Block Island Race Week is sponsired by the Storm Trysail Club and is the original race week in the United States. Modeled on Cowes Week in England, Block Island follows the same format still. This was the 17th annual Block Island regatta but was our first. The boat we chartered for the regatta is a J/80 called Adrenalin.
The logistics of getting all the crew to the regatta was interesting. Steffi (pit and mast/foredeck) flew in to Providence, RI on the afternoon of the Friday before the race week and Tom (tactician) drove there from Annapolis, MD. Chris (helm) flew in to Newark, NJ and Neil (trimmer) flew in to Boston, MA, both from England. Tom scheduled his departure to coincide with Chris's arrival and pick him up in Newark. Other than a missed turn leading to a scenic tour of Manhattan, and very heavy traffic, that part went fine. Steffi made it to the meeting point as scheduled and all was well until we got notice that Neil had missed his flight. New arrangements were made for Neil to meet the rest of the team on Block Island the following night.
Steffi, Chris, Tom, and the owner of the J/80 (Greg) delivered the boat from Newport to Block Island on Saturday. The trip was an ugly 15 mile beat into 17 knot breezes and seemed to last for ever! The best part of the delivery had to be discovering the fact that every bit of gear we had aboard for the week's racing was drenched! After getting the boat settled we chatted with the crew of another J/80 called Monster Lady and they were kind enough to let us stow our gear at their place until the cottage we rented became available. If nothing else, the competitors were friendly!
We finally met up with Neil at the ferry landing late Saturday night and got back to the boat. We were not successful in finding a place to crash for the night, however. Our cottage was not available until Sunday afternoon and all the rooms in the local hotels were of course booked solid. The four of us ended up crashing on the boat trying to sleep under wet spinnakers with no cushions. Not comfy, by any stretch, but amusing none the less.
We got up Sunday morning and went out to practice up for Monday's racing. To call the practice a disaster would be a marked understatement. About the best that can be said is we all made it back in one piece and nothing got broken.
The first day of the regatta was in much lighter air than we had predicted. Eight to twelve knots of breeze was the order of the day and we were hard put to keep the boat speed up to par. The first race was a disaster. We started near the pin end on starboard with the wind in left phase and a persistent right shift anticipated. In other words, completely wrong. Our boat handling was OK, but communication was not at it's best. We were constantly out of phase and really had no plan, resulting in a 6th place finish.
The second race on the first day was much better with the tactician finally getting a clue about the wind trends and communicating the analysis to the rest of the crew. All points of our crew work improved remarkably as did the result : 3rd place.
Overall we were looking pretty bad even with the third place finish. We were tied for 5th in a fleet of seven. After many rums at the tent after the racing, we decided we could try harder the next day.
The rum tent was quite large with room for a band and awards stage, vendor stands, several bars, and lots of free rum! There were also a dozen or so picnic tables set outside overlooking the marina. All in all, a fine setup.
After the tent, we all went out to eat and discussed our failures. We discovered that the Weight Weenies(tm) had gone through the boat and removed the rum! Since Key West, we have had a tradition of carying a bottle of Mount Gay Rum on the boat for good luck. We noticed that if we took the rum off the boat, we never finished very well, but with even a small amount aboard, we always seem to do well. We snuck the Mount Gay back on the boat and crawled off to bed.
The second day of the regatta was a drifter resulting in no complete races and no score changes. We did however take the opportunity to raft up with several other J/80's (Monster Lady and Thrown Together) and yack about racing while drifting around waiting for the race committee to abandon racing. The R/C finally attempted a start and we set off up the track sniffing for the breeze. An hour or so later (and fifty yards from the starting line), we were ecstatic to hear the three guns promising us more rum! That night, we trucked off to a local eatery for a quick meal and more rum. After much of the latter, Chris swiped a huge carrot from the salad bar and snuck it back to the table. We decided that the carrot was to become our Block Island Mascot(TM).
The third day, we were excited to see, was the round-the-island race. After carefully taping our mascot to the bowsprit, we made our way to the starting area hoping the wind would hold. We started counter clockwise into a weak westerly breeze and headed in as far as we could to get current relief. As we approached the first turning mark, the wind died out and went left forcing us to tack twice to get around the mark. We marched on staying out from the cliffs to get fresh sea breezes and began to make some pace on the others in our class.
This also allowed us to say what the folks on the Whitbread 60 Chessie had wanted to say for the longest time : "We have both point and pace on Toshiba". How many other boats can say that?
