James Coffman, long time former student and member of Sound Sailing Center, captained his Hanse 375 (which is the same hull as the VAr 37), with Martin van Breems (founder and owner of SSC) in the afterguard. Jim Boyle, a long time SSC instructor and professor of Oceanography was the navigator.
We initially planned a route through the islands, based on a light wind forecast, but by the start, the winds were strong enough to ignore the tides and head straight down the sound from the start of Stamford with winds out of the SE. Within a few hours the winds backed to the South, and we popped the chute, allowing us to put some distance between our competitors with winds over 18 knots and boat speeds over 10 knots. Unfortunately, the 3/4 oz kite blew out after a roundup, but we still had gained some good distance. Then, the wind totally died, and we were left flopping around the sound.
Even worse, the boats close in to shore were moving! We went into wind seeker mode (which the self tacking jib is great for), and managed to get the boat moving. To our great relief, we soon got some wind, and the boats more inshore were dead. Within Martin’s 2 hour watch, there were 6 sail changes!
As we approached Plum Gut well after dark, James decided to hoist our 2nd kite, and again started making tracks through the night all the way to the north end of Block Island. We sailed through a thunderstorm, and dropped the kite just a minute before we rounded the bouy. Then we started the upwind passage With winds in the 17-19 knot range we were double reefed. They dropped a little as we rounded the southern end of Block, just as dawn broke. We soon realized we had put a considerable distance between us and all the other boats in our class.
Passing back through Plum Gut, we had, in advance, planned to follow the LI shore very closely to avoid the foul tide. There was also a slight breeze very close to shore. We soon passed almost the entire fleet, as virtually all the other boats were parked or drifting backwards off Plum Island.
We continued our fast pace, and although the larger boats in the fleet slowly caught and passed us as we raced down the sound, we knew we had them on corrected time. Avanti, the overall winner, passed us just before Port Jeff. Avanti is a Hanse 430 we delivered and have worked on. As we passed Bridgeport, then Fairfield, Westport and Norwalk, the winds lightened but we kept moving. Soon we were off Stamford, and as the last of the sun’s light faded from the sky, so did the wind. We were less than 100′ feet from the Cows, the final turning mark, and only a few hundred feet from the finish line, when we started going backwards in the strong ebb tide. Boats less than 200′ in front made it around the Cows and were soon enough in the reduced tidal area, and so kept moving. We anchored, then after 40 min we began the move forward and pulled the anchor. After gaining 50′, we started sliding back again, so down went the anchor. Almost 2 hours later we finally gained enough breeze to make headway against the tide, rounded the Cows, and sailed to the finish line! We knew we had won our division, with all the other boats well behind us, but overall winner was not to be ours this time.
Still, it was a great race, and winning our class is nothing to sneeze at. The challenge to do even better in Newport is upon us! The Var 37 should be back in the water at the end of the week, after over 100 hours of racing bottom prep. The new sails have arrived, and next week we will tune up against Gemini before we head to Newport.
We hope you will join us for a send off party / cookout on Sunday June 12th from 2pm to 4pm! The Block Island trophy will of course be on display.