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Sea Sure 2020 - LEADERBOARD

An interview with Pat Kennedy on the 2021 Ida Lewis Distance Race

by David Schmidt 18 Aug 2021 08:00 PDT August 20-21, 2021
Action on the water at the 2020 Ida Lewis Distance Race © Stephen R. Cloutier

Mid-to-late August can be a great time for distance racing on New England waters. The days are still long - ebbing yes, but still generous- and while heat can be a factor, there's always the chance that a passing front (or hurricane) will deliver the goods: great breeze, surfing-friendly seas, and clear nighttime skies. At least the latter (hurricane included) was my memorable experience during the 2009 Ida Lewis Distance. And while I'm sure a lot has changed in the intervening years, plenty of great things remain the same for the fleet of racers who be contesting this year's Ida Lewis Distance Race (August 20-21), which is being hosted by its namesake Ida Lewis Yacht Club and contested on the historic waters of Narraganset Bay and Block Island Sound.

The race is open to boats 28-feet and larger, and owners interested in racing PHRF must have a boat that rates 128 or lower (N.B., the other option is ORC). Divisions exist for fully crewed teams, and there is also a doublehanded division, a mixed-gender two-person division, and youth challenge entries.

I checked in with Pat Kennedy, who serves as race chair of the Ida Lewis Distance, via email, to learn more about this exciting distance race.

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

As of today, we are ahead of a normal year, with over 30 entries with almost two months to go.

Last year was a record for us as we were one of the first events to run during Covid. Last year we added an option of an In-Bay (inshore) middle-distance race of 33 miles; this was so we could meet the social distance guidelines, as directed by the state of Rhode Island. Based on the success of last year, we have kept that additional format this year as an option to the traditional Offshore distance race.

We anticipate another big year for the ILDR.

Can you please describe the culture of the Ida Lewis Distance Race to sailors and readers who have not yet had the chance to participate?

The event is for both hard-core offshore teams and those who want to enjoy a more laid-back experience and sail a great overnight race starting and finishing in Newport.

The Ofshore race is not too long but not too short, so it's a great chance for sailors to try their hand at overnight sailing for the first time. We have had the best of the best race with local guns and families with friends - a great mix with a great awards program when it is done...and every team - no matter what the time of their arrival - is met with a bottle of champagne at the finish line (or in the case of junior teams, a bottle of sparkling cider).

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on Block Island Sound in mid-to-late August? Also, what are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

The Offshore race is sailed on Block Island Sound and this is New England, so we have seen it all. More often than not, it's a fresh breeze to get started in Narragansett Bay and then the famous southwesterly of Block Island Sound that holds on most of the night, then a light-to-mid-level breeze to finish on Saturday morning.

The best descriptions are of overnight in fresh breezes under the moonlight, but there have been cases of stormy weather. The Race Committee pre-determines the course (one of four choices, ranging from 112 to 169 nautical miles) based on the weather forecast, so that's a plus.

Can you please compare/contrast the challenges that sailors can expect on the four different offshore racecourses (Montauk, Block Island, Point Judith, Buzzards Bay Tower)? What about the two courses (Narragansett Bay Clockwise Course and the Narragansett Bay Counterclockwise Course) for the in-Bay classes? Finally, which course do you think will be the most popular with racers and why?

The overall goal in the Offshore race is to get everyone back in a reasonable time; the course is selected for the classes to have a great challenge but to not get stuck for an extended time.

So far, we have managed this very well over the years. It sets up for the four offshore courses to have a good beat and run from Buzzards Bay to Montauk and back with some reaches to add to the fun.

We have found the 150-mile course is used more often to match conditions.

For the In-Bay race, the fun of it is that it is not like any other day race sailed on the Bay; it's not around buoys but starts off Fort Adams and heads north around Conanicut and Prudence Islands. Whether clockwise or counter-clockwise (determined by the Race Committee) it provides a tactical challenge that is different from your average race here.

In fact, the Offshore race is known for its tactical challenges, so it fits well that the In-Bay race is similar in that respect.

It's pretty cool to see an established event like the Ida Lewis Distance Race embrace newer style divisions such as Double-Handed, Mixed-Gender Two Person Offshore and the Youth and Collegiate Challenge. How long have these divisions been part of the Ida Lewis Distance Race, and how popular are they with racers? Finally, how have these divisions impacted the race's culture and the composition of its different starting lines?

Pretty much from the start, we made an effort to engage the youth and collegiate sailors, so we get several of these teams each year despite it being late in the summer and sometimes conflicting with the beginning of school years.

The double-handed classes have become more popular as we've seen steady growth in that discipline, and last year we added the mixed-gender doublehanded class in a nod to that [event potentially] being included in the [2024] Olympics, and there was great take up on that as well.

I think adapting to what the sailors are asking for is what has made our culture what it is, and we look forward to that continuing.

As a follow-on to questions 4 and 5, what classes/divisions have seen the most growth in recent years? Also, why do you think is fueling this growth?

When the Olympic Committee indicated there [might] be a mixed double-handed event for the Olympics in France we saw a nice bump with some great sailors. That said, we have seen the friends and family crews really become the core.

The big-time race programs will join us when the larger schedule brings them to Newport, but it is the cruiser/racer that remains our backbone.

What's the story with multi-hulls and the Ida Lewis Distance Race? Are multi-hulls eligible to compete? If so, do they have a big history with the event? If not, why doesn't the Ida Lewis Distance Race invite these sailors and crews to participate?

This is really based on interest. We can't allow an M32 to go offshore but a class of, say, Gunboats would be welcomed.

Big multihulls present a challenge to the RC as far as safety. Sailing faster on wide platforms can present situations, especially at the start, that need to be carefully managed with smaller and slower monohulls.

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 have been a Clean Regatta for several years following the "Sailors for the Sea" certification program, and Ida Lewis Yacht Club itself incorporates best practices for being environmentally friendly... water-bottle filling stations, recycling of all trash, etc.

We are a small yacht club on a rock, with a relatively small footprint. The Offshore race takes only a start boat to get things under way; the finish line is sighted from the deck of the club, so we have lots of volunteers making that all happen.

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