We did not stay out as far as we should and let Wizard of Eyes and Crocodile out around us. Approaching the next mark, we found ourselves facing a decision. Should we go in to the cliffs for no apparent reason (other than some pretty smart big boats were doing it) or go out for the breeze (like the other smart boats were doing)? Wizard, Crocodile, and consequently, we went out. Bad move! As it turned out, going way inside got the other boats into a huge finger of breeze that those of us outside did not get. We were fairly close to the breeze line and sweated the dead spot to get to it. We never saw the boats that went further out again... The wind increased as we approached the last turning mark, and we had another decision to make. The mark guards a sand bar that runs out off the Northwest corner of Block Island about 1.5 miles. We saw the smart boats turning the mark, and heading back down on the same side of the bar! The current was favorable on our side of the bar, but adverse on the other side. In order to get relief from the current, we had to pick a spot to cross the bar far enough in to get out of the current, but not so far we run aground. Wizard Of Eyes followed us down the North side of the bar and tacked deeper than we did when we turned to cross the bar. We approached the bar with several other big boats to windward and were watching to see if they made it over the bar. They didn't! We bailed way down away from the shoreline and pulled the traveler way up and put 2 people on the low side to induce as much heel as we could. We anxiously watched as the shadow from the boat on the bottom approached the keel... We made it over the bar with at least an inch or two to spare, but as we looked back to see what Wizard did, we saw that they did not make it across. The current spun them around and laid them back on the bar with lots of keel showing! Due mostly to Steffi's quick thinking, we managed to get a to the finish with a 3rd. The Mount Gay had done it's job!
The fourth day started with the sky looking ugly and the air very humid. The first race was hotly contested and we made some tweaks to our downwind target boat speeds and came up with a 2nd place finish. The second race started like the first with us guarding the right side, but we had an ulterior plan. The thunderclouds were looming ever closer and we figured the storm would be over the race course before we got to the weather mark. We anticipated a right turn in the wind and some real gusts. We were very correct. We were on the right side of the course and as the wind clocked around, we were there to catch it and blasted down to the mark in 40 knots of breeze and driving rain. As soon as we rounded the mark, the wind began to die and went even farther right. We ended up reaching into the leeward mark under jib and set the kite to get back up to the windward mark. We were in the lead after the first weather mark and managed to extend on the other boats almost a leg. The only challenger was Wizard of Eyes who was about 200 yards back. We trucked off to the finish as the wind continued to tail off, and Wizard of Eyes kept closing in on us, riding the puffs down on us. By the finish, however the wind had clocked to the point that Wizard could not lay the finish and we managed our first win of the week. The wind died out so badly, the boat after Wizard finished over an hour later!
The last day of the regatta started under more moderate conditions. The first race was highly competitive and although Wizard of Eyes won it, we were neck in neck with Thrown Together and finished less than a second after them for a very disappointing 3rd place. Going into the last race of the regatta, we were in first place overall with Monster Lady, Thrown Together, and Wizard of Eyes tied for second only one point back! After a week of racing, any of four boats could win it all! The last race was a really tense race, needless to say. We got a brilliant start and were both mechanically and tactically on-cue and managed to hang on to the lead we created as the wind died out yet again. There was a great deal of confusion at the finish of the race. The course was shortened to finish at the last weather mark, but only for some classes. We rounded the mark as though we were still racing and read and re-read the code flags on the boat that honked the horn at us. Did they just mean course change and those number pennants are the new course? Did they finish us without a gun, just a horn? We decided we had won and headed off to the rum tent to celebrate. The win in that race sealed the trophy for the week for us and we were quite happy to go out with a honk, if not a bang!
As we got back to the dock, we got congratulated by Jim Johnstone and had our picture taken (with carrot) for the newsletter. The awards ceremony was far more crowded than any other night. We had a raft of trophies to collect since we had forgotten that the daily trophies were per race not for the day, and we had a 3rd place to collect from Monday, and the second race of Thursday was not awarded that night due to protests. That made four trophies for the daily races plus the overall trophy! It was not to be so, however. The first problem came when the race organizers dropped the large glass pitcher we were to receive for the first place on Friday. We were relieved we didn't have to carry it back home and risk breaking it ourselves, but we got no picture of it either. The second shock was that the overall trophy is awarded in November at some yacht club function! We didn't even get to see what it looked like! They assured us that they would send along a replacement for the broken one and would send the overall trophy if we could not attend the November dinner. We'll see...
At least we got a picture of most of the loot we collected...
Now We have a hurdle to overcome! Every time we've been to Block Island, we've won! How can we go back?