By Phil Dickey, Essex Yacht Club
Essex Yacht Club’s seventy-first Wetherill Race, which started Friday, May 19, was again a challenging and enjoyable ocean racing event. Reconfigured in 2021 to a 140-mile course from Old Saybrook, CT to Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard and back, leaving Block Island to starboard, 80% of the Race takes place in ocean waters. The Wetherill is an excellent spring tune-up for the Bermuda Races, the Marblehead to Halifax Race, or other ocean racing adventures.
Eleven competitors sailed in PHRF, with Bob Green winning PHRF 1 in his Sabre Spirit Eroica (sailing double-handed with an average crew age of 80!), followed by Dan Fisher in his Ohlson 38 Tynaje, and Paul Jennings in his Cal 40 Towhee. In PHRF 2 the winner was Steve Marenakos in his J/105 Reckless, followed by Dave Rosow in his J/109 Loki (sailing double-handed), and Matt Jorgensen in his Peterson 37 Valour.
The winner of the 9-competitor ORC division was Brad Gibbs in his Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300 Arkana, followed by Steven Yang in his Swan 44 The Rover, and Thomas O’Connell in his J/99 Finale (double-handed). Alan Burnett won the multihull division in his Greene 35 trimaran Friends.
The Race Committee, ably led by Mary-Lawrence Bickford and assisted by Mystic Mudheads Greg Gilmartin and Frank Murphy, started the fleet in light air after an approximately one-hour postponement. Fortunately, a strong ebb tide helped the fleet beat to the east of the Long Sand Shoal and into the approach to the Race.
The breeze became spotty and very light; a brisk southerly then filled from the Connecticut side of Long Island Sound, favoring the northernmost boats with an early lead. The wind then became steady from the south in the teens, and competitors genoa- or spinnaker-reached the rhumbline on starboard tack to the rounding mark “G31” just off the Gay Head Light. Frank Flores in Rhumb Runner, a very fast Neo 430, rounded first just before dark, followed by Larry Hennessy and Debbie Whitehead in their IMX 45 Direwolf, and Trevor Fetter in his classic custom 65-foot yawl Black Watch.
The steady southerly lasted until the leaders reached the southern side of Block Island at approximately 04:00, where it became light and patchy. A steady rain associated with an approaching warm front complicated the weather picture, and the remainder of the boats brought the diminishing breeze down with them, compressing the fleet to the south and southwest of Block. From there it was tough going in light air against an ebb tide to get back into the Sound. Looking for breeze, Rhumb Runner re-entered through Plum Gut, winning line honors at the finish just off the Saybrook Breakwater Light. Most of the fleet re-entered the Race leaving Little Gull Island close to port, though a few hardy souls took the more direct course through the Sluiceway. We have gotten no reports of contact with rocks!
The weekend was concluded with a festive dinner and awards ceremony in the Wetmore Room of the Essex Yacht Club on Sunday, where approximately 150 skippers, crews, Essex YC members, and other well-wishers relived the events of the race and congratulated the winners.
The organizers of the Race appreciate the support of the Essex Yacht Club and the efforts from the Race Committee, the Club’s management and staff, and especially the skippers and crew who made the 2023 event a great success. We hope to establish the Wetherill as a spring ocean racing classic, a must-do for ocean racers preparing for their summer racing schedules. ■