It’s the 25th Anniversary of the Storm Trysail Club’s biennial Block Island Race Week, and it seems that after almost five decades a good thing has only gotten better with age. First held in 1965, the five-day competition, originally patterned after Cowes Week, is one of the last true race weeks remaining in America, and Wednesday, on the third day of racing, the event proved it still can deliver on its time-tested tradition of good, challenging racing to over 1,500 sailors on 182 teams.
Out of 19 classes, 16 (four IRC, five PHRF and seven One-Design) fit in three races Wednesday, while the remaining three (Cruising Spinnaker, Cruising Non-Spinnaker, and Double Handed) sailed their scheduled single navigator-style race. On four different race courses, the wind was light, but for the most part cooperative, and the sun neither hid nor scorched while several fortunate leaders from Tuesday extended their leads and others found a new place at the top of the scoreboard.
Maintaining a perfect score line after winning Wednesday’s navigator race in the Double Handed class was Ty Anderson (Riverside, Conn.), sailing with crew Eric Kreuter (Riverside, Conn.) on the Farr 395 Skye. Their 12-mile course took 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete, and Anderson likened it to the courses used at Race Week 30 years ago. “It’s kind of old-style, like we all used to do, around government marks instead of race buoys, which everyone tends to do now,” said Anderson, who last competed at Block Island Race Week in 1975, “but then it makes sense for us, because double handed teams usually do distance races, and this is the same kind of idea, although it’s a shorter distance course.” On the virtues of double handed sailing, Anderson added, “You are always doing something, either sheeting, trimming or navigating; there’s no one sitting on the rail, so even if we don’t do well, getting around the race course is an accomplishment in itself. In that way, everyone is a winner . . . and I only have to buy two sandwiches for the crew!”
Anderson’s boat, at 40 feet, is the largest of the double handed boats competing, and Kreuter says it’s hard to tell if they are winning or not at any given time, since they are typically far out in front and cannot see their other competitors to compare handicap times. “We had 10 minutes on a whole pack of boats today,” said Kreuter, “but we didn’t know who they were.”
It was Kreuter’s idea, when he was commodore of Storm Trysail Club last year, to add a new Double Handed class for this year’s Race Week, in a nod to “keeping up with the changing times,” a.k.a. riding the wave of popularity currently seen in double-handed sailing. Anderson, the current commodore of Riverside Yacht Club who sails in several double handed events a year, couldn’t wait to help spread the word. “There are teams here from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and North Carolina, even one crew member from Tennessee; you don’t get that every day,” said Anderson. “On the Sunday before the regatta, we invited all the double handed teams over for dinner, so we could all get to know each other.”
It is that kind of forward thinking and camaraderie that have kept Block Island Race Week at the forefront of sailors’ minds when they are planning their summer schedules, which in odd numbered years means securing well in advance housing on Block Island and transportation for crews, families and friends to get to the tiny island, located nine miles off Rhode Island’s south coast.
Imbibing in the spirit of Block Island Race Week is something that the team aboard the Tartan 46 Testing Life has proven they can handle very well, even if it is the team’s first time here. Testing Life is sailing in Cruising Non-Spinnaker class, and its skipper, Brian Mulhall (Boonton, N.J.), came with his family and an “all-new” crew, who jested after their first day that the boat’s name might be better named Risking Life. But after three races now, including Wednesday’s, which Testing Life won, the team has secured an impressive second place in the overall standings, behind Burt Keenan’s (Hilton Head, S.C.) Ketch Acadia.
Mulhall says he decided to sail the navigator courses offered in non-spinnaker cruising class because he has been sailing for only five years and is, of his own accounting, the least experienced on his own boat. “I don’t use a spinnaker a lot, and some of my crew sail smaller one-designs, so that would be new for them, too,” said Mulhall, “Because a spinnaker adds a whole other element and we all came together for the first time just this past Sunday, we decided it would be better to just go cruising and have fun…in comfort. I’m probably the only race boat out here with throw pillows, two heads and air conditioning, if need be.”
For the more hardcore sailors, this year’s edition of Block Island Race Week is serving as championships for IRC and J 80 one designs (North Americans); PHRF and J 29, J 44, J 105, and J 109 one designs (East Coasts); and Swan 42s (New Englands).
Rick Lyall (Wilton, Conn.), the current J 109 North American champion sailing Storm, is leading the J/109 class — the next largest fleet here with 15 boats — after posting three victories Wednesday. “We had conservative starts today, because we were called across the line early on the first day and had to fight back from 15th to sixth,” said Lyall. “That was a tough way to begin the regatta, and then yesterday in the Around the Island Race, we were close to last, because we were on the wrong side of the course, but we made one of the best comebacks of all time to win. It was one of the best tactical races we’ve ever had, and we were thrilled about that. Today it was all about execution. Tactician Kerry Klingler (Norwalk, Conn.) and the rest of the crew had the boat going in all the right places. It was a good team effort — the right combination of what you need to win the regatta.”
As for how to proceed, Lyall says it will be with caution. “Tomorrow we’ll just keep sailing like it’s the first day of the regatta, because the competition will take advantage of any weakness.”
Another team with all bullets save one in its six-race score line is the U.S. Naval Academy Sailing Squadron’s TP 52 Corsair, skippered by Andy Beeler (Annapolis, Md.), in IRC 1. It is, however, tied on points with Steve and Heidi Benjamin’s (Norwalk, Conn.) Carkeek 40 Spookie, in second, so the next two days of racing are critical.
Ed Freitag/Molly Haley’s (Annapolis, Md.) Summit 40 Downtime and Louis Nees’ (Lower Gwynedd, Pa.) X-35 Out of Reach III hung on to their leads from Tuesday in IRC 2 and IRC 4, respectively, while Andrew and Linda Weiss’ (Mamaroneck, N.Y.) J 130 Christopher Dragon VIII climbed from third to first in IRC 3.
In PHRF 1 and PHRF 4, Malcolm Gefter’s (Newport, R.I.) Melges 32 Celeritas and Dave Curtis’ (Marblehead, Mass.) Taylor 38 Rival both have turned in nothing but victories over six races sailed thus far.
For results and more information on Block Island Race Week, CLICK HERE.
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