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An interview with Jim Praley on the 2021 Annapolis to Newport Race

by David Schmidt 3 Jun 2021 08:00 PDT June 4-8, 2021
Annapolis to Newport Race 2019 © Event Media

The East Coast is home to many classic distance races, however few have historical roots that reach as far astern as the Annapolis to Newport Race. The race began in 1871 as a competition that stretched from New Jersey's Sandy Hook to Cape May (also in the Garden State), and it continued to evolve in various forms, but it wasn't until 1947 that the race's current 473 nautical mile course was first contested. Today, the Annapolis to Newport Race unfurls on odd-numbered years, which allows it to nicely alternate with the Newport Bermuda Race. This year marks the 38th edition of the modern Annapolis to Newport Race, and it's set to begin on Friday, June 4, on the waters of the Severn River just off of Annapolis, Maryland.

The 2021 edition will see two starts, with Fleet Two and the ORC doublehanded boats starting on June 4, and the faster boats in Fleet One starting on Saturday, June 5.

After the start, the fleets will sail south down the Chesapeake Bay, exiting these storied waters via the Chesapeake Channel. From there, boats will pass the Chesapeake Light Tower to port before swinging their bows north and punching it for the finishing line off of Rhode Island's Newport Neck.

Impressively, the 2021 fleet includes (as of this writing) 85 boats, ranging in size from a tidy J/33 to a classic Sparkman & Stephens 60. While this fleet isn't big enough to top the race's high-tide line of 93 boats (1965), competition levels should be plenty stiff, given the number of boats of similar ilk (for example, the 2021 fleet includes five Farr 40s, five J/120s, three J/44s, and two XP44s, amongst many other well-matched steeds).

The current scratch sheet doesn't list any players who are likely to usurp the course record of 40 hours, 14 minutes and 36 seconds, which was set by Stephen Murray's Volvo 70 Warrior in 2017, but you can bet your last roll of duct tape that all crews that cross the event's two starting lines will be pushing their boats as hard as possible en route to Narragansett Bay.

I checked in with Jim Praley, event chair of the 2021 Annapolis to Newport Race, via email, to learn more about this classic East Coast distance race.

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

As of this morning (5/18/2021) we have 85 entries, which surpasses our total for the last several races. We anticipate that some entries may not make it to the starting line, but it will likely still be a healthy number of staters.

Can you tell us about any particularly interesting (or historic) entries? Also, are there any boats that you're eyeing for line honors or correct-time wins?

Clearly, Running Tide, the 1969 vintage Sparkman & Stephens design (60') is the most historic boat in the Race. She has won the Newport to Bermuda Race, the 1971 Southern Ocean Racing Conference and the Annapolis to Newport Race - all in the 1970s. The Annapolis Yacht Club honors her as one of five iconic yachts owned by AYC members over the years.

After being bought back by the Van Metre family, who owned here during her competitive heyday, she just completed a three-year re-fit at Safe Harbor New England Boatworks and owner Beau Van Metre has invited friends and former crew along for the race.

For the first time we have six ORC classes including a Double Handed class and two subclasses, Farr 40s and J/120s who will be scored within their racing class but also are up for trophies within their subdivision.

Prospector, a Mills 68-footer owned by Shelter Island Transatlantic Partners, is the early favorite to capture line honors. Privateer, a Cookson 50 skippered by New York Yacht Club member Ron O'Hanley, will certainly challenge to be first-to-finish.

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

We first had to decide whether we could pull off a race during the pandemic-remember, that decision was made months before the start during the height of the summer surge of Covid-19.

We decided that we could safely pull off a race if we gave enough thought to safety protocols, but that it likely may not include any social events so we lowered the entry fee accordingly.

We're also reducing the number of Annapolis volunteers we are taking to Newport for the finish. We'll be relying more on our partners from Ida Lewis Yacht Club and the Storm Trysail Club Newport Station to help man the finish line and welcome finishers.

When you consider the race's 473-nautical mile course, what are its different "chapters" and what are the key challenges of each chapter?

