There are many traditions associated with Block Island Race Week. Sailors know to expect certain things over the course of the five-day event, which is why so many keep coming back.
One of the most revered traditions is the Around the Island Race, which is associated with Block Island Race Week as much as drinking Mudslides at the Oar or dancing to live music at Yellow Kittens.
With a building breeze forecast, on-water chairman Dick Neville delivered the regatta’s signature competition earlier than expected. There was some noticeable anxiety among sailors on the docks when Neville announced over the radio that North Sails Day would feature the Around the Island Race.
That news prompted a thorough review of the forecast with navigators, tacticians and strategists now processing that information through the lens of a counterclockwise circumnavigation of Block Island.
Cameron Appleton, the tactician aboard the IRC 52 Fox, was overheard consulting with trimmer Scott Nixon about the sail inventory in terms of what would be needed during the various points of sail likely to be encountered during the Around the Island Race.
Similar discussions were no doubt held aboard all 122 boats competing in Block Island Race Week, Presented by Margaritaville. Doing a 20-nautical mile distance race that pretty much completes a circle is a vastly different undertaking than windward-leeward action around the buoys.
Organizers with Storm Trysail Club had initially pegged the distance race for Thursday, but Neville switched gears after reviewing updated forecasts that showed the wind getting lighter later in the week.
“We always want to do the Around the Island Race on the breeziest day of the week and the way the forecast shaped up that was today,” Neville said. “We knew it would be rainy, but fortunately there was very little thunder and lightning while the squalls were manageable.”
Added to the mix on Tuesday was a front that enveloped Block Island and brought thunderstorms and torrential rains. Gavin Brady, helmsman aboard the TP52 Beau Geste, said the Around the Island Race was very enjoyable despite the seemingly nasty conditions.
“We had relatively flat water, which was nice and made for very pleasant sailing. That makes a big difference. We can deal with the high wind speed, but it’s the sea state that is a concern,” Brady said.
Beau Geste beat Fox by just over three minutes in IRC 1 class, which raced in close quarters all the way around the island. A forecast for 16-20 knot winds was spot on and Brady said it was a beat from the start line to the wind farm followed by a reaching leg, a half hour spinnaker run and a beat back to the finish from 1BI.
“We had to go out around the wind farm, which was really interesting. There are no marks to keep you away from the wind farm so a lot of boats were passing fairly close to the blades,” Brady related. (Note: the air space is 90 feet for the Wind Turbines). “It was a good tactical race with a lot of passing lanes. There was a lot for the navigators and tacticians to consider. Some of these around the island races can be a bit of a follow the leader, but that was not the case today.”
Storm Trysail Club held a fourth windward-leeward race prior to sending the entire fleet of 13 classes around the island. Interlodge, the Botin 44 owned by Austin and Gwen Fragomen, won both races on Tuesday in ORC 1 class while Mike Bruno and his team on Wings did the same in J/88 class.
Stu Johnstone is calling tactics aboard Wings, which has won all five races held over two days and has already built an eight-point lead in J/88 class.
“Our boat is incredibly well prepared and we tend to be good in breezy conditions. We have a very strong, experienced crew so it’s really the whole package,” said Bruno, who is coming off a class victory at Charleston Race Week. “We still have two more days of racing to go, but we’re certainly happy with the way we have started.”
Meanwhile, Interlodge IV has now notched three straight bullets and overtaken Day 1 leader Baby Bella (Dunning 42, Jim Grundy) in ORC 2.
Robin Team and his Teamwork mates headed straight to The Oar for bowls of steaming hot clam chowder upon returning to the dock. Teamwork then went home and “stood under a hot shower for about 30 minutes.”
Despite the discomfort of being soaking water for so long, it was a rewarding day on the water for Teamwork, which placed second in the buoy racing then won the Around the Island Race to maintain the overall lead in ORC 2.
“It was a really tactical race that was very well-run by the Storm Trysail Club. We had a lot of fun out there today,” Team said. “It was equal amounts of upwind, downwind and reaching. Some conditions suited some boats in our class better than others, which made things fun and interesting.”
Tactician Jonathan Bartlett had set a goal of having Teamwork win the Around the Island Race in both the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta and Block Island Race Week, and it was mission accomplished on that count. The J/122 now leads the Ker 11.5 Peacemaker YCC by two points in what is shaping up as a nip-and-tuck fight.
“We’re cautiously optimistic. The Ker 11.5 is very fast so it’s going to be a battle to the very end,” Team said.
Good Trade is the defending champion in J/105 class, but got off to a slow start. Gray Matter, owned by John and Marisa Koten, led after Day 1. However, the husband-wife team of helmsman Bruce Stone and Tactican Nicole Breault showed their chops on Tuesday with a runner-up result in the buoy race followed by victory in the Around the Island Race.
“We’re very happy we got the wheels going in tough conditions,” Stone said. “This is the toughest J/105 fleet we’ve faced at Block Island. There are a lot of good boats and sailors here.”
Good Trade took the lead on the opening beat and held off the competition the rest of the way, crossing comfortably ahead of loulou (Paul Beaudin).
“One of key things we did in the race was called for a tack to starboard. We went a little farther right than any of the other boats and got into pressure, but stayed far enough left to get island relief from the adverse current,” Breault said. “Bruce really got into the groove driving and our speed was fantastic. We just punched out.”
Coyote pulled off somewhat of a surprise by winning the Around the Island Race in PHRF 1, beating a trio of Farr 40-footers boat-for-boat. Skipper Bill Clemens and crew sailed the Bolt 37 to an eight-minute victory over the J/111 Moneypenny on elapsed time even though the Farr 40s are the scratch boats in the class.
“It was a very long beat to start and we went as close as we could to the beach to get out of the current. We had a fast jib reach down the backside of the island then put the kite up after rounding the southeast point,” Clemens said. “We had several well-executed jibes down to 1BI and hit 14 knots at one point in surfing conditions. Our crew work was exemplary and that was really the difference.”
Clemens has competed in about 10 editions of Block Island Race Week aboard different iterations of Coyote and this was just his second victory in the Around the Island Race.
Tomorrow is the LayDay, so sailors will be resting up and taking part in a variety of activities tomorrow from a North Sails 5K, New England Ropes Tug of War, and Margaritaville Trivia Content. Racing will resume Thursday.