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The weather started out gloomy, then got downright nasty for the 13th edition of the Ida Lewis Distance Race, which started Friday, August 18 off Fort Adams State Park in Newport, R.I. A forecast calling for storms to pass over the race course during the night convinced seven of the original 40 entrants to drop out prior to the start for six classes (IRC, PHRF Spinnaker A, PHRF Spinnaker B, PHRF Cruising Spinnaker, Doublehanded and Multihull). Of the remaining 33 teams, an additional ten were forced to retire due to damaged equipment or other problems incurred during multiple squalls that left memorable impressions and their calling cards of driving rain and winds gusting 40+ knots.
“It was biblical,” said Brian Cunha (Newport), who took overall honors in PHRF division and won his 11-boat PHRF Class A with a crew comprised primarily of local sailors. “It was just one cell after another, and it was raining so hard you couldn’t have your face to the wind, because it hurt so much. We were waiting for Noah’s Ark to come floating by.”
The two PHRF Spinnaker classes and the IRC class sailed a 150 nautical mile course that took them to Buzzard’s Bay Tower, past Block Island to a government mark off Montauk Point, back to Buzzard’s Bay Tower and then back to Block Island before heading home. The first storm hit on the first stretch to Buzzard’s Bay Tower, making for a long, wet, yet exhilarating night of competition.
“We won on the last beat from Buzzard’s Bay Tower to Block Island. That’s when we passed all the guys ahead of us,” said Cunha, noting that soon after his team finished at 7:14 on Saturday morning, the wind shut down, making it an even more testing challenge for those behind him.
The first to finish the race was the modified Volvo 70 Warrior (formerly Camper), co-skippered by Stephen Murray, Sr. and Stephen Murray, Jr. of Metairie, Louisiana. Finishing at 12:41 a.m. on Saturday, Warrior not only took line honors but also topped IRC Class, which started with ten boats and finished with seven.
“I’m getting kind of long in the tooth for that kind of sailing, but I enjoyed it,” said the elder Murray, adding that he and his son are used to such wind in the Gulf of Mexico and on Lake Pontchartrain where they often sail. “It got kind of wild out there, but the boat’s fast. All you have to do is turn her loose and she’ll get you around.” Murray, known widely in sailing circles for his race boats named Decision, has competed in this race and won it two other times. Warrior is an acquisition he made to benefit wounded warriors through a program run in conjunction with the Merchant Marine Academy.
Second to cross the line after Warrior was Hendrikus Wisker’s (Round Hill, Virginia)Swan 55 Haerlem, in Cruising Spinnaker class, at 4:37 a.m. The team, along with three others in its class, sailed a shorter 107 nm course. According to crew Tom Maynard, the key to winning was having a big, heavier boat in the big air compared to the faster, lighter boats that rounded out his class. “It was blowing 40, we were reefing, and it was chaos; the rain was pelting us,” said Maynard. “Then when we were approaching the harbor, the wind was light and it was pea soup so we actually took our jib down for safety reasons – so we could slow down even more.”Haerlem was greeted at the finish line, set just off Ida Lewis Yacht Club, by a welcoming committee in a chase boat and given a bottle of Prosecco, a gesture that has become a tradition for the race and acknowledges every team for its effort.
Perhaps most impressive was the performance by Young American Yacht Club’s Junior Big Boat Team aboard Young American, which persevered with three others teams in Spinnaker B to finish the race and take the top trophy for its first-place finish as well as the Arent H. Kits van Heyningen Trophy for the race’s Youth Challenge.
“We knew the forecast wasn’t going to be easy on us but we didn’t think we’d see 50 knots,” said Constantyn van der Voort (Rye, N.Y.), who helped steer and ran things in the cockpit. “That was a little scary, because we had three sails up… the storm jib, the #3 jib on the furler and the mainsail.” His crewmate Nick Hein (Westport, Conn.), who was on bow, said that the team of eight is preparing for the next Newport to Bermuda Race. “This was the most open ocean sailing we’ve ever done as a team,” he said.
In doublehanded class, the Tartan 4600 Meridian, sailed by the father/daughter team of Murray and Hilary Beach (Westwood, Mass.), would have stuck it out to the very end, but when the wind shut down, they were too far away from the finish to make it in by the time limit. They were given an award of merit, which they happily accepted at the awards party on Saturday night at Ida Lewis Yacht Club.
The multihull class had only one entrant, Charlie Barmonde’s (Little Compton, R.I.) Gulfstream 35 Merlin, which was going to sail for the experience but dropped out when conditions deteriorated.
Arthur Santry’s (Oyster Bay, N.Y.) Kerr 50 Temptation-Oakcliff, which finished sixth in IRC, took home the William Tuthill Collegiate Trophy.