The A2N Race (as it is known) has also been described as four separate races in one: The first race is from the Annapolis start, outside the Severn River, to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Roughly 120 miles, it is often a beat where local knowledge of the Chesapeake Bay can be a big help. This leg will also give you an appreciation for just how big Chesapeake Bay is.

From the Bridge Tunnel to the Chesapeake Tower. A short drag race usually with plenty of current. This race has sometimes been won with an anchor.

From the Chesapeake Tower to Block Island and, consisting of 300 miles of ocean sailing with all the pleasures (and pains) that come with being offshore. Lots of sea life and if you're lucky, you'll have a 15 to 20 knot southerly and carry a chute most of the way home.

From Block Island or Montauk to Newport. The rhumb line from the Chesapeake Tower just about bisects Block Island so there is a decision to make. As you approach this part of the course, you also approach the eastern end of Long Island and Montauk Point. There is always the consideration of leaving Block Island to starboard and sailing into Block Island Sound to play the currents. It is often done to advantage but it's not a good place to run out of wind and if you hit the currents wrong it may take you a while to escape.

Do you have any insider tips that you'd like to share with first-time racers? What about returning racecourse veterans?

On the Chesapeake Bay current and tide can be everything. Digging into the shallows along the shorelines to avoid an adverse current can make a big difference in how quickly you get out of the Bay.

Then as you leave the Bay have the anchor ready - if you ghost through the Bridge-Tunnel at dawn you may be waiting a while for the breeze to fill back in.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter en route from Annapolis to Newport in early June?

The prevailing wind at that time of year is south to southwest making the leg down Chesapeake Bay a beat.

After the short reach out to the Chesapeake Tower, you are generally looking at a long spinnaker leg which starts as a reach and ends up as a run into Newport. The weather in the Chesapeake is warm but things cool off nicely once you're out in the ocean.

As you work your way north and east, the temperature continues to drop with the water temperature. That said, the second most frequent wind pattern is from the Northeast quadrant, as it was in 2019- making for a quick spinnaker run down the Bay, followed by a hard (and wet) beat to Newport.

Given that the race will unfurl in June, which is a time when the Biden Administration forecasts that there will be enough C19 vaccines for all Americans who want it, what kind of pre- and post-racing social events do you and the other organizers have planned for this year's race? Or, is the plan to keep things low-key in terms of large assembled groups?

The good news is that since we initially decided to move forward with the race, restrictions are loosening up in Rhode Island so the [race] committee and [the] AYC staff are going through the steps to organize an awards presentation.

Our general plan was that we would consider an in-person awards party if public health conditions improve significantly. The A2N Competitors Kick Off party held at Annapolis Yacht Club traditionally on the Thursday evening before the first start will not be held at this time. Restrictions in Maryland have been loosened but as many of those guidelines were only recently updated and crews having planned their travel to Annapolis based on their race departure date and not a social event, we've decided to concentrate on a function in Newport.

The Kick Off party is a highlight of Annapolis to Newport Race competitors overall experience as it is an amazing sendoff, but it will be back on the calendar in 2023.

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?

We will have fewer race committee boats on the course and are encouraging contestants to recycle.

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

Obviously, this has been a challenging event to plan since event because during the planning process we had no firm idea what state the world will be in on June 4th and 5th when we start. We have been encouraged by the number of entrants, who seem excited above getting out on the race course after sitting out most of 2020. Really, two sides of the same coin.

[The] Annapolis Yacht Club is proud to announce that Safe Harbor Marinas will serve as Official Marine Services Partner for the 2021, 2023 and 2025 editions of Annapolis-to-Newport. "We are pleased to welcome Safe Harbor Marinas as the Official Marine Services Partner of the Annapolis to Newport Race," Praley said. "Safe Harbor's service facilities are located throughout the United States and are renowned for bringing their technical excellence to any task - ranging from simple oil changes to major refits of signature yachts," [he] added. "I'm a satisfied customer of Safe Harbor and can recommend them to anyone who needs service or repair work."

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