The Final Showdown at Block Island Race Week
Chris Lewis still looked a bit stunned as he stood on the dock at Payne’s drinking a mudslide while surrounded by his jubilant team.
Lewis and his crew on Kenai had just pulled off a stunning comeback and somewhat surprising upset, doing so in dramatic fashion. The Houston, Texas-based boat won both races on Friday and took advantage of a rare stumble by Challenge IV to capture the venerable J/44 class at Block Island Race Week XXVII.
“It was a very tense day of racing. It was game on and we knew we had to win both races to have a chance,” Lewis said. “We liked the strong breeze and we liked the committee boat end of the line. We got both today and managed to pull out the victory.”
Challenge IV, owned by Jeff Willis of Huntington Bay, New York, entered the final day of racing with a four-point lead on Kenai. It was reduced to three points when Kenai won Race 7 and Challenge IV placed second.
Lewis and tactician Mike McGagh decided to go after Challenge IV in the pre-start of Race 8 and also somewhat on the first windward leg. “We stayed with them before the start and caused them to start at the pin end, which was not favored,” Lewis said. “When we met up on the race course, we engaged them again.”
Challenge IV placed fifth in the final race and wound up equal on points with Kenai at 21 apiece. The Houston boat won the tiebreaker by virtue of having more first place results (4-2).
“We needed to finish fourth or better in the last race and didn’t quite do it,” Willis said. “We made some uncharacteristic mistakes, but a lot of that had to do with the pre-race maneuvers.”
Willis was not thrilled by the match race tactics employed by Kenai, but took the high road and congratulated Lewis and crew. Kenia had been a modified J/44, but was converted back to one-design trim for Block Island Race Week 2017 and earned the North American Championship.
“It feels like all the work and preparation we put in paid off,” Lewis said. “It is an honor and a thrill to win Block Island Race Week. We have an awful lot of respect for all these J/44 teams. It’s a great class, a very competitive class and we consider this a tremendous accomplishment.”
It was that type of afternoon on the docks of the three marinas at New Harbor. After five days of hard racing, there were 16 ecstatic winners and an equal number of disappointed runners-up. One of the happier crews was located at the far end of the Champlin’s dock aboard the J/105 Good Trade, owned by the husband-wife team of Bruce Stone and Nicole Breault.
Good Trade sailed impressively all week en route to capturing the J/105 New England Championship, winning five races and placing second in two others in posting a low score of 12 points. That was seven better than runner-up Eclipse (Damiam Emery, Shoreham, NY) and earned Stone and Breault the prestigious Everett B. Morris Memorial Trophy.
First awarded in 1967 and rededicated in 1991, the Morris Memorial Trophy is presented to the Block Island Race Week entry that wins its class and, in the judgment of the race committee and Storm Trysail Club commodore, put forth the Best Overall Performance.
“We were on fire, really in the zone,” Breault said. “We sailed the boat really well and minimize our mistakes.”
Stone steers while Breault calls tactics on Good Trade, which they bought last May from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The couple resides in San Francisco and races a J/105 named Arbitrage on the West Coast.
“We’ve won five of the last seven regattas we’ve entered so I’d say we’ve been on a bit of a roll,” Stone said. “We’re having a really strong season so far and hope to keep it going.”
Marc Acheson (headsail trimmer), Bill Higgins (bow), John Sahagian (pit) and Casey Williams (mid-bow) complete the crew on Good Trade, which opened the regatta with a third then reeled off a steady string of firsts and seconds the rest of the way.
“Our crew work is so solid that I can call for any type of maneuver at any time and not worry one bit,” Breault said.
Skipper David Rosow and the Loki crew captured the J/109 North American Championship in similarly convincing fashion. Quantum professional Kerry Klingler trimmed the main while amateur Brian Comfort served as tactician as the Southport, Connecticut entry closed the regatta with three straight bullets.
“Today was do or die and I thought our team really came through in the clutch,” Rosow said. “We tried to keep it simple the last two days. We got in trouble on Tuesday when we made things more complicated than they needed to be.”
