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An interview with Ray Redniss on the 2020 Vineyard Race

by David Schmidt 1 Sep 2020 08:00 PDT September 4-6, 2020
2019 Vineyard Race © Rick Bannerot /

Distance races come in all lengths and difficulty levels, but for East Coast sailors, few coastal-racing opportunities are as downright classic as the Stamford Yacht Club’s annual Vineyard Race, which starts on Friday, September 4. This 238-nautical-mile challenge has been run since 1932 and takes yachts down the length of Long Island Sound—from a starting line just off of Shippan Point—and into Block Island Sound. Racers round the Buzzards Bay Light Tower to starboard and then haul the mail back to round Block Island to starboard and then on to the finishing line, which is also situated off of Stamford’s Shippan Point. Vessel depending, this race typically involves two nights of racing, however the current record, which was set by FUJIN, a Paul Bieker-designed 53-foot catamaran in 2017, stands at just 15 hours, six minutes, and 50 seconds.

While this time might sound blisteringly fast (and it is), the 2020 Vineyard Race will see some seriously fast company on its starting line, including Jason Carroll’s MOD70 trimaran, Argo, which is likely the fastest multihull to have ever sailed this storied course.

A glance at the scratch sheet for this year’s Vineyard Race also includes a Class 40, a Pac 52, an Andrews 70, a Tripp/Marten 72—all fast monohulls that, if given the right conditions, could threaten the standing record for monohulls (currently 17 hours, 42 minutes, and nine seconds, which was also set in 2017 by Warrior [née CAMPER] a Volvo Open 70).

More importantly, for a sailing community that has worked hard to create sailing events that comply with pandemic rules and are safe for all participants, it’s also a great opportunity to get out on the water and enjoy one of the country’s best racecourses.

I checked in with Ray Redniss, principal race officer of the 2020 Vineyard Race, via email, to learn more about this year’s edition of this classic New England sailboat race.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, how do these stack up to previous editions of the Vineyard Race?

We’re running about 15% down from this time last year. We [currently] have [94] entries.

Looking at the entry list, what classes do you expect to be the most competitive this year? Also, what makes these classes hot?

It’s a little hard to tell right now because many of the boats racing ORC have not received certificates yet. The PHRF doublehanded entries are way up, as you might expect, and there are many entries in the 18-to-33[-foot] range and [a few in] the 60-to-72[-foot] range.

What kinds of logistical problems—if any—have you and the other event organizers encountered this year in light of the pandemic?

The biggest issue early in the year was the limitation of numbers on boats and the restriction that it all be “in the family.” As those restrictions began to ease, the next problem was—and is—the inability to have large gatherings. [This] makes the social aspect of events virtually non-existent.

Do you have any insider tips that you’d like to share with first-time racers?

Sure! Get yourselves as familiar with safety-at-sea procedures as possible. With the unfortunate canceling of hands-on courses, the best sources are the online videos available through the Storm Trysail Club and US Sailing.

With that goes knowing how to navigate in unfamiliar waters, and reading and understanding the race documents!!

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on Long Island Sound, Block Island Sound and Vineyard Sound in early September?

Now there’s a good question for which there is no right answer! I have seen every kind of condition…flat calm to roiling seas, high winds, and driving rain. There are many good weather apps and services. Arm yourself with a few of them, listen to the NOAA reports, and keep an eye on the sky.

What kinds of safe-play pandemic tactics are you expecting from the racers on the water? Are we talking about standard-issue things like face masks and hand sanitizer, or will crews also be expected to self-quarantine ahead of the race? Also, do you expect that this will be a highly competitive event, or—given the pandemic—is the spirit of this year’s Vineyard Race more about getting out on the water for some friendly racing?

I expect to see differences from boat to boat in approaches to the health situation. Obviously, there has been an increase in short-handed sailing, and—in the events in which I have been involved this season—I have seen crews fully masked, some at 50-50, and other crews with no masks at all.

You put two sailboats in the same area at the same time and you have competition! The Vineyard Race is always competitive, but this year I do expect some entries are more interested in getting out sailing with their friends.

Are you seeing more entries that are being crewed by family members or members f the same household this year, given the pandemic?

That’s a little hard to say right now. I’d know a lot more if all the entries filled out their required crew lists!

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta’s environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

For the Vineyard Race we have very few running craft on the water. We have a signal vessel, a photographer on a center console, and, if we expect spectators in large numbers, we’ll have a boat to keep them out of the way of the racers.

Same thing is true of the [SYC’s] Storm Trysail Block Island Race, which I chair but could not run this year.

At Block Island Race Week, we make significant efforts to “green-up” the regatta. Using water stations and re-useable bottles makes the most impact. Last year we distributed 1,500 water bottles, saving the use of single-use plastic bottles. I think all major regattas are making great progress in their efforts to be deemed “clean regattas”.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

As you might imagine, this has been a very difficult season for [organizing authority (OA)] and race management decisions. Everyone is super conscious of the current health risks and work hard to minimize unnecessary exposure.

There are critics on both sides always ready to comment. I believe that the OA, with whom I have been involved, have done an excellent job of balancing safety and activity. Races are being conducted, but awards gatherings are not. Sure, there is a lot missing without the ability to get together with hundreds of fellow sailors. But at the same time, providing the opportunity to get out on the water is still rewarding.

Whether or not you participate, wear masks, socially distance, or not, remains the decision and responsibility of each competitor.

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