Ida Lewis Distance Race

The Ida Lewis Distance Race is an ISAF Category 3 race hosted annually by Ida Lewis Yacht Club in Newport, RI. This race historically draws some very large, competitive boats but somehow (probably through the efforts of Joe Cooper and others) also has a double handed division. It's amazing how few of the single and double handed boats from the New England Solo Twin pass on this race. It's a pretty cool course, allowing for a northerly or southerly route around Block Island at the skippers' discretion and was a lot of fun to race, even though the course was shortened due to hurricane Bill's approach.

The first challenge to overcome was the eligibility requirement of a 128 PHRF rating or below. Because Jeroboam's rating is 178, I needed to apply for an exception to the rating cap. I talked up Jeroboam's adherence to Category 1 race safety requirements, her relative performance to Mini Transats, which are allowed to compete, and her competitive history in other single and short handed races over the last two years. The race committee performed a background check, researched Jeroboam's stability data, obtained some references from others in the short handed community and decided to allow the entry. Thankfully, Zoe's busy race schedule had a gap in it that weekend so we were off to the races.

The weather forecast leading up to the start caused a bit of concern because of hurricane Bill's track proximity to the race course. The race committee decided to send the fleet across shorter courses than usual with the aim of getting everyone back into Newport Harbor by Saturday night before the worst of the storm approached. The fast IRC boats headed out across Course B, 150 nm, and the rest of the fleet sailed Course C, 104nm. Here's an image of Course C (click on picture for larger sized image):

The start of class one was amazing to watch. A glance at the entry list by those in the know says it all. The IRC class consisted of some very large, very fast, very cool boats including Rambler (who won the Marblehead-Halifax IRC division this year), Titan 15, Rima2, Privateer and Highland Fling XI (on which my buddy Ben Newman crewed). Watching these huge, fully crewed boats jockey for position along a fairly short starting line in plenty of breeze was exhilarating to say the least. The photos don't do it justice but are worth checking out nonetheless. Our start was substantially less remarkable, as there were only six boats on the line all dwarfed relative to the IRC class. Even less remarkable was Jeroboam's proximity to the line when the starting gun sounded for our class, but a minute or so later, we finally crossed and began our beat down the east passage.

Visibility dropped as we exited Narragansett Bay but we managed to stay within sight of Relentless on the way to the first turning mark, the red and white mark south of Sachuest Point. On the first leg of the New England Solo Twin, Relentless performed much better than Jeroboam up wind but we managed to stay with him on this go. Later he withdrew because of equipment failure but I didn't hear what specifically the problem was.

The route indicated on the image above shows a northerly passage around Block Island however, as mentioned, a southerly passage is allowed as well. A study of the tides and currents during the race was the essential element in selecting the way around Block. We opted for a northerly rounding because of the dramatically favorable currents across Block Island Sound and the timing for our tack south toward the Montauk buoy corresponded well with the tide shift. The great part about the end of the flood tide into Block Island Sound is that the rip across Endeavor Shoals and Phelps Ledge off Montauk Point begin their southerly flow during the final hour of the flood tide so if you're a little early in the approach, as we were, all you have to do is hold on a bit longer, even though your VMG is negative, and tack across the shallows off Montauk. The strategy paid dividends as there were 14 other boats in the vicinity of that mark when we rounded and since we were the highest rated boat in the fleet, they all owed us time. Certainly we out performed boats who chose a southerly route around Block Island but even those skippers I spoke with after the event who took a northerly route didn't capitalize on the strong westerly current moving down the middle of the sound, rather stayed close to the western shores of Block. 

As soon as we were around the red and white at Montauk, we popped the small spinnaker, sailing about 120 degrees off the breeze. We decided on the small chute because it was blowing fairly well at about 15 knots apparent. An hour or so later, the velocity dropped enough that we changed it for the larger spinnaker and regained some of our speed. We carried it for the rest of the night, all the way to Buzzards Bay Tower where by the time we reached it, the wind had shifted enough to the southeast that we were able to jibe around the Tower and head back to the Brenton Reef mark on a close reach. One competitive advantage we had over other boats was our ability to carry the chute all night long and around the Buzzards Bay Tower. At dawn, before reaching the tower, we saw several other boats around us with no spinnaker up who probably hadn't used one all evening. Additionally, when every single boat within eyeshot rounded the tower, they all doused their chutes and ran under jib alone. After seeing little old Jeroboam jibe around the tower and make gains on the fleet, one by one, they all raised their chutes.

We sailed deep passed the Brenton Reef mark, then jibed and ran up the east passage, carrying the chute all the way to Fort Adams, just outside Newport Harbor then doused and crossed the finish line with an elapsed time a little over 20 hours. The results were fantastic as we were able to win the double handed division and correct to third in fleet among the PHRF boats, including those fully crewed.

There was a fair bit of post race drama but I won't go into it. I was largely shielded from the outrageous accusations leveled by a boat that didn't even bother filing a protest and with sincere thanks, the race committee handled the entire affair with impartiality and dignity.

Click here for some photos from the event I grabbed off the ILDR website
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