High Anticipation Ahead of Race Week
By Bill Wagner
There was a flurry of activity at all three marinas located on New Harbor as crews completed final preparations for Block Island Race Week XXVII.
At Payne’s Wharf, the Naval Academy offshore team was busily working aboard their TP52 named Hooligan with some midshipmen addressing the rigging and others trying to fix an electronic issue.
About a half mile away along the shoreline, sailors with the C&C 30 class carried sails down the docks at Champlin’s Marina. At Block Island Yacht Basin, Donald Nicholson and his team prepared to go practicing aboard their chartered J/88 for the first time.
Meanwhile, organizers with host Storm Trysail Club were working hard to finish setting up regatta headquarters in front of The Oar as volunteers processed a steady stream of skippers checking in.
A fleet of 146 boats in 16 classes will compete in Block Island Race Week 2017, which runs Monday through Friday. Race committee chairman Dick Neville hopes to complete at least 10 races with one being the renowned Around the Island Race that has long been the biennial regatta’s signature.
“I always look forward to Block Island Race Week. It is truly one of the great regattas on the sailing calendar,” said Bill Sweetser, owner of the J/109 Rush. “The Storm Trysail Club does a great job on and off the water. It is just very enjoyable experience and always great racing.”
Sweetser is one of the top contenders in the J/109 one-design class, which is contesting its North American Championship. Rush has enjoyed tremendous success at Block Island over the years, but Sweetser has tabbed Loki as the boat to beat this week.
Skipper David Rosow and team are the defending North American champs and are coming off an impressive victory at the Cedar Point Yacht Club One-Design Regatta. Quantum professional Kerry Klinger calls tactics on Loki, which won five of six races at Cedar Point.
“That is a very well-oiled team that is sailing extremely well,” Sweetser said. “However, there are many other outstanding boats in our class. It is going to be a very competitive regatta and should be a good test of boat performance and sailing skills.”
A total of 12 classes are conducting a championship of some sort during Block Island Race Week, which features three courses for windward-leeward competition. Ray Redness (Red Fleet), Dave Brennan (White Fleet) and Bruce Bingman (Blue Fleet) are serving as principal race officers for around-the-buoy competition.
Boats in two Performance Cruising classes and the Multihulls will be doing distance racing around government mark courses with Jed Kelly overseeing. New this year are pursuit starts for the distance races, which will range from 10 to 20 nautical miles depending on conditions.
This will be the North American Championship for the venerable J/44 class, which is still going strong after almost three decades. Challenge IV, skippered by Jeffrey Lewis of Huntington Bay, New York, has won the last four editions of Block Island Race Week.
Resolute, co-owned by brothers Don and Rick Rave, were J/44 runner-up in 2015 and return with a strong team in hopes of getting over the hump.
“Any one of the boats is capable of winning a race or the whole regatta. It is a very evenly matched fleet,” Don Rave said.
New to the fray is Kenai, a previously modified J/44 owned by Chris Lewis of Houston, Texas. Lewis has converted his boat back to one-design trim and got off to a strong start by winning J/44 class at the 163rd annual New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta.
Some of the hottest designs are competing in IRC 2 with the winner claiming the North American Championship. Temptation/Oakcliff, a custom-designed Ker 50 capably skippered by Arthur Santry, is the scratch entry. Pterodactyl, a custome Reichel-Pugh 45 owned by Scott Weisman of White Plains, New York, will also battle for line honors in most races.
The Ker 43 Christopher Dragon (Andrew & Linda Weiss, Mamaroneck, NY) and the Mills 43 Cool Breeze (John Cooper, Cane Hill, MO) are both extremely fast machines. There are also four Swan 42 one designs that will be factors in IRC 2.
“It’s a good-looking class, a nice group of boats,” said Cooper, who has been campaigning Cool Breeze for a decade now and captured class honors at Block Island Race Week 2009. “It’s great to have the Swan 42s in the class. They help us and we help them.”
Christopher Dragon is the defending champion at Block Island, although the Weiss family won IRC 2 aboard their previous boat that was a Sydney 43. This latest Christopher Dragon is coming off a victory at the NYYC Annual Regatta, winning an IRC 2 class that included Pterodactyl and Temptation/Oakcliff.
This is also the North American Championship for IRC 3, which features a notable newcomer in the J/122 Teamwork. Owner-driver Robin Team and company have enjoyed significant success on the southern circuit – winning Key West Race Week and Charleston Race Week multiple times.
This marks the first foray north for Teamwork, which topped a loaded 12-boat class in IRC 3 at the NYYC Annual Regatta. Team sails with his brother, two sons and numerous long-time friends.
