Tuesday night at the races becomes tradition
While the Volvo Ocean Race arrived in Narragansett Bay in 2018 and the majestic J Class fleet will challenge for the world championship on local waters in August, these regattas travel around the world.
On any given year, sailing fans will not know what boats will race in Rhode Island until the season schedule is announced. A constant, however, is racing on Tuesday nights in the East Passage.
The Jamestown Yacht Club began its 32nd season of racing in mid-May when its commenced its spring series, which culminates Tuesday. Following that fiveweek series, the summer edition will host 11 races through Aug. 27 followed by the fall season from Sept. 9 to Oct. 6.
“We like to sail,” said Gondola Avenue’s Samira Hakki, who sails aboard Luna, an Albin Nova 33, with Chris Brown.
While there are winners and losers, Hakki said sailing on a Tuesday night is more about camaraderie than competition. Instead of “top-notch professionals,” these skippers “get a group of friends together” for their races.
“It’s serious, but it’s not that serious,” she said. “You can have your friends sail with you.”
The races follow the PHRF system, which allows for different classes to race against one another. The fleet is divided into three classes based on the size and speed of each boat, although the top two classes are intended for yachts with spinnakers. These classes are determined by Cheryl Rienzo, a Top O The Mark resident who chairs the racing committee.
“I come up with a rating selection,” she said, “and each class is a different rating band.”
Rienzo, who used to race during the Tuesday series, has not participated since she became part of the committee in 1997. As the chair, Rienzo’s duties range from registration to organizing the scoring sheets to determining which boats will compete in which class.
Head of the class
The A class, which features the fastest boats, usually has the most competitive races, according to Rienzo. The B and C classes, meanwhile, are more casual. For the summer and fall series, however, the classes will change slightly. The C class will become a third race for spinnaker yachts, while the non-spinnaker boats will compete in a fourth class. TheexpansiontoaDclassduring July and August is because the fleet is largest during the summer. In 2018, Rienzo said there were 52 boats registered for those races, with between 10-15 yachts in each of the four divisions.
Generally, the non-spinnaker boats have a triangular course to navigate on the bay, while the spinnaker classes can have leeward, windward or triangular racing courses, depending on the wind that night. The larger and faster boats in the A class usually begin their race first on longer courses, and the other classes are staggered to depart for their races once the A boats are out of their way.
The Jamestown Yacht Club started organizing the weekly yacht races in 1987, shortly after it was founded. It is unclear, however, why the races have become a tradition for Tuesday nights. According to Rienzo, the club began racing as a casual alternative to the formal racing clubs that dominated the bay during the ’80s.
“It was really meant to be a family-fun night,” she said. “Everybody brings their families out and runs around the buoys.”
While the races have maintained their casual nature since the 1980s, they have become somewhat competitive over time. That includes the group of J/22s and J/24s.
“It’s sort of fleet racing without being a fleet,” Rienzo said.
According to Mike Schnack, a member of the club since 1999 who rides the committee boat during the races, the competition hinges on the skippers and their crews.
“It really depends on who’s on the boats that are racing,” he said. “There are some people that are very competitive.”
On your marks
Each Tuesday, there is a race for each division with different start times and courses for the different classes. The starting point for all races is Race Mark C, located south of the Newport Pell Bridge near the dock for the Conanicut Yacht Club. The finish line is usually at a channel buoy near the Conanicut Marina fuel dock. The club typically spends about 45 minutes to two hours racing every Tuesday night. The first gun is at 6:10 p.m., and the last boat usually finishes two hours later.
During the races, Rienzo can be found on the committee boat keeping track of race timing. She also monitors boat traffic and keeps radio contact with the U.S. Coast Guard. Other members of the committee are tasked with raising flags and keeping in contact with the race boats. The results are recorded using a program based on Microsoft Excel that was developed by a club member. When Rienzo returns to land, she tabulates the score sheets so the webmaster can post the results on the website.
Since the start of the spring series, Hakki and Brown have competed with Luna in the B class. The sailboat came in first place on consecutive weeks to close out May after not finishing the season’s inaugural race. Hakki is pleased with her boat’s performance this season. For the final two series, Luna is relegated to the C class, where it currently is defending champion for both the summer and fall seasons.
“It’s more on the cruisey side, but we race it fairly well,” she said. “We do well in the big breeze, so we tend to be put in the class with the J24s, which are a bit smaller and lighter, but similar in speed. On a really windy day, we’ll do well.”
According to Rienzo, club members say the main attraction to the Tuesday races is the consistent schedule.
“We try to run a race every Tuesday,” she said. “We have fairly long, good races, not 20-minute turnarounds after a couple of marks. I know some of the other clubs are a little more squeamish on the weather. Our take is safety really is a decision by a particular captain.”
Additionally, Rienzo praised the work of her race committee, which she said have been indispensable to the club’s ability to sponsor these raises.
“They are an awesome set of volunteers,” she said.
Hakki also praised Rienzo and her committee for giving sailors something to do every Tuesday from May to October.
“They put a lot of work into making this whole thing happen,” she said.