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26 June 2001, 04:45 pm
Light and Fickle Winds a Challenge
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Barking Mad photo:Tim Wilkes

Block Island Race Week

Character-building sums up the first day of racing at the Storm Trysail Club’s 19th Biennial Regatta at Block Island.
Grey foggy skies cleared with the overnight passage of a weak frontal system. The 214 ocean racers competing were left to battle each other and the tricky tides of Block Island Sound in a light 5 to 10-knot southwesterly breeze under clear blue skies.

Choosing the left side of the course proved to be the winning recipe for many of the 19 classes spread over three courses off Block Island. But a fickle breeze that was slow in building to sailable strength, and which tailed off as the day wore on, proved fatal for some early leaders. Channels of current and tidal eddies boosted some to victory and spelled doom for others.

Local knowledge proved to be of small advantage, as visiting boats from Japan, Chile and England each made it into the top three places of their respective classes.

In the IMS Big Boat Class, sailmaker Steve Benjamin steered Bob Towse's Reichel/Pugh custom 66-footer Blue Yankee from Stamford, CT into good position in the middle of the line, at the start With more wind off the water, and a significant amount of wind sheer, the conditions favored the bigger boats early and then later as the wind softened.

"The boat has never gone better in light air," said Towse, who navigated for Benjamin. "These were marginal conditions for racing but the race committee work was fantastic and they delivered fair and fun competition for everyone out there today." The success of big boats in the light conditions was repeated in the PHRF Big Boat Class where Richard Breeden's custom Reichel/Pugh 73 Bright Star from Greenwich, CT, prevailed over George Collins, Farr 52 Chessie Racing from Gibson Island, MD. "We were very fortunate," Breeden acknowledged. "We caught a couple of good shifts and these were really our conditions. We are very fast in light air and flat water. However we had to scrap every inch of the way.

The IMS 40-foot Class produced its customary intense competition where Steven Loeb's Tripp 43 Sirena from New York, N Y, took first place with fellow New Yorker Robert Siegel's Farr 43 Pax NZL finishing in second place.

In the highly competitive Farr 40 Class, going early to the right hand side of the course paid off on the first leg and Eric Moog's Canadian entry Dynamo, from Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario led the pack to the weather mark beat. Choices were split on the second leg and as the breeze faltered, Jim Richardson's Barking Mad which had gone left to the southern side of the course was able to take the lead and protect it to the finish. Places switched rapidly behind the Newport boat in the changeable breeze and Takashi Okura's Japanese entry Sled pulled up into second place and held it to the finish.

Tidelines that defied tactical logic played a big part in the J/35 race on the White Fleet course. The US Merchant Marine Academy boat Gunsmoke hooked into a roaring countercurrent on the last weather leg to pass the early leader Steamboat and virtually steal the race. Baboon found the same favorable stream to finish second after rounding the leeward mark a distance fourth. Steamboat which at one point in the race had led by nearly a mile was trapped on the wrong side of the eddy and fell back to third. North American champion Sag Sagerholm's Aunt Jean led the class off the starting line but found the adverse current on the last leg and finished fourth.
Block Island Race Week Press
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