Essex Yacht Club’s seventy-second Wetherill Race was sailed May 17-18. With a strong northeasterly to easterly breeze blowing through most of the race, this year’s event was exciting. The Line Honors boat, Frank Flores’ Neo 430 Rhumb Runner, finished the 140-mile course in less than 19 hours, the quickest run since the race course was lengthened in 2021 to run from the mouth of the Connecticut River to Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard and back, leaving Block Island to starboard on the return.

Rick Oricchio’s J/120 Rocket Science was victorious in PHRF Class 4 and is a co-winner of the Sam Wetherill Trophy.  © Rick Weiner


The race is named after the colorful Sam Wetherill, who was Essex YC’s Commodore during 1940 and ‘41, a founding member of the Cruising Club of America, a subchaser Commander in World War I, and one of a group of Cruising Club members who adopted, along with the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, the struggling Newport Bermuda Race in 1923 and developed it into a biennial ocean racing classic.

The Race Committee, ably led by Tom Wilcox, started the fleet in a 16- to 20-knot northeasterly which veered 20 degrees during the first leg to Bell “8,” near the eastmost extent of the Long Sand Shoal. The breeze stayed strong all afternoon, and generally the boats closer to the Connecticut shore benefitted as they beat out of the Sound in a fair current. Most boats exited through the Race, though two boats who made the podium chose instead Fishers Island Sound (Phil Dickey’s Swan 46 Flying Lady, third in Class 4, and Jeff Wilson’s Sabre 42 Tacktile, first in Class 3).

As predicted in the pre-race briefing by Commanders’ Weather, the wind veered to the east as a result of a thermal arising from the land, becoming southeasterly for a time before backing to the north in late afternoon. Steve Yang, who finished third in Class 5 on his Swan 44 The Rover, led a group of boats to the Rhode Island shore west of Point Judith to get the shift. When the shift arrived, more northerly than it had been early in the race, this group tacked and was able to lay Gay Head on port tack—a great tactical move.

The wind built into the high 20s after midnight as the fleet rounded Bell “31” off Gay Head led by Gordon Burnes’ IMX 45 Cybele, the Coast Guard Academy team on their Mills 43 Cool Breeze, and James Phyfe’s J/44 Digger. The breeze slacked into the teens off the south side of Block Island but fortunately stayed in the 10- to 14-knot range as the fleet entered the Sound through the Race on a flood tide.

Essex YC Commodore Bill Gunther, second in Class 5 on his Skye 51 Blue Skies, and Race Chair Joe Standart hosted an awards presentation in the Club’s Wetmore Room on Sunday afternoon, May 19. Class winners were David Guernsey on Brilliant, Paul Jennings on Towhee, Jeff Wilson on Tacktile, Rick Oricchio on Rocket Science, James Phyfe on Digger, and Eric Irwin and Mary Martin on Alliance. The Cruising Club of America won The Wetherill Club Challenge Trophy, new this year and awarded to the club with the best three finishes. Full results are available on


With a youthful crew, James Phyfe’s J/44 Digger topped ORC Class 5 and is another Sam Wetherill Trophy co-winner.   © Matt Myers


The Wetherill is an excellent preparatory race for those planning to venture into the ocean during their spring and summer sailing season. It is an especially good event for those entering the Newport Bermuda Race, Marion Bermuda Race, or the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race. Eighty percent of The Wetherill is sailed in ocean waters, and changeable spring weather and wind conditions challenge the skippers, crews, and boats. This year’s race was especially breezy during the early morning hours, allowing crews to practice their heavy air skills while maneuvering in the dark. Many entries will compete in the 2024 Newport Bermuda Race. ■