Monday, July 3, 2017

Epic Storm Trysail Club Block Island Race Week

J/88 fleet sailing Block Island Remarkable Performances By Many J/Crews!
(Block Island, RI)- The Storm Trysail Club’s completed its bi-annual sailing festival known as the XXVII Block Island Race Week in grand style.  Sailed from June 19th to 23rd, thousands of sailors enjoyed the beautiful island five miles offshore of Rhode Island. The conditions for the week were challenging, to say the least.  In the end, it will go down as yet another epic week of sailing on Rhode Island’s most popular offshore tourist destination.  The week started off with canceled racing on Monday due to 25 kt winds gusting to 35 kts and pea-soup 50 ft visibility fog.  Needless to say, it was a wise move as it would have been a fool’s errand to conduct any racing in such extreme conditions.  Instead, all the sailors took off and made use of an early lay day or get work done.  The next four days produced eight races with the sun poking through most days to make it a joy to appreciate all that the island has to offer, both on-the-water racing in mostly moderate breezes to the most excellent hospitality rolled out at the famous Mt Gay Tent.

Not surprisingly, by far the largest contingent at Block Island was J/sailors.  Of the 145-keelboat entries, 73 were J/Teams (50% of the fleet)! In addition to the PHRF and IRC handicap fleets, the event co-hosted several championships for J/one-design classes; including the J/88 East Coast Championship, the J/109 North American Championship, the J/105 New England Championship, and the J/44 North American Championship.  Here is how it all went down day by day.

J/44s sailing Block IslandDay 1- Cancelled
There is a time when even the most seasoned sailor must be prudent and proceed with caution when considering the safety of the boat and crew. Such was the case on Monday, when organizers of BIRW XXVII cancelled racing due to high winds and severe fog. Race Committee Chairman Dick Neville made the final call after monitoring the wind velocity and fog layer on Block Island Sound and consulting multiple weather forecasts.  “Conditions on the sound were not safe for sailboat racing. There is less than 100 feet of visibility, which is a very dangerous situation,” Neville explained. “Commander’s Weather and other forecasts agreed that if the fog lifts, the wind would get five knots stronger. That would put the wind in the high 20s with gusts into the 30s.”

Day 2- Let's Go Racing Already!
When the AP flag was taken down to finally mark the start of BIRW, it was like watching school children being let out for recess. Sailors who had waited 1 ½ days to go racing rushed down the docks, hopped aboard their boats and couldn’t wait to cast off the lines.

J/109s sailing Block IslandAt long last, the fog lifted around noon and the race committee chairman announced that one start would be held for all courses beginning at 2 p.m.  As it turns out, the fog had not cleared on Block Island Sound, which prompted the race committee on all three courses to delay a bit longer. Then the fog dissipated, the sun broke through and principal race officers Ray Redness (Red Fleet), Dave Brennan (White Fleet) and Bruce Bingman (Blue Fleet) immediately went into sequence.

Ultimately, the sailing began in big breeze – 19-22 knots from the southwest – and some sailors admitted afterward it was somewhat of a shock to the system to flip the switch into competition mode.  “It’s tough to sit around for a day and a half then go racing,” said Jack McGuire, skipper of the J/29 Dirty Harry. “As soon as the fog lifted, they fired the warning gun. There wasn’t even time to run upwind and downwind before the start.”

There were no complaints about the conditions, which were simply spectacular and produced exhilarating racing for the 146 boats in 16 classes. “Well it was a long wait and it was fantastic to finally get out there. Sunshine and strong wind – it couldn’t have been any nicer,” said Chris Lewis, who steered Kenai to victory in J/44 class.  Kenai had been modified for IRC racing, but Lewis converted the boat back to one-design trim in order to compete in Block Island Race Week. Early returns were favorable for the Houston, Texas entry, which led at every mark rounding on Tuesday.  “We had nice speed and were fortunate to go the correct way. We tacked onto port while everyone else went right and managed to round the first weather mark with a short lead,” Lewis said. “We had Challenge IV on our breeze, but we managed to hold them off to the leeward gate.”  Lewis said his crew is still adjusting to racing with a symmetrical spinnaker using a pole after having to ditch the bowsprit and asymmetrical kite in order to comply with the one-design rule.