Loki successfully defended its North American crown despite having four new crew members and still has not lost a J/109 one-design regatta in two years. “Putting together a new team was complicated, but the chemistry came together well,” Rosow said.
Teamwork, a J/122 owned by Robin Team of Lexington, North Carolina, made its debut at Block Island Race Week in resounding fashion. After briefly falling behind the Farr 395 Old School, Teamwork won the last four races to turn a tight battle into a nine-point victory.
“I came up here with nine of my best friends and we had the time of our lives,” Team said. “Winning is a huge component, of course. The competition was super and we knew we had to be spot on to came out on top at this regatta.”
Teamwork, which earned the IRC 3 North American Championship, now adds Block Island Race Week to its numerous class titles at Key West Race Week and Charleston Race Week.
“Our crew work was fabulous. We seemed to pick up a boat length or two at every mark rounding,” Team said. “This is a mighty sweet win and we are definitely coming back.”
Arthur Santry skippered Temptation/Oakcliff to the North American Championship in IRC 2, posting a second and a first on Friday to close things out. Big breeze for several races benefitted the Ker 50, which finished nine points clear of the Ker 43 Christopher Dragon.
“It was a fantastic regatta for our team. You talk about stiff competition. What a really tough fleet,” said Santry, a resident of Newport, Rhode Island. “We had an advantage by being a bigger boat, but a bit of a disadvantage because the legs very short. I thought the boat was crewed as well as it’s ever been.”
Santry had six students from the Oakcliff Sailing onboard, an ongoing partnership Santry is proud of.
“I’m a big fan of having young kids on the boat. I think it’s very important. They’ll give you all they got,” Santry said. “We had a great group of kids this week and they all did a terrific job.”
This marks the first Block Island Race Week victory for Santry, who last competed at the biennial regatta in 1985 when he was 29 years old and racing his father’s Frers 58.
“Winning Block Island is a really big thing for me. It’s an awesome event and Storm Trysail Club always does an incredible job,” he said.
Skipper Steven Benjamin and his top-notch team on Spookie spent the week match racing against Hooligan, which is campaigned by the Naval Academy Varsity Offshore Sailing Team. Spookie wound up winning all eight races between the two TP52 racing machines, but Benjamin said it was exciting competition.
“I thought the Navy boat did a very good job of starting all week and improved every day. They got the better of us at one point today and we had to tack away,” said Benjamin, who worked with the Midshipmen on their sail trim throughout the week.
Benjamin walked away with one of the most notable perpetual trophies handed out by host Storm Trysail Club. The South Norwalk, Connecticut resident was presented a Rolex timepiece as overall winner of the 2017 Around the Island Race. Spookie showed superb speed while sailing downwind under its large spinnaker and on a tight reach using its Code Zero asymmetrical kite in posting an elapsed time of 1 hour, 56 minutes and 26 seconds in the 20-nautical mile circumnavigation of Block Island.
“This is probably the best crew we’ve ever had on Spookie. I think the chemistry is particularly good,” Benjamin said. “We always enjoy coming to Block Island.It is one of the most well-run regattas in the world.”
ORC Club made its debut as a class at Block Island Race Week and The Cat Came Back, a Swan 42 owned by Jamestown resident Lincoln Mossop led from start to finish. Tactician Michael Campbell have been sailing many years with Mossop, who dedicated his first Block Island Race Week win to his late father.
“I’ve been doing Block Island over 20 years and it feels great to win this regatta,” Mossop said.
Campbell credited clean starts and solid boat-handling from the crew for the success of The Cat Came Back, which won six races and placed second in the other two.
Jazz turned in a similarly dominant performance in J/88 class, winning seven of eight races in posting a low score of eight points. It was also the first Block Island Race Week win for skipper Douglas McKeige of Mamaroneck, New York.
“All I can say is the boat was going really, really well. We just had pace and could lift off the fleet,” McKeige said. “I didn’t expect to do quite this well, but I had a great team here with me this week. They hike hard and are constantly working to get the most out of the boat.”
