June 18, 2019

Meet Your Circle Chiefs

Storm Trysail Club brings its top-shelf race-management talent to Race Week, spread across signal boats, marks boats, onshore and more
By Dave Reed, Sailing World

Pictured: Red Circle PRO Ray Redniss checks the breeze to ensure his fleet has a fair and square racecourse.

For Block Island Race Week, Storm Trysail Club deploys its best race-committee personnel across four fleets, with a promise that race management will be top-notch, the way it’s always been, of course. Like that time in the early 1990s.

“There was the year in the J/35 class that the race committee only called the boats that weren’t over in a recall,” says Marcy Trenholm, past STC executive director. “All the other boats protested the committee and in those days, you had to pay $25 to file a protest. The jury collected the money, disallowed the protests and kept the money. Storm Trysail Club got a Moosehead Award for that one.”

The Moosehead Award, of course, is the ignominious honor bestowed at the annual meeting of the International Society for the Perpetuation of Cruelty to Racing Yachtsmen. It’s an award that is not given, but earned, and perhaps, a few of our Race Week PROs each have one or two to their credit.

Ray Redniss, Red Circle
Ray Redniss, from Stamford, Connecticut, was in the throes of an -exciting American YC Spring Series race in 1991 when a violent port-starboard collision resulted in permanent damage to his right arm. The accident ended his racing career but set him on a path to race-committee greatness.

“I was never going to be as good a racer as I am a race officer,” he says. “It helped that when I jumped into it headfirst, I had the best mentor in Peter Reggio.”

As a US Sailing Regional Race officer, Redniss has been conducting race affairs at Block since 2001, and after a few years of duty with the one-design -classes he now leads the Red Circle team, with IRC, ORC and the PHRF Plus One fleets under his command. His crack team will have the dubious challenge of running two windward/leeward races each day before sending racers off on a “Solent Style” course.

“It’s a bit different for sure,” Redniss says, “and we will have to be able to figure it out on the fly, but I like the challenge and will be looking forward to it.”

To ensure all goes as it should on his Red Circle, his advice to competitors is to: 1. Read the Sailing Instructions—“I can’t tell you how often I have to say that,” Redniss says; 2. Listen to the radio because officials will attempt to explain everything in detail; and 3. Be patient. “My favorite signal flag is the class flag—when it’s on its way down—which means the start went off well,” he says, “but my best friend is the AP, which lets us get things right before it’s too late.”

As to the aforementioned Moosehead Award? He will admit to having earned it a few times. He once earned it “supremely” for everything that could go wrong going wrong. “The pin boat set the pin in 45 feet of water with 30 feet of line,” Redniss says, “and let’s just say it started there and didn’t get any better.”

Dave Brennan, White Circle
The signal flags White Circle chief Dave Brennan doesn’t intend to use at Block Island Race Week include the letters I, Z or U. And you forget about the Black Flag; he and his A Team have been running races for a long time together, and if they’re doing it right, penalty flags will never see the light of day.

Brennan, from Miami and Storm Trysail’s Southern Station, looks back to 1997 as his first year running races at Race Week; he’s done so every edition since. His core team have run major championships for J/70s, Melges 24s, Etchells, TP52s and more, and his last two gigs before Block were the St. Thomas International Regatta and BVI Spring Regatta in April, so his squad -arrives firing on all cylinders. “Basically, everyone on the team has been doing it on and off for 20 years,” he says, “so we come with a pretty sharp team.”

As overseers of one of the busiest circles at Race Week, Brennan and company get straight to work early each race day, carefully calibrating the course to Block Island Sound’s dynamic winds and currents. Racers would be wise to note the lay of the course, he says, particularly when the current is running strong or expected to switch. “When you get to the race area, look carefully at the current on the signal boat and then look at the tide charts, because on more than one occasion it will change during the race,” he advises. “Also, be sensitive to how it sweeps around the island on any given day.”

Don’t expect to pick up any strategic clues on the open race-committee channels, however, because Brennan’s team operates on a private channel—and for heaven’s sake, he says, don’t call him on his mobile when the pea soup gets served.

“The one thing that gets my goat at Block Island is the fog,” he says. “I can run a race in the fog, but if it’s blowing 25 knots, the closing speeds of boats going upwind and downwind are huge, so people have to be careful and sensitive to all that’s going on.”

In such conditions, he will hedge for safety’s sake and that’s when the phone typically starts ringing. “Half the teams might be scared to death and the other half will be perfectly fine in those conditions, and they all seem to have my phone number, who call and say, ‘Dave, get this race underway!’ and the other half are saying, ‘Are you crazy?’”

So, just keep the phones below and let them do their thing. And for the record; no Moosehead—yet—for Brennan.

Jed Kelly, Pursuit Fleet
Who gets assigned to the most laid-back race fleet at Block Island Race Week? The most laid-back dude Storm Trysail has, of course—and that’s Jed Kelly, czar of the Area D Pursuit Fleet.

Kelly, of Larchmont, is on his second tour as the Pursuit Fleet PRO for Race Week, but he’s been running races more than 20 years, so not much fazes him these days.

“I guess I am pretty laid-back,” he admits. “In fact, I do get accused of being too laid-back, so yeah, maybe that’s why I get this circle, but I’m happy with it.”

Unlike the other circle chiefs, tasked with obsessively tweaking race-courses to perfection and running multiple starts and races, Kelly and his crew have it relatively easy: Announce the day’s predetermined, random-leg course using government marks, start the clock, make sure everyone gets off OK, then kick back and relax.

“No lunches until they’ve all started,” he says. “Then, it’s nice to get the tunes going and everyone does what they like: some talk among themselves; others tend to read; there’s crosswords and stuff—but no fishing.”

The pursuit start is ideal for low-key teams, cruisers and race-committee members alike, but Kelly says the hard work for his crew is prepping and monitoring the starting times for each boat, and clearly communicating times to competitors. And then there’s the wait for everyone to finish: “The start can drag on for an hour, and it did happen a few years ago when we had a large Gunboat and a J/24.”

Sometimes, he adds, his committee can be on station until sunset and miss the party altogether. Such is the glamour of race-committee life: sunsets, box lunches and rocking and rolling in a sea way all day. But there is one true perk to the Pursuit fleet assignment: Once everyone’s finish is recorded and submitted, they’re done for the day, free to pursue their own post-race entertainment.

Bruce Bingham, Blue Circle
Bruce Bingman, a five-time PRO and seven-time Race Week veteran himself, is commander in chief of the Blue Circle. He approaches every race with the methodical and analytical mind of an engineer, but he says the hawk eyes on his circle belong to his partner and National Race Officer, Taran Teague, the circle team’s primary line spotter. Teague, is “very, very experienced,” Bingman says, “and very, very good.”

How good? All you have to do is listen to tape recordings of previous starts. “What she does—and I do too—is paint a picture of the starting line, starting with the boat farthest down the line, and noting where the boats are sitting on the line. Then, as they’re approaching, you identify boats that are poked out the most, or note any port tackers below or above the line looking for an opening. You’ve got the numbers and the boats identified, so when the gun goes off and everyone jumps, you know what -number it is.”

The point is, they’re watching—closer than you think.

At the end of the day, you’ll find Bingman near the jury office, carefully reviewing the results and finish sheets to ensure all is right. Once the protest window closes and he gets the green light to go, it’s off to “find a cold -brewski or even better, a mudslide.” By now he knows which competitors make a good one down on the docks, so listen for the blender and you might just find him. When you do, hit him up and ask him how his Corvette collection coming along.