Owner-driver David Rosow and the Loki crew continued their dominance of the J/109 class, capturing Race 1 of the North American Championship by a convincing margin.  “We were super happy to start racing. We were getting a little antsy sitting ashore. We were anxious to go out and do what we came here to do,” Rosow said.  Loki is the defending North American champion and has not lost a J/109 one-design regatta in two years. Rosow, a Southport, Connecticut resident, credited improved planning and preparation for his team’s ability to get a leg up on the competition.  “We started putting this event together in November. When you are organized and have done everything right, it makes a big difference,” he said.

It was another ho-hum day at Block Island Race Week for John Esposito and the J/29 Hustler team, which owns the highest winning percentage in regatta history. Hustler led from start to finish and wound up beating long-time J/29 rival Mighty Puffin (Steve Thurston) by 51 seconds.  “I thought the race committee did the right thing by delaying. When the fog lifted, we wound up having a great day for racing,” said Esposito, who was pleased with the performance of his brand new heavy air genoa. “We were a little overpowered on the second leg, but had good boat speed overall.”

In PHRF 1 Class, David & Maryellen Tortorello’s Partnership led a group of J/111 sloops that finished second through fifth in PHRF 1.

Robin Team was all smiles after winning his Block Island Race Week debut. The North Carolina-based J/122, which is making its first foray north, corrected over the Farr 395 Old School by two minutes, nine seconds.  “We had great upwind boat speed and the crew work was absolutely flawless,” said Team, adding that long-time tactician Jonathan Bartlett “was on fire today and kept us going the right way.”  Teamwork got the gun in Race 1, although team admitted that Old School and its sister ship Avalanche (Craig Albrecht) chased his boat all around the course. “It’s only one race into a long regatta so we have quite a ways to go. Those two Farr 395s were right on our heels. It’s going to be a battle.”

J/44 one-design class at Block IslandDay 3- W/L & Round Island Extravaganza
Wednesday provided ideal conditions for the Around the Island Race, which has long been the signature of Block Island Race Week. However, event organizers weren’t thrilled with the idea of going into Thursday with just one buoy race in the bag.  So, principal race officer Dick Neville came up with a creative solution. For the first in anyone’s memory, a windward-leeward race was held on the same day as the Around the Island Race.  Principal race officers on all three circles conducted the buoy race in the morning then got everyone reorganized and started the distance race in the afternoon.

“Traditionally, we don’t do that. However, having lost a day and a half of racing this week, we were trying to gain a buoy race without doing away with the Around the Island Race,” Neville said. “We had a pretty good forecast so we decided to give it a try. It was a little risky, but we got it done.”

Neville was planning to conduct three races on all three courses on Thursday and could possibly do so again on Friday. There is no restriction on what time principal race officers Ray Redniss (Red Fleet), Dave Brennan (White Fleet) and Bruce Bingman (Blue Fleet) can start races on Friday.  “We want to have the opportunity to run three if conditions allow,” Neville said.

Competitors had no problem with Wednesday’s plan, even though it made for a rather long day on the water.  “Obviously, the committee needed to do something to increase the number of races. I thought it was a really good idea and it worked out well,” said Carl Olsson, owner of the J/109 Morning Glory.

As usual, there were plenty of great stories from the Around the Island Race, which ranges from 20 to 24 miles depending on the fleet. Jeffrey Willis led Challenge IV to victory in the distance race and that enabled the Huntington Bay, New York entry to take the lead in the venerable J/44 class. Willis said his boat was doing 11 knots under spinnaker at one point when the wind piped up to 24 knots on the east side of Block Island.  “We got a very good start, stayed left on the first beat and got lifted. That allowed us to round the windward mark in first and we managed to stay in front the rest of the way,” he said.  Challenge IV was able to hoist the spinnaker earlier than the other six boats and increased the lead as a result. “As soon as we rounded 1BI the fog really came in. We had almost no visibility and had to get the horn up on deck,” Willis said.

Kenai (Chris Lewis, Houston, Texas) won Race 1 on Tuesday while current Storm Trysail Club commodore Leonard Sitar won Wednesday’s buoy race, displaying the balance within the J/44 class.  “Kenai and Maxine are both going fast while Vamp is always tough. It’s a very competitive group,” said Willis, who has captured class honors in six straight editions of Block Island Race Week.

