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An interview with Don Suter on the Whitebread Round the Whirl Regatta

by David Schmidt 29 Sep 08:00 PDT October 1, 2022
Racecourse action at the 2021 Whitebread Round the Whirl Regatta © Rich LaBella / www.RJlaBellaPhotos.com

Early October can be a fickle time on Long Island Sound. Sometimes it’s a late-summerlike atmosphere; other times, fall makes its presence known with strong easterlies or northeasterlies that can make for sporty sailing. The Peconic Bay Sailing Association, based in Cutchogue, New York, on Long Island’s northeast fork, has long called their end-of-season regatta the “Whitebread”, which, of course, is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the around-the-world Whitbread Race, which evolved into The Volvo Ocean Race, and more recently, to The Ocean Race.

While the Whitebread Race doesn’t go near the Southern Ocean (or even the open Atlantic Ocean), it has a long reputation for delivering great sailing on courses up to 30 nautical miles. Racing will start in Little Peconic Bay and will finish near Cutchogue Harbor, and the event is open to monohulls with a valid PHRF of Eastern Long Island rating that’s 300 or less.

I checked in with Don Suter, regatta chair, via email, to learn more about this exciting early autumn regatta.

Can you please tell us a bit about the Whitebread, how it got its colorful moniker, its history and culture, and the kinds of boats and sailors that one can expect to find here?

In a boisterous bull session in late summer of 1994, a group of sailors from New Suffolk, New York, inspired by the Whitbread Round the World Race, hatched the idea of a mini adventure race scaled to our local sailing area, the Peconic Bays. Hence the Whitebread Round the Whirl Regatta was born.

The course was to start in New Suffolk harbor, sail through Peconic Bay and around Shelter Island passing Sag Harbor into Gardiners Bay then past Greenport and through Southold Bay then back through Peconic Bay to the start in New Suffolk (or the reverse depending on the wind). The 35+ mile course used government marks to keep competitors off shoals, rocks and sand bars.

The date would be on a Saturday early October when tides were favorable, fair winds are expected, and blue skies prevail along with autumnal hues on land.

How many boats are you expecting on the starting line(s) of this year’s regatta? Also, how many classes do you and the other event organizers plan to score?

We are planning on about 70 keelboats this year, similar to the last few years.

[The] Whitebread is normally the largest keelboat regatta on eastern Long Island. Any boat with a PHRF rating under 300 can enter.

Last year we had eight divisions split between spinnaker and non-spinnaker with PHRF ratings from 21 to 278 and boats from 23 feet to 45 feet in length. We award Division trophies, overall Spinnaker Division and non Spinnaker Division trophies as well as a Team trophy (3 boats per team) and trophies for one design classes of 3 or more boats within a Division.

Generally speaking, what kinds of conditions can sailors expect to encounter off of Long Island’s North Fork in early October?

Wind conditions in early October can be from anywhere on the compass but are predominantly from the northeast, northwest or southwest with many days starting as a northerly and ending as a southerly when the land warms up and a sea breeze from the Atlantic kicks in.

We race in the area between the North Fork and South Fork of Long Island and get wind conditions driven by the Atlantic and LI Sound.

We have had gear-buster races and light-air races, but with numerous [nearby] government mark roundings, we can shorten the course on a very light air day. Wind shifts and back eddies caused by nearby land also make for interesting navigating and sailing opportunities.

We did cancel one race, years ago, due to very high winds of 35+ [knots].

I noticed in the NOR that the event targets October 2 as the foul-weather/fallback date for the race if the weather doesn’t cooperate on Saturday, October 1. What typically constitutes reason to postpone? Too much air, or too little? Or, are there other factors at play?

Only two little or too much wind (think hurricane). However, we have never had to postpone in all 28 years we have run the race. That is a main reason for early October, [we] usually [get] great sailing conditions.

We would not cancel for rain, but [we have] very rarely had a rainy race.

Another reason to pick early October is not too many powerboats. During the summer and early fall a number of power yachts 150 feet to upwards of 300 feet ply the same waters we are sailing, especially around Shelter Island. Most have headed south by early October, minimizing potential bottlenecks in some confined channels, not to mention two sets of Shelter Island ferries that have the right of way.

What kinds of on-the-water racing can attending skippers and crews look forward to? Are we talking about mostly windward-leeward racing, or will you also run races that use the islands or geographical points as turning marks?

Because we go about 300 degrees around Shelter Island, as well as about 15 miles to and from the start in Little Peconic Bay to Shelter Island then back to New Suffolk, we will see every sailing angle possible in every race.

In the last few years, we moved the start closer to Greenport and Sag Harbor to make it easier for those boats to get to the starting line in the morning since the first start is at 0830 (the starting line location change shortened the course to about 30 miles). The Race Committee is on station unil all boats have finished or 1730 [hours].

Are there any new additions or changes to the 2022 regatta, compared to previous editions?

We used to host a large post-race awards ceremony and party in a Cutchogue shipyard building and tent (250-300+ attendees) with a sit-down dinner, wine and beer, and a live band. Covid put an end to those great events.

Last year and this year we have opted to host smaller outdoor trophy presentation/parties at Claudios over the water restaurants/bars in Greenport (think large dock).

The last two years we also did not have the usual Friday night skipper’s meeting, after which everyone was guessing which way we would sail around Shelter Island the next day based on the forecasted wind direction. We may hold a skipper’s meeting this year, either in person or on Zoom.

Can you please tell us about any efforts that the club has made over the last few years to further green-up the regatta or to help benefit charities or non-profits?

Peconic Bay Sailing Association, which does not even have a clubhouse, has put a major emphasis on helping youth sailing grow in eastern Long Island. All profits from our Whitebread race are donated to youth sailing. We have donated a total of $11,000 in the last three years to two local yacht clubs—Old Cove YC and Breakwater YC—to help fund their youth sailing programs, as well as to East End Youth Sailing (EEYS), which is the local high school sailing team that also sails a Hobie 33 during the summer months.

The Whitebread profit comes from entry fees, selling sailing gear with a custom Whitebread logo that is different each year, and a raffle to win a kayak donated by Prestons, a Greenport Chandlery.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

One thing that makes Whitebread special is the sailors themselves, including families (some [of whom are] three-generational) and friends who have sailed together for 5, 10, 15 or even all 28 Whitebread races. Most have a great appreciation for the waters that we are lucky to sail [on], since most of us call this area home, whether for weekends, all summer or all year round.

Editor's Note: Many thanks to Rich LaBella for suplying these great images. To see more of Rich's work, aim your browser at www.rjlabellaphotos.com

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