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On the Bay: July 10, 2009

Block Island Race Week 2009

Block Island is a special place and has been called “one of the last great places in the Western Hemisphere” by the Nature Conservancy in 1991. With 43 percent of Block Island preserved for open space, one can understand the draw this magical island has for people seeking a quiet little get-away. Let’s hope these souls looking for respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life did not choose the week of June 22-26 for their family vacation. For that was the week of the 23rd running of the bi-annual Storm Trysail’s Block Island Race Week. Multiply the 153 boats by number of crew, support teams, administration, family and friends who descend on this pork-chop shaped island and you get the picture. Pity the poor family trying to find some solace on Block Island the third week in June!

Block Island Race Week was patterned after Cowes Week on the Solent and many thought maybe Mother Nature mixed up the dates this year. With winds at a steady 18-25 knots, with gusts clocking up to 40, conditions were definitely more Solent-like, causing several mishaps, including a man overboard, and gear and hull damage for the first day of racing - a truly Dr. Crash kind of day. Several boats even caught sand sharks on their keel! For local racer Bob Schwartz, MBYC on Nordlys, a J109, this was quite an introduction to BIRW. With true Corinthian spirit, he and his team ventured out to the starting line for their inaugural race on Nordlys, but with the wind being what it was, couldn’t escape gear damage, and had to retire. That didn’t stop this intrepid team, as they managed to find repairs and had them ferried over to the Island in time to get the boat ready for Day 2. “This is the first time I had an opportunity to have my own boat at BIRW – the top regatta in the NE. It was a great experience in terms of sailing in a large regatta and a great learning experience putting together a team. The caliber of racing was really high and we learned a lot and look forward to the next BIRW.” This is exactly how to grow the sport of sailing… bringing in new racers to events like BIRW. In addition to Bob, the crew on Nordlys included Peter Sherman, from the Quantum Sail Loft in Port Washington, Michael Silverman, Eli Schwartz, Ryan Christie, Donna Powers, Tom Powers and Erica Banks. You can bet that this team will be back on Block Island in two years time!

The howling wind that greeted the racers on opening day dialed down on day two as the day wore on, to the relief of the 1,500 sailors competing in 17 classes. The day started out with winds in the 18 – 24 knot range, but lessened by the third race. So far, only two teams have won all their races, and one of them was Jeffrey Willis on Challenge IV (J/44), out of Huntington, a racer well-known to Manhasset Bay. By end of day, the tired competitors were ready to party. Always a good time, the tent gathering this year seems especially jovial. Daily winners were announced, teams got their moment of glory as they accepted their trophies, and everyone was treated to the T2P video of the day’s racing, giving racers one more chance to argue their advantage over another boat or try to defend their position on a protest. Go to www.T2P.tv to see each day’s action.

Day Three brought dramatic wind shifts in the 7-12 knot breeze, causing Gary Jobson, Annapolis, MD and co-owner of Mustang, NYYC Swan 42 to comment, “The combination of figuring out the current and the wind is tough. So what I’m coming away with is that you have to play for a good average because taking big chances can cost you.” For some, the light air caused some damage to their standings. Jeffrey Willis added positions of 2 and 3 to his four bullets. David Willis, Jeffrey’s son, said, “We are not untouchable; nobody is in this class.” Ditto all the classes, for when you gather the cream of the crop for a regatta like BIRW, anything can happen and does. Just throw away your predictions, for who knows what the next day’s conditions will be.

Thursday, Day 4 saw some sunshine peek through the clouds for the first time all week, which would normally be a welcome sight, but not if you are racing at BIRW, for the sun also brought very little wind. The four-hour delay saw teams socializing on the docks or playing games on the lawn. Mid-day the RC called the boats to the starting line, but the wind just would not cooperate and only two race circles completed a single race, while the third circle canceled all races.

On Friday, the last day of racing, the wind was back up in the 18-19 knot range, and the final race was the make-or-break decider for a podium appearance. This was the case for Craig Albrecht, Port Washington YC, who was down 3 points and ended up winning his class by 2 points after the final race. It doesn’t get much better than this. Here’s the story: Albrecht, on Avalanche, a Farr 395, in class IRC 40B, started his series with a DNS (did not start) due to a broken rudder but proceeded to win five races in the eight-race series. After Friday’s performance, the boat climbed to first over yesterday’s leader Katabatic, an IMX 40 skippered by Gordon Hall (Marblehead, Mass.). According to Craig Albrecht, “the boat only went in the water late last week, and we just made it out here for Race Week. The boat was leaking through rudder gasket as we were approaching the starting area in the Round the Island Race. We did not get back to the starting line in time, so didn’t sail the first day, and got a DNS. So we started out with 11 points, worked our way through the week, hoping to get back to 3rd or 2nd, but ended up winning 5 out of 7 races that we sailed (out of a 8 race series).” Not only did Albrecht win overall trophy, he won the drawing among class winners to participate in the Bitter End Yacht Club’s Pro Am Regatta on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands this Fall. Not bad for a week’s work of effort! When asked how he repaired his boat so fast, Albrecht said, “We tightened the hose clamps a bit and used a lot of duct tape.”

For Rick Lyall (Wilton, Conn.), winning skipper of Storm in the J/109 class, sailing “clean and competitively” was the key to securing his Block Island victory and the 2009 J/109 East Coast Championship title. “The boat was prepared and performing tremendously,” he said. “We were spot on with our navigation and tactics, and we’re just thrilled with the victory.” On board was Liz Dempsey, daughter-in-law of Mary Lu Dempsey, past Commodore of North Shore YC. She was on Block Island with her husband David, who raced on a J/105, her young daughter, Katherine and her mother, Sue Walsh, who flew in from Chicago to take care of Katherine when Liz and Dave were racing.

Other local racers included Ralf Steitz, Vanquish, Kings Point Sailing Squadron, Louis Nees, Out of Reach III, Port Washington YC/New York YC, George Marks, Georgetown, North Shore YC, Paul Strauch, Andiamo, Manhasset Bay YC and Nimbus, Midn. Chris Branning and Midn Mike Wagoner, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Sailing is truly a sport for all ages. This was proven once again at BIRW. Mort Weintraub, Larchmont, NY, raced his Express 37, Troubadour, to victory in the IRC 35 class, with six victories in the last seven races. With typical humility, Weintraub, who is reaching an age when one starts subtracting a year at birthday celebrations, says he has nothing to do with it. “I only provide the lunches and the beer and pay the bills.” Jamie Anderson (Larchmont, NY), who has sailed with Weintraub since he was 13, steers the boat and organizes the crew of “mostly people who are in New York for their first jobs out of college.” One must assume that both Jamie and all those who know Mort Weintraub don’t believe for a minute that he has nothing to do with the victory at BIRW! Congratulations to all, young and old, skipper and crew, family, friends, and grandmothers, winners and others, who have added yet another BIRW to their memories. And the magic continues until the 24th running of Race Week in 2011. For list of winners, go to: www.blockislandraceweek.com.