Partnership, a J/111 campaigned by David and Maryellen Tortorello, won a good battle with Sea Biscuit in PHRF 1. Only two points separated the two boats going into Friday’s action, but a disqualification in Race 7 doomed the Farr 30 skippered by Kevin McNeil of Annapolis, Maryland.
“We have done Block Island Race Week five times and this is the first time we’ve won our class so this is phenomenal,” David Tortorello said. “We had very, very good competition and I think the key was consistency. We put up a lot of top three finishes. Our crew work was fabulous.”
Brad Porter and the crew of XLR8 won two of three races to open the regatta and never looked back in capturing PHRF 2 by 16 points over Whirlwind, the Beneteau 36.7 that was defending champion.
“I’m very fortunate. I have a very talented team and they sailed the boat extremely well,” Porter said. “We were really in the groove this week. Everything just kind of came together in terms of tactics, crew work and boat speed.”
Skipper John Esposito and his team on Hustler continued their remarkable run at this regatta by winning PHRF 3. Hustler, which beat fellow J/29 Cool Breeze by 10 points, has now captured its class in 11 consecutive editions of Block Island Race Week.
“Winning Block Island never gets old. We are very pleased,” said Esposito, a resident of Mohegan Lake, New York. “I came out of retirement to do this regatta and now I’m going back into retirement until 2019.”
Esposito, who seemed somewhat serious about putting his J/29 in storage until the next Block Island Race Week, had high praise for his crew that includes longtime co-skipper Neil Caruso. Robert Weir came all the way from Australia to serve as helmsman for the second straight Block Island while tactician Max Lopez has been on Hustler since he was 11 years old.
“I think the boat is getting quieter. Our level of aggressiveness is still there, but the volume of noise has gone down,” said Lopez, noting that Hustler had a reputation for “a lot of yelling.”
All four PHRF classes competed for East Coast Championships and Arabesque secured the title in PHRF 4 after duking it out all week with USA 4202. Skipper Mike Bruno and his crew on the Chance 31 posted a first and a second on Friday to beat the J/24 owned by Brian Gibbs by two points.
“We had stiff competition again today as expected. We were tied on points going into the last race of the regatta and managed to squeak out the win,” said Bruno, who lives in Avon, Connecticut.
Dan Cheresh sailed Extreme2 to victory in C&C 30 class, which was conducting its North American Championship. Veteran professional Mark Mendelblatt served as tactician on Extreme2, which won five races and did not need to start the last one.
“We wanted to come back strong after our performance at the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta,” said Cheresh, who took third last weekend. “I thought we came back focused and with the right attitude. Our improvement was all over the board. We had better straight line speed and Mark did a great job of putting us in the right places.”
Testing Life, a Tartan 46 owned by Brian and Deb Mulhull of Ocean City, New Jersey, topped the Performance Cruising Spinnaker class by counting all bullets. This was the second straight Block Island Race Week victory for Testing Life, which threw out a fifth place finish.
“We sailed the boat very well because we have a great crew and good sails,” Mulhull said. “We’re always happy to win at Block Island and we had a great time once again.”
Rascal, an Ericson 39 skippered by Christopher Schneider, captured Performance Cruising Non-Spinnaker on the strength of two wins. Jammy, a Gunboat 55 owned by Block Island resident Thomas Lee, counted the exact same score line of 1-1-2 in topping the fleet of five Multihulls.
“The Jammy crew learned a lot this week about the Gunboat 55,” said Lee, who keeps his catamaran at a dock in front of his home on Coast Guard Road. “It seems like the fresher breezes that predominated this week really suits Jammy. We are really thrilled with this win.”
This was only the second regatta for Lee since assuming ownership of the Gunboat 55, which competed in Off Soundings two weekends ago.
Founded in 1965, Block Island Race Week (BIRW) is considered by many to be America’s original destination regatta. Racing on Block Island Sound in late June often brings ideal conditions for these sailboats and continues to be the ideal venue for this highly competitive and social regatta.