Wednesday, 22 June 2011
IRC 1 start. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.
by Barby MacGowan
The Storm Trysail Club’s (STC) biennial Block Island Race Week presented by Rolex is underway for its 24th time since it was first held in 1965, and by all indications, it hasn’t lost one bit of charm or competitive appeal in a history that spans more than four and a half decades. In fact, the five-day competition, originally patterned after Cowes Week, is one of the last true Race Weeks remaining in America, with a dominant theme of hard racing and fine competition supported by a subtext of daily camaraderie in complete informality. The event is hosting 134 boats sailing in IRC (four classes), PHRF (five classes) and One-Design (Farr, NYYC Swan 42, J/44, J/109 and J/122) and is serving as the 2011 IRC East Coast Championship, the J/122 National Championship (with the contenders sailing in IRC 3), and the J/109 East Coast Championship.
For a second day, light wind caused a delay ashore, but just as in yesterday’s opener, the fleet was rewarded for its patience in the late afternoon when the breeze generated enough horsepower for 13 of 14 classes to complete two races each. (PHRF Cruising Non-spinnaker completed one.)
Coyote. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.
In J/109 class, the largest here with 15 boats, it was Bill Sweetser (Annapolis, Md.) who got the most bang for his buck today by winning both races with his crew aboard Rush. Combined with yesterday’s second, the performance gave him four points to the 12 posted by Skip Young’s (Guilford, Conn.) Dragonfly, in second.
“Today, we had reasonably comfortable leads with no last-minute scrambling to try to finish first,” said Sweetser, “as opposed to yesterday, when we had several boats on our heels, and when we finished we were asking ourselves ‘did we come in second, third or fourth?’” Sweetser added that he has to watch all the boats, not just one or two. “There are a lot of newer boats here that we haven’t had the occasion to sail against. It’s exciting and almost a record for these boats in one place for one regatta.” Sweetser, who bought his J/109 in 2003, remembers the 2005 BIock Island Race Week as the time when the class rules were first put together, and he hasn’t missed a Race Week since.
John Hele (Toronto, CAN/Newport, R.I.) on Daring dealt with the full-on effects of tight racing when he had to constantly fend off 12 other NYYC Swan 42s in his class. “I’d call that pretty close racing,” said Hele after posting a 2-3 today and reviewing the top four boat’s scores, which were within one point of each other. “It was pretty much all of us trading places both upwind and downwind. Plus, it was very busy on the race course with other boats from other classes.” He recounted that Vesper (from IRC 1) stole some of his air at the finish of race two, which was sailed in a breeze that had built from 6-10 knots (in race one) to 12-15. Hele, with his team here, will represent the Royal Canadian Yacht Club at this year’s New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup presented by Rolex, and says the NYYC 42 competition is benefitting from several U.S. teams who are vying for a berth to represent the New York Yacht Club there.
Eclipse - leader after three races. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.
Tom Lee (Essex, Conn.), sailing Jammy Beggar, a Melges 32 sport boat, beat out four newly introduced J/111s in PHRF 1 to top his seven- boat fleet. “There is very good talent on those boats, and they all have plenty of experience at Block Island Race Week,” he said, noting that David and MaryEllen’s (Fairfield, Conn.) J/111 Partnership is only one point behind, with two other J/111s falling in right behind them on the scoreboard. “They seem to be quicker upwind and we are quicker downwind,” said Lee, who has won here several times and at least twice on a J/120, “but they are always very close and our ratings are fairly close.”
As for the overall experience to be had here, Andrew Skibow (Ocean City, N.J.), who fell to fifth today after leading in IRC 3 yesterday aboard Plum Crazy, said, “This is the biggest regatta we do now; it’s serious sailing but a family atmosphere—I’ve brought my whole family and we are staying in two houses. I like the whole mix of serious sailing with the laid back let’s-have-fun mentality. I don’t’ know if it’s the island or just the history of the event itself but it has always been that way; you can come to have fun or to see if you’re the best IRC boat out there.”
Mark Ploch (City Island, N.Y.), who is a world and North American champion in several different classes and is sailing aboard the NYYC Swan 42 Vitesse, added, “The reason they can get away with a full week is that half the people here are on vacation. If my kids were out of school I’d have them here, too, because it’s a great destination and Block Island wants us here. It’s easy to get to, and the diversity of the crowd is much greater and more interesting than at any other regatta; there is more old-style fun mixed in with high end serious racing.”
Rush - leader after three races. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.
Today was Vineyard Vines Race Day, and Clarion Partner hosted the post-racing party under the “Big Top” Race Week tent, where nightly awards and daily highlight videos by T2p.tv are enjoyed.
Race headquarters for the 2011 Block Island Race Week presented by Rolex are located at The Oar Restaurant. Sponsors are Rolex, Toyota, Caithness Energy, Mount Gay Rum, Vineyard Vines, ING Clarion, Gill, Gowrie Group, UK-Halsey Sailmakers, Bitter End Yacht Club, New England Ropes, Hall Spars, Fiji Waters, West Marine, Robert Oatley Vineyards, Heineken, Sailing World, and WindCheck.
A Rolex timepiece will be raffled off at the end of the event along with a trip to the Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda to benefit the Block Island Rescue Squad, Block Island Maritime Institute and the Block Island Early Learning Center. (In 2009, this Race Week Raffle raised more than $16,000 for Block Island charities.) As well, a bid to the 25th Anniversary Pro Am Regatta at Bitter End Yacht Club will be won by one lucky Race Week class winner drawn from among all class winners on closing night.
Block Island Race Week presented by Rolex