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Selden 2020 - LEADERBOARD

An interview with James Keen on the 2021 Screwpile Lighthouse Challenge

by David Schmidt 23 Sep 08:00 PDT September 26-27, 2021
Velocity, Mary Roesch's J/111, was the overall winner of the 2020 Screwpile Lighthouse Challenge © Image courtesy of Will Keyworth

In the 1830s, an Irish engineer named Alexander Mitchell designed the first "screw-pile" style lighthouse, which was installed at the mouth of the Thames River in the United Kingdom, and which was known as the Maplin Sands Lighthouse. As the moniker of the design implies, Maplin Sands Lighthouse was essentially a lighthouse built atop stands that were screwed into the soft-bottomed river. The invention worked and was soon exported to the USA, where a series of screwpile lighthouses were installed in the Chesapeake Bay and also on North Carolina's various waterways.

While designs differed by location, a "classic" screwpile lighthouse featured a hexagonal-shaped house that was capped by a cupola light room.

Of the different screwpile lighthouses that were built on the Chesapeake, only one—Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse—remains in its original location. While the others are now in museums or otherwise lost to history, Thomas Point Lighthouse (established 1875), which entered the U.S. National Park Service's National Register of Historical Places in 1975, still protects mariners from grounding on Thomas Point Shoal.

For racing sailors, Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, along with the Drum Point Lighthouse, the latter of which was relocated to the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland, in 1975, are symbols of the annual Screwpile Lighthouse Challenge (September 26-27, 2021; AKA "the Screwpile Regatta"), which is sponsored by the Southern Maryland Sailing Association.

The Screwpile Lighthouse Challenge consists of two days of windward-leeward tussling for the racing classes, as well as middle-distance races on each day for the cruising class. The 29th running of this now-classic event is open to monohulls larger than 22 feet (LOA) that are racing under ORC, PHRF, CRCA handicap rules, and to Melges 24, J/111, J/105, J/35, and J/70 One Design classes.

I checked in with James Keen, chairman of the 2021 Screwpile Lighthouse Challenge, via email, to learn more about this exciting Chesapeake Bay regatta.

Can you tell us about the regatta's history and culture?

The Screwpile Lighthouse Regatta morphed out of what used to be Audi/Yachting Race Week in 1992. This year will be our 29th running of the Screwpile Regatta.

The Screwpile Regatta has been a Chesapeake Bay racers' favorite for many years. The awards parties at Zahniser's Marina in Solomons were (and still are) famous for their live bands, Mount Gay rum punch (and red hats), and huge crowds of partying sailors.

Due to the size of the parties, the Screwpile Regatta's headquarters and awards were moved to a nearby Holiday Inn in 2011.

With a smaller footprint, we moved back to Zahniser's Marina this year.

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

Over the last 10 years, regatta participation across the Bay has slowly declined. The Screwpile Regatta had 154 boats in 2005. Last year, in part due to Covid and no parties, we only had 33 boats.

After last year's truncated racing season due to Covid, we are seeing a pent-up desire among race crews to get back out on the racecourse and compete and party with their crews and competitors. We think we are going to have break-out participation this year, and early registrations reflect that.

What kinds of competitors does this regatta tend to attract? Are we talking about polished and serious racers, or is this more orientated towards family-based crews?

The Screwpile Regatta has always attracted a wide mix of racers...everyone from casual family teams, serious race crews that have been together years, and hard-core semi-professional crews with sailmakers aboard.

Our ORC class this year so far has entries that include a Carkeek 40, a Soto 40, three J/111s, a Mumm 36, a J/109, and two Melges 32s.

We also welcome a Cruiser class that is represented by boats that are members of the Chesapeake Racer Cruiser Association.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay in late-September? Also, what are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

One of the reasons we moved the Screwpile Regatta's dates last year, from the traditional dates in late July, is that we often heard complaints about the heat and lack of wind in mid-summer.

In truth, we often had great wind and moderate temperatures in July. Summer weather on the Chesapeake is very unpredictable. In 2018, we raced all three days in rain and winds of 20-30 knots.

Moving the Screwpile Regatta to late September, we are expecting better prospect for good wind and certainly more moderate temperatures. Even at that, last year our two-day regatta experienced no wind on one of the two days.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) teams, what would it be?

Don't miss the Screwpile Regatta! And, enjoy your stay in beautiful Solomons.

What kinds of course shapes will the regatta employ?

The ORC, One Design, and PHRF classes will race windward/leeward course, mostly four legs of 1-1.5 miles depending on the wind.

The Cruisers will race on a fixed course with government marks and have windward, downwind, and reaching legs.

In the ideal world, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score per day and for the entire regatta?

We hope to score three races per day for the ORC, One Design, and PHRF classes, and one long race each day for the Cruisers.

I know that it's still early days, but are your eying any perennial favorites for strong finishes? What about any dark horses?

So far in this year's ORC class, we have essentially the same group of boats that were in the A0/A1 PHRF class last year. We had some very competitive racing in that class, and expect to see the same this year.

Three J/111s took top honors last year and all three are again coming back and will use the Screwpile Regatta as a warm-up for the J/111 Worlds in Hampton, Virginia, a month later.

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

Just want to give a shout out to our wonderful volunteers and sponsors. Of course, we could not put on a big-time regatta like the Screwpile Regatta without both.

Most of our volunteers, both on-the-water and shoreside, have been working the regatta for many years. Of course, we also love the loyal skippers and crews who keep coming back to the Screwpile Regatta year after year!

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