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Block Island Race Week promises an influx of new talent

by Barby MacGowan on 15 Mar 2011
David Tortorello of Fairfield, Conn. steers the J/122 Partnership - Block Island Race Week © Rolex / Dan Nerney
Storm Trysail Club’s (STC) 24th biennial Block Island Race Week is presented by Rolex is scheduled from Monday through Saturday, June 20-24.

Spring fever is sweeping the sailing world and competitive sailors have every reason to sign up early for the regatta, which promises an influx of new talent, since it serves as both the 2011 IRC East Coast Championship (held for the previous six years in Annapolis, Md.) and the J/122 National Championship. The event also will feature the debut of a new J/111 class and has eliminated former PHRF restrictions that will open up the event to more sailors.


'It’s one of the last true traditional race weeks in the country, with five days of racing in both handicap and one-design classes,' said On-Water Chairman Dick Neville, who is predicting running two or three racing circles with around-the-buoys IRC, PHRF and one-design courses and separate navigator-type courses for cruising classes, which will welcome double-handed and classic yachts.

'We encourage sailors to get on the roster early, so that it’s clear to others how the competition will shape up,' he added, citing a 10% discount for an early entry deadline of March 31st and a final deadline of June 1st. 'After all, Block Island Race Week is one of the most significant events on the Eastern seaboard this summer, and there are boats from all over the country that come here for the exceptional competition the event is known for.'

Boats will be competing for individual class trophies daily and Rolex watches as overall prizes for top performances on each of the racing circles. A traditional around-the-island distance race will also be included, with a Rolex watch to be awarded to the top IRC boat.

'Block Island Race Week is an ideal five days of racing, especially when you can compete in the around-the-island race in conjunction with buoy racing--you don’t often have a combination like that,' said Event Chair and Storm Trysail Club Vice Commodore Nick Langone. He added that the event also is unique because of its long history, strong racing tradition, consistent winds and high level of competition. 'Block Island Race Week is considered a must-do event on the East Coast. It’s overall good fun with a great group of people. Although I am partial, the Storm Trysail Club has a reputation for quality race management, and the sailors expect that. Not once in my 15 years of being involved have I seen or heard of a competitor leaving disappointed.'

This year, race officials are projecting approximately 150 boats and 1500 sailors.

The IRC East Coast Championship has already drawn over 15 boats, including four IRC 52s, which will ensure some tight class (IRC 1) racing. Expected to bring in a fifth 52 footer is Peter Cunningham of the Cayman Islands. He has been sailing the Farr 60 Venomous (formerly Rima) in the islands with his crew while searching for an IRC 50 footer to own.

Newport, R.I.’s Tony Rey, a three-time America’s Cup veteran, is in charge of the effort, which is called Powerplay Racing, after the names of Cunningham’s previously owned boats. 'We have a team, a budget, a logo--all we need now is a boat,' said Rey.

As for the new Ker 43 Ptarmigan owned by Larry Dickie (Greenwich, Conn.), Block Island Race Week and the concurrent IRC East Coast Championship will serve as its first major regatta.

'The IRC entry list is already looking competitive and we look forward to participating,' said Project Manager Chad Corning (New Rochelle, N.Y.), adding that Ptarmigan is currently being shipped from New Zealand for the start of the 2011 season. 'This is the fifth boat that we’ve had in the last 20 years, and traditionally we compete only in distance races, but we’ve always wanted to do Block Island. With the IRC East Coast Championship being included this year, it worked in our favor.'

The J/105 class, which is known for holding the longest one-design participation record in the history of the regatta, has always had a strong fleet and already six boats, out of an expected 24 or more, have signed up. 'There has been J/105 class racing at Block Island since 1996, and we have been there every year,' said Nelson Weiderman (Wickford, R.I.), owner of the J/105 Kima. 'It is a family vacation for us, and I’m hoping to have my daughter and two sons join us with their children. The family thing is big for me, and a week-long event is highly unusual, so there will be beach time for all who do not race.'

Weiderman, who sailed Kima to victory in the 2010 New England Solo/Twin, said he isn’t necessarily expecting to win at Block Island the year. 'Our best year at Block Island was when we came in second (1998),' said Weiderman. 'Coming in top half would be great, but having fun is of primary importance.'

Unlike the veteran J/105 class, the J/111 class will be testing out Block Island Race Week waters for the first time in history. 'There won’t be too many boats at Block Island, since it is the first regatta for the class and only around sixty hulls have been sold,' said David Tortorello (Fairfield, Conn.), owner of the J/111 Partnership. 'We sold our J/122 of three years and are waiting on the new Partnership, which is still in the box.'

Tortorello is no stranger to the regatta and has participated for many years, including in 2007 and 2009 aboard the J/122 Partnership 'I have no idea what we’re in for this year,' said Tortorello. 'The J/111 is rated pretty well and is said to be much lighter and faster downwind, but upwind will be the question. We’ll have to wait and find out in Block Island.'

Regardless, Tortorello is looking forward to the event. 'It is more fun than you’ll ever have. The whole group is one big happy family, and Block Island is the best venue around here.'

Up until the first starting gun fires on June 20, much preparation will be taking place to ensure that the regatta is as successful as it has been in previous years and that sailors can congregate on the quaint island for a full-week of rich competition, camaraderie and scenery.

Racing headquarters for the 2011 Block Island Race Week presented by Rolex will be located at The Oar Restaurant, while evening festivities and award ceremonies will be held in the event tent. A Rolex watch will be raffled off at the end of the event to benefit the Block Island Rescue Squad, Block Island Maritime Institute and the Early Learning Center.

Compliments of Rolex, daily video shows of each day’s racing will be produced by Annapolis-based T2Productions and will be broadcasted on-line each night by 9pm. The videos will be shown daily under the 'Big Top' tent where all of Race Week’s sponsors will have a presence. Current Sponsors are Rolex, Sailing World, UKHalsey Sailmakers, Bitter End Yacht Club, Hall Spars, Caithness Energy, Gowrie Group, Gill, Mount Gay, WindCheck and Vineyard Vines.

www.blockislandraceweek.com
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