Morning Glory emerged from the day atop the J/109 class, which is contesting its North American Championship. Quantum professional Terry Flynn is calling tactics for Olsson, who credited solid crew work for a second place in the buoy race and fourth place in the distance race.  “It was a fantastic day on the water. We made a few mistakes, but not many. Fortunately, everyone else made more mistakes,” Olsson said.  Olsson has brought five different version of Morning Glory to Block Island Race Week, including a J/105, Tripp 41 and J/34. The New Rochelle, New York resident is still seeking his first class victory here.

J/88 fleet sailing Block IslandJazz has set a strong pace in J/88 class, winning every race so far. Skipper Douglas McKeige (Mamaroneck, New York) and crew have built a six-point lead over Red Sky (John Pearson, Setauket, NY).  “The boat is going really well. We have a good team and good equipment. Everyone is focused on doing their job and we are hiking really hard,” said McKeige, who has close friend Steve Kirkpatrick trimming the main and calling tactics.  This is the first time McKeige has brought his J/88 to Block Island and he is looking to come away with the East Coast Championship.

It was a good day for Good Trade, which took over the lead in J/105 class by winning both races. Owner Bruce Stone steers while wife Nicole Breault calls tactics for the San Francisco team. “It was a lot of drama, a lot of fun. We had two incredible starts and raced really hard around the course,” Breault said. “Everyone is super happy with the results.”  Breault was still kicking herself for overstanding the first windward mark, but she played the fog well and passed a few boats. Good Trade carried the spinnaker for a long stretch and caught LOULOU at 1BI. It was a tacking duel to the finish with Good Trade finding better air by going toward the beach.

It was a good day for the J/122 TEAMWORK in IRC 3; Robin Team of Lexington, North Carolina, has shown consistency and continues to lead the class on the strength of a 1-2-2 score line.

The same could be said of Partnership, a J/111 owned by David and Maryellen Tortorello that is atop PHRF 1 thanks to a pair of seconds surrounding a bullet. Partnership won Wednesday’s windward-leeward start before placing second in the Around the Island Race and is three points up.

Upsetter did just that in winning the Around the Island Race in PHRF 3. Skipper Jason Viseltear steered the J/80 across the line in third, but corrected over a pair of J/29s – Hustler and Cool Breeze.

Day 4- Penultimate Day at Block Island Race Week
There’s a reason why Challenge IV has captured J/44 class in six straight editions of Block Island Race Week. It’s because skipper Jeffrey Willis and crew know how to put the hammer down when it matters.

Challenge IV enjoyed a terrific day on the water Thursday, posting a superb score line of 2-3-1 to take command of the J/44 class. The Huntington Bay, New York entry will carry a five-point lead into the final day of the racing.

“We know the fourth day of a five-day regatta is important. It’s moving day, especially when you have three races,” Willis said.

Organizers with host Storm Trysail Club delivered on the promise of a three-race day since conditions cooperated. Race committee chairman Dick Neville held the fleet on shore for a one-hour postponement and that proved a wise decision as a healthy sea breeze filled in and provided 11-12 knot southwesterly winds that built throughout the afternoon.

Willis was particularly pleased with the second place result in Race 4 since Challenge IV got caught on the wrong end of a shift and rounded the first weather mark in last place. Tactician David Willis told his father to go toward the island on the run and Challenge IV picked up a favorable shift that enabled it to pass three boats.

“That first race was a huge comeback. That was the turning point of the day, if not the week,” said Willis, who won the final race on Thursday and has a low score of 15 points.

Kenai, owned by Chris Lewis of Houston, Texas, stands in second place with 19 points. Kenai rebounded from a fifth in Race 4 by winning Race 5 and tacking on a third in Race 6.

“Challenge IV is very consistent. They know the course and they sail fast, which is a tough combination,” said Lewis, who is making his one-design and Block Island Race Week debut. “We’ve made mistakes in two races. We were over early in one and there was another when we won the start and didn’t cover like we should have.”

Willis said the strategy on Friday would be to stay out of trouble. “If we get a good start with clear air we seem to be able to walk on the rest of the fleet. We tend to make a lot of gains downwind.”

