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An interview with Patrick Kennedy about the Ida Lewis Distance Race

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 14 Aug 2017
Historic Ida Lewis Yacht Club in Newport, R.I. hosts the Ida Lewis Distance Race each August Meghan Sepe
In 2009, while I was working as SAIL Magazine’s senior editor, I was invited to sail with Tom Hill and his all-star crew aboard Titan XV, Hill's 75-foot Reichel/Pugh-designed maxi yacht, for the Ida Lewis Distance Race (ILDR), an annual event that’s run out of Newport, Rhode Island and hosted by the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. I joined the crew for a practice day on Narragansett Bay that involved moderate air (maybe 10-12 knots) and an opportunity to get a feel for the powerful boat and see first hand how her incredibly capable crew, which included the late, great Jim Allsopp, Peter Isler, Artie Means, Scotty Bradford, Rome Kirby and plenty of other highly skilled sailors, coaxed extra speed out of this capable steed.

While the dust of time has settled on this memory, I recall Bradford, the boat’s captain, describing that we were likely in for some weather during the ILDR, compliments of Hurricane Bill, which was rapidly advancing on the Ocean State. The good news was that it would likely be a short race; the less than ideal news was that it could be the sort of “short race” (it was a 150 nautical mile course) that rattles fillings loose and thoroughly tests the seals on each piece of foul-weather gear.


The breeze rapidly freshened after we left the starting line area and charged out of Narragansett Bay into Block Island Sound into a gathering headwind, quickly leaving most of our competition astern, except for George David’s always well-sailed 90-foot Rambler. The beat carried us some 30 nautical miles to a buoy off of Montauk in 18-25 knots of air and six-to-eight foot seas, giving us a powerful isometric workout that quickly translated into one hell of an off-the-breeze ride, first to Noman’s Land, then on to the Buzzard’s Bay Tower, where we entered a gybe while sailing at 22 knots through the water.

Titan XV’s ace crew nailed the gybe, and we settled in for a long beat back to Narragansett Bay that was punctuated by one of the most intense meteor sightings that I have ever witnessed offshore, as well as by the flickering hope that we might establish a new course record.

All was looking good for a new established passage time for this area classic until we re-entered Narragansett Bay, where the wind machine promptly shut off, leaving us to drift our way across the finishing line, nailing line honors but missing a new performance benchmark. Still, our passage time of 13 hours and 42 minutes wasn’t bad, especially considering the fact that we sat and floated in Narragansett Bay for (I believe) something like two hours at the end of the race.

While Titan XV sadly perished in a fire at Antigua Race Week in 2011, the ILDR, now in it’s 13th year, is still in full swing, with this year’s race set to unfurl the weekend of August 18-20. I caught up with Patrick Kennedy, chair of the 2017 ILDR, via email to learn more about the race’s history and evolution, its challenges, and the event’s new partnership with the 2017 J/Fest New England.

Can you give me an idea how the Ida Lewis Distance Race has grown and evolved since its first running in 2004?
The Ida Lewis Distance Race was inaugurated in 2004 as a biennial event; however, by 2006 its impending popularity was clear, and it became an annual race that same year.

Now in its 13th edition, the race is a qualifier for the New England Lighthouse Series (PHRF), the Northern and Double-Handed Ocean Racing Trophies (IRC) and has Youth and Collegiate Challenges that encourage the next generation of sailors to try distance racing on for size.

We are particularly proud of families, young adults and college students who compete in our race; it fits our culture at Ida Lewis Yacht Club.

Can you tell me about the ILDR’s partnership with J/Fest New England this year?
A total of ten J/Boats are sailing in the event after Ida Lewis organizers reached out to organizers and participants competing in J/Fest New England, which precedes the distance race on Aug. 11-13.

It was a symbiotic thing: as a J/Boat sailor you could do their event and our event back-to-back. It’s a perfect opportunity for sailors to enjoy two extraordinary on-the-water experiences during the same time frame.

We always have J/Boats, but this is more than we’ve had in past, so coordination with J/Fest organizers worked well.

I understand that the course shifts around each year based on conditions (at least, I believe it did when I sailed the event in 2009…right before a hurricane rolled through!), but what are the different target course lengths for the ILDR?
There are four courses, ranging from 107 to 169 nautical miles in length. We choose the best one according to the conditions that will give our competitors the most enjoyable and competitive experience on Rhode Island and Block Island Sounds.

After careful consideration, the new Buzzards Bay Tower Course will be a short course option for the ILDR Race Committee this year. We changed the Buzzards Bay Tower Course-Course 4, 112 miles-due to a missing government mark at the mouth of the Sakonnet River.

Sailors like that we have a variety of courses from which to choose based on the weather.

If you could offer a single piece of advise to first-time ILDR competitors, what would it be?
Get ready to have a blast, try to get your family and new sailors involved, whatever their age.

What about any sage counsel for returning race veterans?
Get ready to have a blast.

Does the ILDR restrict multihulls or boats that use foils? For example, could someone enter a foiling GC32 catamaran or a Gunboat G4 in the ILDR? What about a monohull with a canting keel or a DSS-style foil?
With regards to multihulls, as long as they meet our safety requirements, have a LOA of 24 feet or greater and have a current New England Multi-Hull Association handicap rating, they are eligible to enter the ILDR.

We have never had a request from a canting keel or foil-equipped boat. If we did, they would first need to fulfill the safety requirements as listed in the NOR, and then we would have to consider if it would be appropriate for them to sail as part of one of the existing classes (PHRF or IRC), or if we should instead or set up a new class.

How are your entry numbers looking this year compared to previous editions of the ILDR? Are you seeing growth or a sustainable plateau?
More teams have signed up earlier, and we’re already at 40 boats so I think we’ll have some latecomers to get us to between 45 and 50 boats.

The race has earned a spot on everyone’s calendar and has reached a very sustainable plateau with a nice family of sponsors who return every year.

Has the event taken any steps to become a better environmental steward? If so, can you tell me about these initiatives?
We have reached Silver level with Sailors for the Sea, and we are working on reaching a higher level.

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