The 70th edition of the Storm Trysail Club Block Island Race yielded winners in ten classes – four IRC (including one for Double-hand), four PHRF, J/44 and Multihull – and a place in the record books for Jim and Kristy Hinze Clark’s new 100-foot Maxi Comanche.
Fifty eight boats started the 185 nautical mile race (from Stamford Yacht Club in Connecticut, down Long Island Sound, around Block Island, R.I. and back to Stamford) on Friday afternoon (May 22) of Memorial Day Weekend, with Comanche finishing exactly one second after 2:50 a.m. the next morning, giving her an elapsed time of 11 hours 25 minutes and 01 second.
“Each year I ask the fastest boat in the fleet to give me a call when they are abeam of New Haven on the return,” said Event Chair Ray Redniss about Comanche’s call that came in at 0024 Saturday morning. “This was the earliest one yet, and a new record was established!”
Redniss said that to be precise, this year’s race was one mile shorter than that on which the 90-foot Rambler’s 2013 record of 13 hours 15 minutes and 55 seconds was set. “After 15 years of being at the entrance to Stamford Harbor, the finish line was moved out to the The Cows (Red Bell “32”) in order to allow enough water depth for Comanche to compete; with a draft of 22 feet, only a high tide would allow her to finish in the harbor,” he said. In 2013, Rambler completed the 186 mile course with an average time of four minutes and 17 seconds per mile. Comanche’s completion of the 185 mile course this year was with an average time of three minutes and 42 seconds per mile. “Speed-wise, this translates to Comanche averaging 16.2 knots and Rambler averaging 14 knots.”
Comanche, which won her IRC 4 class, took home the Governors Race West Trophy for best elapsed time in the IRC Fleet; the William Tripp, Jr. Memorial Trophy for best corrected time in the IRC Fleet; and the self-explanatory Harvey Conover Memorial Overall Trophy.
“If I could have drawn the weather map, I think it is what I would have drawn,” said Comanche’s Navigator Stan Honey. The favorable conditions included winds of 15-27 knots and outgoing/incoming tides at all the right times, especially at “The Race” and “Plum Gut,” two notoriously difficult passage choices for exiting and re-entering Long Island Sound.
For Greg Gigliotti (Stamford, Conn.), owner of the 62-foot Gunboat Tribe, which won the first-ever multihull class, nothing could have been more perfect than averaging 20 knots of boat speed and reaching in flat water from The Race to Block Island in a short six hours, then fetching the finish line after returning through Plum Gut.
“Everything tipped in our favor; it was a big part of getting a good time (finishing as the second boat, three and three-quarter hours behind Comanche). We had eight adults and three Opti sailors, all sons of fathers onboard. It was their first overnight, so we spent most of the race explaining that most races aren’t like this; normally you are on the rail and normally you’re not moving along at 18-20 knots. They were very lucky to be part of something special.”
Repeating its PHRF class (3) victory from last year was American Yacht Club’s J/105 Young American, another entry with junior sailors, but in this case, the kids were the majority onboard with Peter Becker serving as the team’s single adult safety officer and coach. “Last year, we won our class and finished third overall, which was a huge moment,” said Becker. “This year, we were first in PHRF division and first overall in PHRF, so we bested our performance by a big margin. The kids are on fire; they love it!”
The Young American team was pressured up at the start for their spinnaker run in 25 knots. When the tack of their chute blew out, they switched to a spare and were surfing down Long Island Sound at 15 knots. “We were all hiking off the stern and hanging with the big boats and double-handed boats. They started the double-hands, then small to large classes in order, so Comanche was the last start. It was really cool when it went whizzing by us doing 18-20 knots.”
Had Comanche not competed, Andrew and Linda Weiss’s (Mamaroneck, N.Y.) Sydney 43 Christopher Dragon would have won overall. The team started ahead of Comanche in the third-to-last start (for IRC 3) and finished the race in a little under 23 hours.
“It’s the fastest race I’ve ever done, and I’ve been competing in this since the mid-1970s,” said Andrew Weiss. “We got to 1BI in nine hours and were the second monohull around Block Island behind Comanche. Then, coming up the Sound, Snow Lion and Temptation passed us. They normally pass us before Block Island. We’ve never won overall before; this was the closest we’ve ever come, but Comanche…it’s a different kind of boat, so we still feel like we won!”
Chairman Redniss said this was a tough year for getting boats prepared for the Block Island Race, which was a week earlier than usual. “It was quite cold and harbors were frozen; yards were simply weeks behind. Overall, we had 68 entries; however eight notified us before race day that they weren’t going to make it, and another two did not make the start. Conditions for the race were near perfect, but of course, another 10 or 12 degrees warmer would have been nice! We were cold on the Committee Boat overnight; I can imagine there was a lot of shivering on the rail!”
The Block Island Race was first held in 1946 and is a qualifier for the North Ocean Racing Trophy (IRC), the Double Handed Ocean Racing Trophy (IRC), the New England Lighthouse Series (PHRF), and the Gulf Stream Series (IRC). The Block Island Race is also a qualifier for the Caper, Sagola, and Windigo trophies awarded by the YRA of Long Island Sound and the ‘Tuna” Trophy for the best combined IRC scores in the Edlu (40%) and the Block Island Race (60%). This year's Tuna Trophy was won by Christopher Dragon with first place finishes in both events.
*Photo credit: Randy Tankoos