Several classes are coming down to the wire and will be decided during the two races scheduled for Friday. There is a good battle between the J/122 Teamwork and the Farr 395 Old School in IRC 2, with the former holding a four-point lead. Team was a bit preoccupied by responding to a protest following racing, but did take time to credit Old School, which owes Teamwork roughly 20-30 seconds per race.  “We’re having a good time mixing it up with them. If we can just stay attached, we’re in good shape,” said Team, who has actually beaten Old School boat-for-boat twice in this regatta.

Loki also made a strong move on Thursday, posting a 3-2-1 score line to reclaim the lead in the J/109 North American Championship. Skipper David Rosow and company were smarting from suffering a pair of fifth place finishes on Wednesday.  “Yesterday was a bit of a shocker and we needed to redeem ourselves,” said Rosow, who hails from Southport, Connecticut. “We sorted some things out and sailed much better today. It was moving day and we came through. We had good boat speed and excellent crew work.”  Loki has a low score of 17 points and is five points clear of Gossip, skippered by Steve Kenny of East Hampton, New York. Rush (Bill Sweetser) and Morning Glory (Carl Olsson) both have 25 points.  “It’s still a battle. There are six really good teams and we need to put together another good day,” Rosow said.

Partnership and Sea Biscuit are duking it out in PHRF 1 and the East Coast Championship will come down to the final two races. Partnership, a J/111 owned by David and Maryellen Tortorello, has not finished lower than fourth in the competitive 13-boat fleet and has totaled 14 points.  The Tortorello’s, who reside in Bridgeport, Connecticut, celebrated their 30th anniversary on Tuesday – the second time that has happened during Block Island Race Week. This is the couple’s fifth appearance at this biennial regatta and they are seeking their second victory after topping a J/111 one-design class in 2011.  “We have a very good team that has been sailing the boat for a while now. We all know our positions on the boat very well,” Maryellen Tortorello said.

Skipper Douglas McKeige and Jazz continued their steady march through the J/88 class with a second in Race 5 marking the only time the American Yacht Club entry has not gotten the gun.

Good Trade, owned by the husband-wife team of Bruce Stone and Nicole Breault, took charge of J/105 class by winning two races and taking second in the other on Thursday.  And, the J/29 Hustler (John Esposito, Mohegan Lake, NY) continued to build commanding a lead in PHRF 3 class.

J/44s sailing Block IslandDay 5- Final Showdown
The J/44 Class was quite competitive.  Chris Lewis still looked a bit stunned as he stood on the dock at Payne’s drinking a mudslide while surrounded by his jubilant team.  Lewis and his crew on Kenai had just pulled off a stunning comeback and somewhat surprising upset, doing so in dramatic fashion. The Houston, Texas-based boat won both races on Friday and took advantage of a rare stumble by Challenge IV to capture the venerable J/44 class at Block Island Race Week XXVII.

“It was a very tense day of racing. It was game on and we knew we had to win both races to have a chance,” Lewis said. “We liked the strong breeze and we liked the committee boat end of the line. We got both today and managed to pull out the victory.”

Challenge IV, owned by Jeff Willis of Huntington Bay, New York, entered the final day of racing with a four-point lead on Kenai. It was reduced to three points when Kenai won Race 7 and Challenge IV placed second.

Lewis and tactician Mike McGagh decided to go after Challenge IV in the pre-start of Race 8 and also somewhat on the first windward leg. “We stayed with them before the start and caused them to start at the pin end, which was not favored,” Lewis said. “When we met up on the race course, we engaged them again.”

Challenge IV placed fifth in the final race and wound up equal on points with Kenai at 21 apiece. The Houston boat won the tiebreaker by virtue of having more first place results (4-2).  “We needed to finish fourth or better in the last race and didn’t quite do it,” Willis said. “We made some uncharacteristic mistakes, but a lot of that had to do with the pre-race maneuvers.”

Willis was not thrilled by the match race tactics employed by Kenai, but took the high road and congratulated Lewis and crew. Kenai had been a modified J/44, but was converted back to one-design trim for Block Island Race Week 2017 and earned the North American Championship.

“It feels like all the work and preparation we put in paid off,” Lewis said. “It is an honor and a thrill to win Block Island Race Week. We have an awful lot of respect for all these J/44 teams. It’s a great class, a very competitive class and we consider this a tremendous accomplishment.”  Note- the two boats ended up tied on 21 points each, with Lewis’ crew winning the countback based on number of 1sts.

