Friday, May 24, 2013

Block Island Race Preview

J/105 JADED sailing Block Island Race (Stamford, CT)- Ushered in with snow and rain, a messy spring in the Northeast looks to be giving way to more acceptable conditions for Memorial Day Weekend and the Storm Trysail Club’s 68th Block Island Race that coincides with it. An end of spring classic, this 186nm race going sailing out of Long Island Sound to Block Island and return is an annual rite of passage for many racing yachts.

The course itself is both elegant in its simplicity, but maddeningly devilish in how to execute the right tactics and strategies based on the weather and currents.  Basically, you start in Stamford, go out of Long Island Sound, rounding Block Island clockwise (leaving it to starboard), then back through The Race to Stamford.  The BIG issue is where to go through the infamous "Race"- Plum Gut south of Plum Island, through the middle, or along the Connecticut shore and Fisher's Island to the north.

J/35 Paladin leading start at Block Island Race“The natural obstruction of Plum Island, which lies about 60 miles off the start, forces navigators to decide whether to take the passage of Plum Gut or The Race (or in some rare instances, Fishers Island Sound), and the decision often determines the outcome of the race,” said Event Chair Ray Redniss.  He added that Long Island Sound, an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean, is situated between Connecticut to the north and Long Island, New York to the south and that with eight million people living within its watershed, it’s no wonder that the Connecticut cities of Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, Southport and Stamford as well as the New York cities of Bay Shore, Brooklyn, Larchmont and New York City are well represented by the 63 boats signed up, thus far, in six IRC and two PHRF classes as well as a one-design class for J/109s and en enormous contingent of J/sailors in the Double-handed Division."

Rambler’s Project Manager, Mick Harvey, also adds that the race is extremely challenging for a number of reasons. “Firstly it is very early in the season, late spring really, so the race is subject to cooler seawater temperature and relatively fast passage of weather systems across the course. The land mass in Connecticut is relatively cool this time of the year; however, in the right weather conditions, it can become quite warm during daylight hours. You can have situations where there are two sea breezes fighting each other, one on the Connecticut shore and one on the Long Island shore.”

Harvey also mentioned the “big tidal features” at Plum Gut and The Race as contributing to an “interesting, tricky race. Every time we do this race it's different, and no doubt you will learn something new, however, what you learn most likely will not be applicable to the next edition of the race,” said Harvey. “It’s like a long day race where you have a basic plan based on forecasting and tides, but then you have to be able to change your plan and adapt quickly to changing conditions during the course of the race.”

Over the course of time, various J/Teams have learned to master the course better than most-- one where keeping your "eyes wide open" and thinking "outside of the box" is an enormous help as the weather changes across the course.  Races have been won and lost everywhere on the course, including the first 10 miles and the last 10 miles!

J/44 sailing Block Island Race fast!The largest contingent of J's will be participating in the IRC Double-Handed class.  With eight of thirteen boats, it's likely that one or more J/Teams will be taking home some silverware.  The smallest J, Todd Aven's J/92 THIN MAN, is also one of the most experienced and can be dangerously quick if there's any prolonged reaching involved.  Multiple Block Island Race and Bermuda Race One-Two winner, Jason Richter, will certainly be a factor on his famous J/35 PALADIN.  One of the "sleepers" in the race that could lead the pack is Adrian Little's J/100 FLASHPOINT.  The class as well as the overall IRC teams will also have to contend with the J/105 JADED sailed by Peter Rugg-- both a class and overall winner in the Block Island Race in the past.  Two J/109s are sailing, Andrew Berdon's STRIDER and Adrian Begley's MAD DOGS & ENGLISHMEN, both well-sailed boats in the fully-crewed events, so time will tell if they can translate that experience offshore.  Two J/120s are participating including Gardner Grant's ALIBI and Hewitt Gaynor's MIRIELLE, as proven offshore winners, the 120s themselves could lead all the J's home.

The J/109s are sailing as a one-design class and the five boats sailing have all proven themselves around-the-cans.  It would be hard to handicap this gang which includes ARIEL (Jeff Warren), PAX 3 (Bob Siegel), LOKI (David Rosow), APSARA (Mike Sleightholme) and SKOOT (Jim Vos).

The J/44s are not sailing as a class, but some of their veteran offshore sailors are participating in IRC 2.  Len Sitar's VAMP is almost always amongst the leaders.  And, "offshore newbies" Joerg Esdorn and Duncan Hennes, are sailing their new and much more comfy KINCSEM (a J/44) against some of Long Island Sound's best offshore teams.  Nevertheless, no shrinking violets they are, Joerg and Duncan are veterans of hundreds of races winning on their J/105 KINCSEM and with a good crew (and navigator) may prove to be quick learners of the offshore trade!

Finally, in IRC 3, the custom J/120 AVRA will be sailed by its new owner, Leo Vasiliev from New York and they're hoping to duplicate some of the good performances offshore that she's had in her past.  For more Storm Trysail Block Island Race sailing information