Entries from seven states and the District of Columbia have turned out for the J/105 New England Championship, which has 14 entries. Skipper Damian Emery is the three-time defending champion of Block Island Race Week, having topped J/105 class in 2015, 2013 and 2011.
Bruce Stone was the J/105 winner here in 2009 and has always fielded a solid program along with his wife and tactician Nicole Breault. They have competed in the North American Championship more than anyone in the class, placing second last year.
Stone and Breault have chartered for Block Island Race Week in the past, but this year will be sailling a boat they bought for the Merchant Marine Academy. Good Trade finished atop an 11-boat fleet at the Cedar Point One-Design Regatta earlier this month.
Paul Beaudin, who was J/105 runner-up at Block Island Race Week 2013, has chartered his boat to OJ Young of Seabrook, Texas and will be sailing onboard. Stone cited Two Feathers (Mark Masur, Dallas) and Bat IV (Andrew Kennedy, Annapolis) as other top contenders.
There are four classes of PHRF entries here this week and each will be competing for an East Coast Championship. There are five J/111s in PHRF 1, which includes eight other different designs ranging from a Summit 35 (Blue Fire, Bill Baxter III) to a Reichel-Pugh 44 (Miracle, Michael Cashel).
Such sportboats as a Melges 24, Donovan GP 26 and Carrera 280 are mixed with larger vessels like a J/35, Beneteau 36.7 and Dehler 39 PHRF 2. Five of nine entries in PHRF 3 are J/29 sloops, although they are not one-designs. Hustler, a J/29 skippered by John Esposito of Mohegan Lake, New York, is one of the most successful entries in Block Island Race Week history.
William Purdy skippered the Beneteau 36.7 Whirlwind to a convincing victory in PHRF 2 in the last edition of Block Island Race Week, beating runner-up Leading Edge (J/35, Tom Sutton) by 15 points. Purdy, a New York City resident, also sees the Carrera 280 XLR8 as a top contender.
“This is a tough fleet, no doubt. There is not a marshmallow in the bunch,” Purdy said. “As always, boat speed is the key. You have to constantly focus on keeping the boat moving.”
Skipper Dan Cheresh and the Extreme2 team have maintained a stranglehold on the C&C 30 class since the one-design was introduced a few years ago. Extreme2 notched a convincing victory at Quantum Key West 2017, but showed a chink in the armor in finishing third at the NYYC Annual Regatta.
Tiburon, owned by Stephen Stroub of San Francisco, was one of the boats that beat Extreme2 last week and Cheresh is more than happy to see the competition ramp up as the C&C 30 contests its North American Championship here at Block Island.
“In my opinion, the class has never been healthier. All the owners have been working extremely hard and I think the momentum is really growing,” said Cheresh, a resident of Holland, Michigan. “Tiburon had great speed and made very few mistakes. So the bar has been raised and I expect this to be a very tight regatta.”
This marks the very first North American Championship for J/88 class, which has seven entries. Iris Vogel, who has sailed Deviation to a couple runner-up finishes in Key West and has numerous notable titles to her credit, insisted there is no favorite. Mike Bruno and his crew on Wings have done well over the years while Douglas Newhouse and the Yonder team are also class veterans.
“There is no dominant boat in our class. We trade places all the time,” said Vogel, who long ago lost count of how many times she has competed at Block Island Race Week.
Competition under the ORC Club rule makes its debut at Block Island Race Week 2017 with a strong fleet of nine boats ranging from 38 to 42 feet. Jeroboam, an Annapolis-based Farr 400 owned by Laurent Givry has been on a roll – earning overall victory in the Down the Bay Race for the Virginia Cruising Cup then topping the PHRF fleet in the Annapolis-to-Newport Race.
“This is a big step up. There a bunch of really good boats in this class,” said Givry, who went against the Syndey 38 Kurranulla (Stuart Jones, Philadelphia) during the NYYC Annual Regatta.
There are two boats crewed by members of the Merchant Marine Academy offshore sailing team competing in ORC Club – the McConaghy 38 Carbonado and the Tripp 41 High Noon.
Organizers with Storm Trysail Club are thrilled to see a total of 20 boats competing in the Performance Cruising classes, which are divided by spinnaker and non-spinnaker. They, along with the five Multihull entries, will be doing pursuit starts in which boats cross the line individually based off rating.
Triple Threat, a Corsair 43 trimaran owned by Timothy Lyons of Annapolis, has set course records for several point-to-point races on the Chesapeake Bay. Jammy, a Gunboat 55 skippered by Block Island resident Thomas Lee, is another notable Multihull.