Move over Punxsutawney Phil. Here in Manhasset Bay we have better predictions for the onset of spring. With the weather unseasonably warm for the past month, it has made the long, cold winter months more endurable. Even so, most sailors still are in the "winter mode," either skiing - if they can find some snow - or are at home finishing up the "to do" list before springtime arrives and they hide out in local boatyards readying their boats for the upcoming season. Last Sunday, Feb. 5, those who came to the water's edge were treated to a beautiful scene as the frostbiters were out in Ideal 18s sailing near Kraus' Kastle. It was an especially beautiful sight on this particular Sunday, as the sun broke through the clouds, and shone a beacon of light right over the little fleet of boats. Mother Nature seemed to be smiling on our little fleet of sailors. They were not the only boats out on the bay. Just as predictable as the frostbiters sailing each Sunday afternoon, there is another boat that those who frequent the shore have come to expect seeing sailing all winter long. She is a graceful Pearson, blue-hulled, owned by Gary Cohen, who sails her every chance he gets. The only time Winds of Change is sidelined in the winter is when the bay is frozen. So it was not surprising to see Gary sailing about on an overcast, winter afternoon. He had two other intrepid sailors with him, but distance prevented one from identifying his mates - could it have been his wife, Debbie Greco and Evan, their youngster? It wouldn't surprise anyone who knows them - for they are a family who lives and breathes sailing. So it is with gratitude that we watch those sailors enjoy nature's bounty, for it is a reminder that spring will soon be here, and another season of nautical pleasures awaits. So forget Groundhog Day. Local sailors have given us the high sign -it won't be long until spring is here!
Key West Race Week has come and gone, but the great sailing, strong winds, social life, and, yes, the stories, will live on in everyone's memory for a long time. Racers from 14 countries and 37 states (a record) descended on Key West a few weeks ago for Acura Key West 2006. Sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s prevailed all week. Consistent breeze blew throughout the five-day regatta with a wide range of conditions challenging the 286 boats. As usual, racing was extremely tight with the winners in most of 19 classes not being determined until the final day. "We're very excited to be here. It's 10 degrees and the power is out at my home in Greenwich (CT). It's warm and sunny here and the sailing conditions are fantastic," was the midweek comment of Thomas Stark, owner of the TP52 Rush. Stark is a product of Knickerbocker YC and grew up sailing on Manhasset Bay. Competitors this year included a who's who of "rock stars" including notable tacticians Russell Coutts, John Kostecki, Gavin Brady, Dee Smith, Adrian Stead and Mark Reynolds. Also competing were a pair of legends, both America's Cup Hall of Fame inductees - Wisconsin boat builder Buddy Melges and sailmaker Tom Whidden, who has sailed to victory many times with Dennis Conner on Stars and Stripes. This year he was the tactician for John Thomson, Jr. on his new Infinity, a Farr 40.
There was, once again, high praise for the top-notch race committee work who, under the leadership of PRO (Principle Race Officer) Peter Reggio, postponed racing on the morning there was light wind, shortened courses on the afternoon it was heavy and still got in all nine scheduled races. "It's been a great week. Great wind, great competition, great venue for sailing," said Massimo Ferragamo, owner of the victorious Swan 45 Bellicosa. "As usual, Key West offered a variety of conditions, which really challenges the crew. The race committee did a perfect job all week, made all the right decisions."
To say that action on all four courses was intense and hotly contested would be an understatement. On Division 1, the Swan 45 World Championship was decided by a mere point while the highly-competitive Farr 40 class finished with the top three boats within three points. On Division 2, Aera and Moneypenny staged a remarkable week-long duel in IRC 1, trading leads that never rose above two points with Aera ultimately prevailing. Sister Golden Hair edged Boys Are Back in Town by one point in PHRF 2. "Racing has been surprisingly close. The rating system has done a very good job of comparing the boats," said Dee Smith, tactician aboard Moneypenny. "We tied a race, which is really rare. Other races have been decided by seconds. You can't get much closer." Racing in Melges 24 class, the regatta's largest with 60 entries, was predictably wild with four different boats holding first place at some point and the winner not decided until Friday. Another week-long battle waged on Division 3 came in the J/80 class with Synergy nipping Rumor by three points. Rumor is owned by John Storck, out of Huntington, NY, who has sailed many times in our bay during the Manhasset Bay Fall Series. Finally, five of seven classes on Division 4 were decided by five points or less. Temptress nipped Kokopelli by a point in PHRF 4.
All this competition played out in some really windy conditions. It blew "stink" on the second day of racing, with the wind howling 20-25 knot winds and heavy seas challenged the fleet. There were spectacular wipeouts and equipment breakdowns as a southeasterly that gusted to 30 knots produced a slew of DNF (did not finish) and DNS (did not start) designations on the results sheet. Rough seas also were a problem and helped bring down the masts on at least two big boats.
Your reporter caught up with John Thomson, III who was crewing for his father on their new Farr 40, Infinity (replacement for Solution), along with Tom Whidden and Ralf Steitz, another America's Cup sailor. He had this to say, "Key West is the first and favorite race of the year for us and a great way to start off with a new boat. It was a great week with the new boat... we saw some of our best results in the last couple of years. Sailing was breezy for most of the week, and when we got to Key West to practice it was blowing 30 plus." Speaking of the high wind mid-week, John continues, "The wind was 30 knots and boat speeds (SOG) up to 17 knots down-wind. During the downwind legs it was carnage central. At on point half of the 45s had broached in front of us and all the 30s had broached. The only people happy after Wednesday were the rigging companies and sail makers. Back on the dock there was broken gear everywhere. We managed to keep everything together and escape the day without any damage to the boat or sails. As far as the crew, it wasn't anything a couple of rums couldn't cure. With all the heavy air sailing during the week, when the breeze dropped to 15 on Friday, it felt like there was no wind. Great conditions and a great week." John takes his family down to Key West with him, and they are becoming veterans - his 4-year-old has been to three KWRWs and his 2-year-old has attended two, with John competing in 15. The next stop for the team on Infinity team is the SORC in Miami, March 9-12.
Frostbiting scores will be reported next week when they become available.