Spinnakers Flying for Annapolis to Newport
Picture perfect conditions greeted today’s fleet of starters for the 2019 Annapolis-to-Newport Race, which got underway at 11 a.m. on the Chesapeake Bay. North-northeasterly winds ranging from 8 to 12 knots enabled the 23 boats in five classes to enjoy a downwind start and many miles of beam reaching. Principal race officer Bruce Bingman set the start line just south of R2 off the mouth of the Severn River and the entire fleet crossed with spinnakers flying.
A popular strategy was to come off the starting line on port jibe and make a beeline to the deep water of the shipping channel since the current was about to begin flowing out the bay from an unusually high tide. A few boats, such as Laurent Givry’s Beneteau Figaro 3 took an alternative route to the western side of the bay and it seemed to pay dividends as Le Defonce quickly moved into the lead within the Doublehanded class.
Of the boats that went east in search of the expected current advantage, Lady Grey – a J/110 skippered by Herrington Harbour Sailing Association member Joe Laun – showed strong form and speed in leading the entire fleet down the bay. Just prior to 6 p.m., the Yellow Brick Race Tracker showed that Jane Says, a J/124 skippered by Gibson Island Yacht Squadron member Robert Dunigan Jr., had overtaken Lady Grey after approximately 43 nautical miles of racing.
Today’s fleet of starters featured the following classes: ORC 2, Performance Cruising, PHRF Classic, ORR 2 and Doublehanded. A second start will be held Saturday morning, June 8, for the five remaining classes: ORC 1A, ORC 1B, PHRF Racing 1, PHRF Racing 2 and ORR 1.
“It’s looking like a beam reach down the bay and a broad reach up the coast,” said Rick Lober, skipper of the Beneteau 473 Celerity that is competing in ORR 2. “It would be incredible if we didn’t have any windward legs.”
Lober and his Celerity team made their debut in the 2017 Annapolis-to-Newport Race and finished fouth in the Performance Cruiser class. Celerity was among many boats that got smacked by a severe squall in the Atlantic Ocean and that was a lesson learned for Lober. “I found that sail changes are important. You’ve got to be prepared to reduce sail in advance of heavy air,” he said. “So it’s really about being aware of what’s coming and acting proactively.”
Bingman has been carefully studying five different weather models and said most show reaching conditions for a majority of the 475-nautical mile passage from Annapolis-to-Newport. “I think the Friday starters will have a short beat in the Atlantic Ocean after rounding the Chesapeake Light tower,” Bingman said. “Right now the prediction does show the wind cranking to the east, which would put the fleet on a reach in the ocean.”
Bingman said forecasts show some severe weather hitting around the time most of the 52 boats will be approaching the entrance of the Delaware Bay. “It looks like the faster boats may be able to finish on a reach. However, I’m thinking the slower boats may need to do some beating to get into Newport,” Bingman added.
In 2017, host Annapolis Yacht Club finished the race off Fort Adams. Organizers have rectified an issue with the local Coast Guard station and the Annapolis to Newport Race will once again have its traditional finish off Castle Hill Light this year.
“It’s a terrific team-building event and there is also a great sense of accomplishment upon completing a race like this. Doing Annapolis-to-Newport is something you remember all your life,” said Lober, who has a crew that ranges in age and experience. “We have a nice blend of seasoned sailors and twenty-somethings who will do a lot of the heavy lifting.”
Odette, a Hylas 56 owned by Annapolis Yacht Club member Jasen Adams, will have four teenagers as part of its 10-member crew. Alex Adams was 13 years old when he crewed for his father in the 2017 Annapolis-to-Newport Race, logging more than 100 miles as helmsman in h elping Odette to a runner-up finish in Performance Cruiser class. “We have a platform that is comfortable and can accommodate a lot of people. We’re all about ocean racing and introducing more sailors to ocean racing,” Jasen Adams said.
Alex Adams attends the Portsmouth Abbey School and will have two teammates – Evan Boyd and Jenna Palmer – aboard Odette. St. Mary’s-Annapolis sailor Andrew Tollefson, a lifelong friend of the younger Adams, is also part of the crew. “We do have a core crew of five sailors who have logged thousands of miles on Odette. That being said, we’re certainly aware that we have some novice ocean racing crew,” Jasen Adams said.
“We’ll take each decision as it comes. Having spent some time with these sailors, I think we’ll be fine. Again, Odette is a very seaworthy platform with a wide weather window.” Alex Adams received the Youth Helmsman Award for the 2017 A2N and hopes to repeat that honor while steering during both watches. He is one of three principal drivers aboard Odette along with his father and Rich Hoyer.
Alex Adams was asked what his three friends would learn during their longest, and in some cases first, offshore passage. “It’s definitely different from dinghy sailing,” he said. “I think it’s a very rewarding experience you can’t get anywhere else. They will learn how to be part of a racing crew and the importance of fulfilling your specific role.”
Annapolis resident Ken Comerford is skippering a J/111 named Moneypenny and will have his two sons – Kyle and Willy – as part of the crew. Kyle Comerford recently completed an outstanding career as skipper of the SUNY-Maritime offshore sailing team while younger brother Willy competes at the College of Charleston. “As you get older, I think you do anything you can to spend time with your kids,” said Ken Comerford, getting choked up as he spoke. “I do very much appreciate every opportunity I get to go sailing with my sons.”
There is quite a rivalry between the Comerford brothers, and it will no doubt manifest itself at some point during the long trip between Annapolis and Newport. Kyle is serving as navigator while Willy has agreed to handle the foredeck out of necessity.
“They both have their own strengths and skills,” Ken Comerford said. “Willy has really impressed me with his ability on the bow. Kyle will be doing the navi-guessing the whole way, making sure we’re pushing the boat as fast as we can and living up to our polars.” Comerford, a veteran ocean racer with many miles under his belt, expects a fairly straight-forward passage.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a big tactical race. I think it’s going to be a drag race with a lot of reaching,” he said. “Every time we run our models the wind seems to go farther and farther aft, which would be good for this boat.”