Breathing new life into a vintage regatta

I have been a member of the Storm Trysail Club since 1980 and have sailed in upwards of 20 Block Island Race Weeks. As I’ve grown up in sailing – and the STC – I’ve watched and experienced the evolution of BIRW: the size, caliber, and enthusiasm of the people attending. Up until just a few years ago, BIRW was sponsored by a luxury timepiece manufacturer and, for those years, perhaps that high-net-worth target could be found at the regatta. That sponsorship agreement changed and so has the composition of the sailors. We’re there to race, be with old and new friends, and have fun.

Admittedly, I am plugged-in to the STC leadership so when 2019 BIRW Event Chair and STC Vice Commodore Ed Cesare called me on this year’s event, I was eager to hear his proposition. He was calling me because of my marketing and branding background, as well as my understanding of the sailing community. Ed explained that Margaritaville, the Jimmy Buffett club/restaurant/resort/products franchise, was being approached as the lead BIRW sponsor. Ed was asking what I thought about mixing the brand, the sailors, the history of the regatta; would they fit?

I sat back at my desk and smiled like the Cheshire Cat. Today’s regattas have gotten a bit stale for we rank and file sailors. Yes, there’s racing and after-sailing beer and, maybe, rum drinks; but I gave a huge “Yes” to a Margaritaville BIRW believing it would have all that and potentially a lot more.

Buttons Padin and his daughter Allie standing beside Jimmy as he performed. © Allie Padin

A BIRW presented by Margaritaville would breathe a new life into the BIRW regatta brand. There would be music, tropical themes in the tent, and fun and games to be played after sailing. I said to Ed, “If you can put together an agreement that brings the Margaritaville brand to Block Island, you’d be giving Race Week a huge shot in the arm.”

I’m not taking credit for what happened – it was largely Andrew Weiss – but I was there to experience and enjoy all that resulted from the blending of the STC and Margaritaville brands. Logo cornhole and Frisbee games, pastel-colored Adirondack chairs in the tent, mermaids on stilts, free margarita cocktails (yes, free!!!), lots of swag, and Buffett-esque live music filling the tent every evening. This might as well as have been my first BIRW, it was so refreshingly new. The sailors of all ages enthusiastically bought into brand blending, and we can only hope that Margaritaville will do it again in two years.

Oh, yes, on the final Friday, there was the hoped-for celebrity sighting. Jimmy flew into Block Island, helped present a couple of awards (can you imagine having a PHRF third place trophy presented to you by Jimmy???), sang four songs (‘Five O’Clock Somewhere,’ ‘Son of Son of a Sailor,’ ‘Pencil Thin Mustache’ and ‘Margaritaville’) and said his goodbyes. As a sailor he did note, however, that he’d always longed to somehow connect a sailing event to the Margaritaville state of mind. He admitted to the thousand people cheering in the tent that he’d finally found that link.

Thanks Storm Trysail Club, thanks Ed and Andrew, thanks the Margaritaville brand, and thanks Jimmy. See you back on Block in 2021!

Buttons Padin, Larchmont, NY

Go Coastal Racing

Most people attend Block Island Race Week as their vacation. However, after multiple windward/leeward races I would always come off the water exhausted. This year in the Performance Cruising classes, each day we sailed a single long race around government marks.

This format had us finishing earlier than the drop-buoy classes, which meant we had more time to enjoy the island, our families, and friends. For the first time, this really did feel like a vacation. Also, with a smaller crew aboard, I didn’t have to deal with issues between crewmembers that always seem to develop in a larger crew. An added benefit was that we all got to do everything on the boat. No one felt like rail meat. Many sailors snicker at boats sailing the navigator courses, but our races were just as serious.

I gave a loud whoop as we crossed the finish line first after Thursday’s light and fluky race. We worked hard to sail toward where the seabreeze would fill in and then worked just as hard to get in front of the bulk of the fleet that stayed near the island. We then watched our COG to make sure we didn’t sail extra distance to the mark that was in two knots of current, and on the way to the finish, we played the shifts to keep away from the island’s bluffs that created wind holes on the rhumbline. Net result: a horizon job on the fleet.

Our class was made up of fast boats that could have sailed in any of the higher rating classes, but the owners chose not to. Our class included a J/125, a Farr 395, a custom Schumacher 50, a J/44, a J/120, and the scratch boat was a 60-footer that rated -72 PHRF. My custom 40-footer, the Farr 395 and the Schumacher 50 all sailed with five people and we were competitive with the fully crewed boats.

My only suggestion going forward (being a marketing person by trade) is to rename this style of sailing “Coastal Racing” so that people don’t get the impression that these are just ham ‘n egg sailors. I look forward to more Coastal Racing where boats don’t need to be staffed by tons of crew.

Adam Loory, via email

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