Rounding out the J/44 class were Bill Ketcham’s MAXINE in third with 27 pts, Len Sitar’s VAMP in fourth with 32 pts, and one point back in fifth was the US Coast Guard Academy’s GLORY.

J/105 Good Trade winners Block IslandJ/105 Class- Repeat Victory to GOOD TRADE!
One of the happier crews was located at the far end of the Champlin’s dock aboard the J/105 Good Trade, owned by the husband-wife team of Bruce Stone and Nicole Breault.

Good Trade sailed impressively all week en route to capturing the J/105 New England Championship, winning five races and placing second in two others in posting a low score of 12 points. That was seven better than runner-up Eclipse (Damien Emery, Shoreham, NY) and earned Stone and Breault the prestigious Everett B. Morris Memorial Trophy.

First awarded in 1967 and rededicated in 1991, the Morris Memorial Trophy is presented to the Block Island Race Week entry that wins its class and, in the judgment of the race committee and Storm Trysail Club commodore, put forth the Best Overall Performance.

“We were on fire, really in the zone,” Breault said. “We sailed the boat really well and minimize our mistakes.”

Stone steers while Breault calls tactics on Good Trade, which they bought last May from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The couple resides in San Francisco and races a J/105 named Arbitrage on the West Coast.

“We’ve won five of the last seven regattas we’ve entered so I’d say we’ve been on a bit of a roll,” Stone said. “We’re having a really strong season so far and hope to keep it going.”

Marc Acheson (headsail trimmer), Bill Higgins (bow), John Sahagian (pit) and Casey Williams (mid-bow) complete the crew on Good Trade, which opened the regatta with a third then reeled off a steady string of firsts and seconds the rest of the way.

“Our crew work is so solid that I can call for any type of maneuver at any time and not worry one bit,” Breault said.

In addition to GOOD TRADE’s most excellent performance, their familiar protagonist, Damian Emery’s ECLIPSE, took second place; between the two boats they won all the races!  Third on the podium was OJ Young from New Orleans, LA skippering LOULOU.  Rounding out the top five were Thom Herring’s TRIFECTA in fourth and Andrew Kennedy’s BAT IV in fifth place.

J/109 North Americans- LOKI Crowned Champion Again!
Skipper David Rosow and the Loki crew captured the J/109 North American Championship in similarly convincing fashion. Quantum professional Kerry Klingler trimmed the main while amateur Brian Comfort served as tactician as the Southport, Connecticut entry closed the regatta with three straight bullets.

“Today was do or die and I thought our team really came through in the clutch,” Rosow said. “We tried to keep it simple the last two days. We got in trouble on Tuesday when we made things more complicated than they needed to be.”

Loki successfully defended its North American crown despite having four new crewmembers and still has not lost a J/109 one-design regatta in two years. “Putting together a new team was complicated, but the chemistry came together well,” Rosow said.

It was rough going in the 21-boat J/109 fleet.  While Rosow somehow had a fifth-gear, everyone else was seemingly stuck in 4th.  However, having one of their best regattas in some time was past J/109 NA Champion Bill Sweetser, skippering his famous RUSH to the silver step on the podium.  Taking the bronze was Steve Kenny’s GOSSIP.  Fourth was another past J/109 NA Champion, Ted Herlihy’s GUT FEELING from Buzzards Bay, MA; they were also the J/109 Corinthian Champions.  Fifth was Jon Rechtschaffer’s EMOTICON and also taking 2nd in Corinthians.  Third in Corinthians was John Greifzu’s GROWTH SPURT.

IRC 3 North Americans- Dominance by J/122 TEAMWORK!
Teamwork, a J/122 owned by Robin Team of Lexington, North Carolina, made its debut at Block Island Race Week in resounding fashion. After briefly falling behind the Farr 395 Old School, Teamwork won the last four races to turn a tight battle into a nine-point victory.

“I came up here with nine of my best friends and we had the time of our lives,” Team said. “Winning is a huge component, of course. The competition was super and we knew we had to be spot on to came out on top at this regatta.”  Teamwork, which earned the IRC 3 North American Championship, now adds Block Island Race Week to its numerous class titles at Key West Race Week and Charleston Race Week.  “Our crew work was fabulous. We seemed to pick up a boat length or two at every mark rounding,” Team said. “This is a mighty sweet win and we are definitely coming back.”

