By Bill Wagner
Block Island Race Week has long been on the bucket list for Bill Zartler. The Houston, Texas resident registered for the biennial regatta in 2013, but could not get away from work and had to pull out.
This year, Zartler was not going to be denied and cleared the decks in order to compete at Block Island Race Week XXVIII, presented by Margaritaville.
“It’s a week-plus commitment, but I made time to do it,” Zartler said. “If you’re a serious sailor, this is just one of those regattas you have to experience.”
Schedule-wise, including Block Island Race Week in the season schedule worked well because Zartler was bringing the J/105 to the East Coast anyway for the multiple events. Deja Voodoo began by racing the Annapolis stop of the National Offshore One-Design (NOOD) series and later this summer will head to Marblehead, Massachusetts for another NOOD followed by the J/105 North Americans.
Zartler made it clear that Block Island Race Week is the highlight of this season.
“We’ve heard so much about how great this regatta is and I have to say it has lived up to the advanced billing,” Zartler said. “Block Island is kind of the summertime version of what Key West used to be.”
One thing Zartler and team learned quickly is the weather conditions off Block Island are much more unpredictable than Key West.
“We saw all three seasons yesterday,” he joked. “You definitely get a little bit of everything out here on this island.”
Deja Voodoo is one of many first-time entrants at Block Island Race Week 2019, presented by Margaritaville. According to records compiled by host Storm Trysail Club, almost 50 percent of the 122 boats competing here this week are newcomers.
“We are very pleased about the number of first timers. We think it points a brighter future for the event and a renaissance of folks bringing their boats back to the race course for competition and fun” regatta chairman Ed Cesare said.
Of course, the Deja Voodoo sailors have been soaking up the atmosphere of Block Island while sailing the boat to a fourth-place overall finish in J/105. Zartler rented a crew house off Corn Neck Road and the Lakewood Yacht Club contingent has been tasting the night life.
“We’ve had plenty of Mudslides at The Oar and have tried them at two other places as well. We haven’t gotten a bad Mudslide yet,” he said. “We’ve been eating a lot of seafood and taking walks on the beach early in the morning. It’s been a very enjoyable experience all-around.”
Joe Brito came to Block Island Race Week some four decades ago, crewing aboard a C&C 41 owned by Charlie Cook in the early 1980s. The Bristol, Rhode Island is competing as a boat owner for the first time this year and admits he should not have gone so long between Block Island Race Week appearances.
“You know, between work and family and life I just didn’t have time to do as much sailing as I would have liked,” said Brito, president and CEO of CB Utility, a general contracting company based in Bristol. “I turned 68 and decided I’m going to do everything I’ve always wanted to do. Coming back to Block Island Race Week with my own boat was one of those things.”
Brito is racing Incognito in ORC 2 class and was fighting for a podium finish going into Friday’s final races. He had a big hand in developing the J/121 class and happens to own hull No. 1.
“We were having some drinks at Bristol Yacht Club with Jeff Johnstone, Charlie Enright and Kimo Worthington when we started kicking around some ideas for an exciting new class of J/Boats,” Brito said. “The whole idea was to use water ballast to enable an owner to sail with less crew.”
Incognito finished fourth in Class 9 of the St. David’s Lighthouse Division for the 2018 Newport-to-Bermuda Race and Brito said the design has “been everything we wanted and more.”
Here at Block Island Race Week 2019, presented by Margaritaville, Brito has rented the beautiful Sea to Summit compound and is enjoying spending the week with close friends.
“We’re having a real fun week and just loving the whole experience that is Block Island,” he said.
Africa, a Taylor 42 doing the pursuit racing as part of Performance Cruising 3, is an interesting first-time entry. Skipper Tom Hansen is affiliated with Sail Last, a Florida-based non-profit corporation founded to provide sailing opportunities for children and the elderly.
Youngest sailor aboard Africa this week is 8-year-old Julie Ialya of Weston, Florida while the oldest is 75-year-old George Binau of Mansfield, Connecticut. Also part of the crew is 10-year-old Lexi Storbin along with the father-daughter duo of Harland and Kylie Christofferson.
Africa was donated to Sail Last for this regatta by renowned sailor Judd Smith. Hansen has managed to get this group of sailors to post results of second and first in the Pursuit Division and the Taylor 42 entered Friday in the runner-up position behind Rascal.
“This regatta really fits our mission of expanding the sport of sailing to the youngest and oldest among us,” Hansen said. “This crew has come together nicely is sailing the boat quite well.
Chuck McCarthy is another veteran sailor who has always planned on coming to Block Island Race Week, but for various reasons never got around to doing so. The Manhasset, New York resident has vacationed on Block Island many times and thus is very familiar with the venue.
McCarthy bought an Evelyn 32 from Brad Porter in 2016 and put this year’s Block Island Race Week on the radar. “I got this boat with the intention of doing a major regatta like this,” McCarthy said. “It’s taken time for me to get the boat to the level I want as far as new sails and other upgrades, but felt like it was finally ready for this regatta.”
Speed D8 (read: Speed Date), a 1983 design, is racing in PHRF 2 along with a slew of hot, new sport boats. While the results on the water have been disappointing, the crew is enjoying everything else about the regatta while staying in a house overlooking picturesque Rodman’s Hollow.
“I’ve always wanted to do this regatta because of the caliber of competition and we certainly have that in this class,” said McCarthy, whose normally does day racing on Western Long Island Sound.
It took quite an effort to get Speed D8 from Manhasset Bay to Block Island, which proved a two-day voyage. It’s 65 miles to Westbrook on the tip of Long Island, where the crew stayed in hotel before making the ocean crossing to New Harbor.