When the breeze follows the expected pattern and barely tickles double digits in wind speed, success on the racecourse at Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex can be more about what you didn’t do wrong than what you did right.
“We didn’t really do anything [great],” says Austin Fragomen (New York, N.Y.), the skipper of the 44-foot Interlodge, which is currently leading IRC 2 after a pair of firsts today. “I think [on a day like today] the final result is a question of the mistakes you made, like tennis with unforced errors. We had two really clean races. We didn’t do anything that really cost us very much in terms of leaving points on the course.”
The New York Yacht Club’s Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex was first run in 1998, and takes place July 17 to 21 out of the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court, in Newport. R.I. The biennial summer classic has established itself as one of the premier summer race weeks in the Northeast thanks to its attractive combination of great racing conditions off Newport and the superlative shoreside hospitality at the Club’s waterfront Clubhouse overlooking Newport Harbor. Partners for the 2018 edition of Race Week at Newport include presenting sponsor Rolex, regatta sponsor BMW and regatta supporter Helly Hansen.
Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex is Austin and Gwen Fragomen’s first regatta in the 44-foot Interlodge since they lost the rig toward the end of last year. While Fragomen has been keeping his skills sharp by sailing his 52-footer in the PAC52 series on the West Coast and his J/105 in weeknight races around his home in New York City, the 44-footer requires a unique approach.
“The 52 and this boat are quite similar, but the 44 is more responsive,” he says. “[The 44] is more of a sport boat, so to speak, because it’s smaller. So it definitely handles differently.”
Another component is that while the PAC52 class races on elapsed time, the 44 races under handicap, making it harder to get real-time performance feedback during the racing.
“When you’re racing other boats that you’re not sailing next to, it’s a very different experience,” Fragomen says. “In a way it takes a lot of discipline to race IRC because you have to be sure you’re not making any mistakes. When you’re doing class racing, it’s more forgiving.”
Fragomen gave a lot of credit to his crew, led by tactician Geoff Ewenson, who grew up sailing in Newport and has spent a lot of his life doing battle with the sea breeze on Rhode Island Sound.
“We were probably looking at the big picture pattern more than anything,” says Ewenson. “If you had to call a strategy for a building sea breeze in Newport, early on you’re looking at the left side and once it gets established, and gets to the 180 or 190 number, then it’s all about getting back to the right.”
Today, that strategy paid off. With a second and three firsts in the regatta, Interlodge currently holds a 3-point lead over Art Santry’s Temptation-Oakcliff.
In the J/109 class, Al Goethe (Seabrook, Texas) has been the model of consistency, finishing all five races in second, third or fourth.
Like with the team on Interlodge, Goethe said today was about avoiding the big mistakes, which his team on Hamburg (USA 181) did for the most part.
“It’s really average sailing, have a good start and sail fast,” he says. “We didn’t do anything fancy or anything unusual. We were able to be fast and we have good crew work.
“We made one capital mistake at the finish of the second race where we had the race leader pinned and then we had some miscommunication on the boat and we jibed away to the finish. If we’d not done that quite as quickly we might have won that race, which would’ve been nice since we haven’t won a race yet this regatta. But it’s all good. It’s really exciting for us to sail in this competitive group. This our inaugural season [in Newport]. We’re absolutely loving it. Everybody is super friendly, the racing is top notch and the sailing environment here, the area, is spectacular. The weather helps out too. It just couldn’t get any better.”
Goethe might be convinced to revise that statement if he’s still out in front in two-days time, when the final awards, including a Rolex timepiece, will be handed out for the J/109 class. But there’s a lot of sailing between now and then and in the eight-boat division, the two-point lead over second—and the six-point lead over third and fourth—can disappear in a hurry.
Photos: ROLEX/Daniel Forster