There were two other J/122s sailing in the class, Tom Mager’s GIGI was 6th and Dan Heun’s MOXIEE was 6th.  Peter Hein’s J/120 VAREKAI took 7th.

J/88 sailing upwindJ/88 East Coasts- JAZZ Jams to Class Win!
Jazz turned in a similarly dominant performance in J/88 class, winning seven of eight races in posting a low score of eight points. It was also the first Block Island Race Week win for skipper Douglas McKeige of Mamaroneck, New York.  “All I can say is the boat was going really, really well. We just had pace and could lift off the fleet,” McKeige said. “I didn’t expect to do quite this well, but I had a great team here with me this week. They hike hard and are constantly working to get the most out of the boat.”

After a slow start in the first two races, it was Mike Bruno’s WINGS crew that took a solid second place with just 20 pts after eight races.  The podium was filled by John Pearson’s RED SKY.  Then, rounding out the top five were Iris Vogel’s DEVIATION in 4th place and Doug Newhouse’s YONDER in 5th position.

PHRF 1 Class- J/111 PARTNERSHIP Dominates!
Partnership, a J/111 campaigned by David and Maryellen Tortorello, won a good battle to take class honors in PHRF 1.  “We have done Block Island Race Week five times and this is the first time we’ve won our class, so this is phenomenal,” said David Tortorello. “We had very, very good competition and I think the key was consistency. We put up a lot of top three finishes. Our crew work was fabulous.”

Other J/111s also did well in class.  Taking 5th was Doug Curtiss’ WICKED 2.0 with its familiar black and wicked green paint job.  Seventh was Sedge Ward’s BARVO and 8th was Paul Strauch’s ANDIAMO.

PHRF 3 Class- HUSTLE’d Away Again by “Da Espo”!
Skipper John Esposito and his team on HUSTLER continued their remarkable run at this regatta by winning PHRF 3. Hustler, which beat fellow J/29 Cool Breeze by 10 points, has now captured its class in 11 consecutive editions of Block Island Race Week!!

“Winning Block Island never gets old. We are very pleased,” said Esposito, a resident of Mohegan Lake, New York. “I came out of retirement to do this regatta and now I’m going back into retirement until 2019.”  Esposito, who seemed somewhat serious about putting his J/29 in storage until the next Block Island Race Week, had high praise for his crew that includes longtime co-skipper Neil Caruso. Robert Weir came all the way from Australia to serve as helmsman for the second straight Block Island while tactician Max Lopez has been on Hustler since he was 11 years old.  “I think the boat is getting quieter. Our level of aggressiveness is still there, but the volume of noise has gone down,” said Lopez, noting that Hustler had a reputation for “a lot of yelling.”

The HUSTLER gang led a near class sweep by J/29s.  Taking the silver was John Cooper’s COOL BREEZE, followed by Jack McGuire’s DIRTY HARRY in 4th place and Steve Thurston’s MIGHTY PUFFIN in 5th place.  Sixth in class was the class Around Island Race Winner, Jason Viseltear’s J/80 UPSETTER.

PHRF 4 Class- J/24 Legend Perseveres!
The story in this class for J/24s was “close but no cigar” after eight races.  With the class win well within their grasp Brian Gibbs’ J/24 USA 4202 won the penultimate race 7 on Friday, but could not close the deal in the finale.  Basically, whomever beat who won the class, with Gibbs taking a 3rd to finish 2 pts out of the running.

PHRF Performance Cruising- We was robbed!
Surprisingly, this division permitted a throw-out race after sailing four races.  If that were not the case, Benjamin Hodgson’s J/100 GRIMACE would have taken an easy second place for the regatta. Instead, gnashing their teeth over a giant set of mudslides, they knew they would lose a tie-breaker on 9 pts each and have to settle for third place! Ouch!  Taking 6th in class was yet another J/24, Jeff Curtin’s UNCLE AL and 7th was Greg Slamowitz’s J/111 MANITOU.  Sailing photo credits- Allen Clark/ and Stephen Cloutier

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