by Kirsten Ferguson
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. Scheduled to start Friday, May 24 at 1400, the 186 nautical mile race (from Stamford, Conn., down Long Island Sound, around Block Island, R.I. and back to Stamford) is an annual rite of passage for sailors from New York and New England and is notorious for a “fork in the road” decision that must be made upon leaving and returning to Long Island Sound.
“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.
The largest boat in the fleet will be George David’s (Hartford, Conn.) 90’ Reichel/Pugh design Rambler, which took line honors last year and will be sailing in the event for the 7th time in a row. “We have won it twice on corrected time overall and have broken the course record once,” said Rambler’s Project Manager Mick Harvey, adding 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 is 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 you plan and adapt quickly to changing conditions during the course of the race.”
Coming from farther afield is Arthur Santry (Arlington, Va.), who sailed the Ker 50 Temptation–Oakcliff to second last year in one of the IRC classes. He foresees a “dog fight” once again with Larry Huntington’s (New York, N.Y.) Snow Lion, another Ker 50 that finished third last year; James Sykes’ (New York, N.Y.) Santa Cruz 52 Bombardino; and Steve and Heidi Benjamin’s (Norwalk, Conn.) new entrant Spookie, a Carkeek 40. “Yes, sailing against Spookie will be scary stuff,” said Santry with a chuckle. “I haven’t sailed against her, but I know Steve and Heidi really well; they are incredible sailors and that boat just screams off wind. Who knows how the weather system will finally set up, but if it is a northwest breeze behind us leaving the Sound, Spookie could be as much as 10 miles ahead of us by the time we get to Block Island. Beating back, Temptation’s speed would be better than Spookie’s so it’s a question of whether we have enough runway to catch her. It should be a lot of fun.”
Temptation is one of four boats entered in the competition by Oakcliff Sailing Center, a non-profit training center based in Oyster Bay, N.Y. dedicated to raising the level of sailors and sailing in the United States. Santry “sponsors” the boat and sails regularly with a core team that is rounded out with Oakcliff students and often times his own teenage kids. (14-year-old Richie Santry will sail with his father in this 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 (40%) and the Block Island Race (60%).
For more information on the Storm Trysail Club Block Island Race, visit www.stormtrysail.org