional wisdom”, but we’ve learned when to put up which sail in different conditions. We were neck and neck with Vamp (another J/44 owned by Storm Trysail Commodore Lenny Sitar) for a long time, and just one sail selection choice gave us a mile lead. That made the difference.”
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “It was the best of winds, and it was the worst of winds…it was the gusts of adrenaline, and the holes of despair.” Had he been a modern sailor, Mr. Dickens would have found himself in very familiar waters in this year’s Block Island Race.
Class 1 IRC-DH (IRC – 3 Boats)
1. Next Boat, Mark Ellman , USA – 1 ; 1
2. Exuberance, Chris Eichmann , USA – 2 ; 2
3. Alibi, Gardner Grant , USA – 4 ; 4
Class 2 IRC (IRC – 7 Boats)
1. Lora Ann, Richard du Moulin , USA – 1 ; 1
2. Dreamcatcher YCC, MudRatz Offshore Program , USA – 2 ; 2
3. Froya, W. Gunther / B. Tobin , USA – 3 ; 3
Class 3 IRC (IRC – 10 Boats)
1. Kenai, Chris Lewis , USA – 1 ; 1
2. Amadeus V, Jay Turchetta , USA – 2 ; 2
3. Tarahumara, Jack Gregg , USA – 3 ; 3
Class 4 IRC (IRC – 9 Boats)
1. Desperado YCC, Leo Vasiliev , USA – 1 ; 1
2. SKYE, Michael Bistany , USA – 2 ; 2
3. Warrior Won, Christopher Sheehan , USA – 3 ; 3
Class 5 IRC (IRC – 8 Boats)
1. Christopher Dragon, Andrew & Linda Weiss , USA – 1 ; 1
2. Crazy Horse, Kevin McLaughlin , USA – 2 ; 2
3. Oakcliff Farr 40 Blue, Oakcliff Farr 40 Blue , USA – 3 ; 3
Class 6 IRC (IRC – 8 Boats)
1. Summer Storm, Andrew Berdon , USA – 1 ; 1
2. Bounty, Gibb Kane , USA – 2 ; 2
3. Temptation-Oakcliff (Collegiate), Arthur Santry , USA – 3 ; 3
Class 7 IRC (IRC – 3 Boats)
1. SPOOKIE, Steve & Heidi Benjamin , USA – 1 ; 1
2. Privateer, Ron O’Hanley , USA – 4 ; 4
3. Challenger, Chris Stanmore-Major , CAN – 4 ; 4
Class 1 PHRF-DH (PHRF_ToT – 3 Boats)
1. P88, Eric Lecoq , USA – 1 ; 1
2. Max, Moritz Hilf , USA – 2 ; 2
3. Gringo, Michael McGuire , USA – 3 ; 3
Class 2 PHRF (PHRF_ToT – 7 Boats)
1. Towhee, Paul Jennings , USA – 1 ; 1
2. Jonrob, John Storck, Jr , USA – 2 ; 2
3. Argo, Boris Keselman , USA – 3 ; 3
Class 3 PHRF (PHRF_ToT – 8 Boats)
1. Raptor, Frank Conway , USA – 1 ; 1
2. Charlotte, Richard West , USA – 2 ; 2
3. SPARTA, Yevgeny Osherov , USA – 3 ; 3
Class 5 PHRF (PHRF_ToT – 7 Boats)
1. Rocket Science, Rick Oricchio , USA – 1 ; 1
2. Rascal, Rory Cumming , USA – 2 ; 2
3. Madison, Brian Spears , USA – 3 ; 3
For more information on the Storm Trysail Club Block Island Race results, visit: https://www.yachtscoring.com/emenu.cfm?eID=4673
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. Founded in 1938, it is currently celebrating it’s 80th Anniversary. The club is involved in organizing or co-organizing various prestigious offshore racing events including the annual Block Island Race, the biennial Block Island Race Week, The Ft. Lauderdale to Key West Race, the Pineapple Cup Montego Bay Race, The Down-the-Bay Race in the Chesapeake, The Mills Trophy Race in Lake Erie, and the Wirth Munroe Race from Miami to Palm Beach, Florida. They are also one of the four organizing clubs of the 2019 Transatlantic Race. For more information about the club, visit www.stormtrysail.org.
About the Storm Trysail Club Block Island Race:
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 Storm Trysail Block Island Race.
Youth chasing after one of the grand dames of yacht racing as The Mudratz Offshore Team on Dreamcatcher follow Dorade, Olin Stephen’s 1930 masterpiece, after the start. Dorade got a First in her class in the Bermuda Race in 1932 (and again in 2014!), before the grandparents of The Mudratz were even born. Poetic in that the young Stephens brothers sailed Dorade and now Dreamcatcher is in pursuit of the Stephens Brothers Trophy in the 2018 Newport Bermuda Race. © 2017 Rick Bannerot
Nearly perfect conditions prevailed at the start as the 80-boat fleet enjoyed broad reaching in 20+ knots all the way to Block Island. The return to Stamford, however, was not nearly as blissful as many crews endured complete shutdowns in the wind.