By Bill Wagner
Legendary musician Jimmy Buffett made a surprise appearance at the final awards party for Block Island Race Week presented by Margaritaville, on Friday, June 28. Buffett took the stage to address the huge gathering of sailors enjoying Margaritaville margaritas and LandShark lager and expressed total enthusiasm for the regatta his lifestyle company sponsored this year.
“I think Margaritaville is Block Island right now,” said Buffett, who performed an impromptu concert to cap off Margaritaville Race Day. “I always thought it would be kind of cool to have a regatta that was part of Margaritaville. Thank you Block Island for being the very first one.” Buffett, performing solo, then launched into renditions of ‘Five O’Clock Somewhere’, ‘Son of a Son of a Sailor,’ ‘Pencil Thin Mustache’ and ‘Margaritaville’ to the delight of the massive crowd jammed into the big top tent.
Several hours earlier, long before Buffett arrived on the island, Kevin McNeil sat on a bench at Payne’s Dock drinking a Mudslide from Mahogany Shoals. The Annapolis skipper was the very picture of exhaustion, relief and satisfaction all rolled into one.
McNeil and his team aboard Seabiscuit had just captured an incredibly competitive class by winning the eighth and final start at Block Island Race Week presented by Margaritaville. HeadFirst3, a Canadian entry skippered by Peter Toombs, had given Seabiscuit all it could handle in PHRF 2. Seabiscuit emerged victorious in the weeklong battle between very evenly matched Farr 30-footers. McNeil steered the Annapolis entry to four bullets and a couple seconds in seven races for a low score of 19 points – two better than HeadFirst3.
“We’re very, very happy to come away with the win. The Canadian boat was really tough, very well sailed,” said McNeil, who was presented with the Isbrandtsen Overall Perpetual Trophy for “second-best performance” at Block Island Race Week. That award was established in 1975 and rededicated in 1991. HeadFirst3 got the gun in Race 7 to cut the deficit down to one point. Seabiscuit, which had placed second in the penultimate start, made sure there was no repeat. “We crushed it at the start and led the whole way,” said McNeil, whose all-Annapolis crew featured John Loe, Matt Beck and Richard Bowen in the afterguard.
McNeil reserved special praise for bowman Teddy Haaland, who was responsible for prepping the Farr 30 for Block Island Race Week. The owner-driver, who captured class honors at Block Island Race Week for the third time, also gave a shout out to his wife for serving as hostess extraordinaire at the crew house. “Amanda took great care of us all week,” McNeil said. “She fed the team great meals every night and made sure everyone was comfortable. I always say that a happy, congenial crew leads to doing well on the water. I thought everybody on the boat worked really well together.”
Only half a point separated the top two boats in ORC 1 going into the last race of the regatta. Interlodge IV, the Botin 44 owned by Gwen & Austin Fragomen of Jamestown, RI, got a poor start then fouled another boat and had to perform a penalty turn – ultimately finishing 10th in Race 8. “We had a really bad first race and burned up all our wiggle room,” boat captain and bowman Kris Matthews said. “We had to pull it all together for the final race because we had put ourselves in a must-win situation.” Tactician Tom Burnham and navigator Geoff Ewenson led the way as Interlodge IV responded the way one would expect of a big-time professional team, winning Race 9 to pull out the victory. Tschuss, a Ker 40 skippered by Christian Zugel (Holmdel, NJ), finished fifth in the final race and was runner-up by 4 ½ points. “It was 100 percent solid rebound by the team,” Matthews said. “Tommy and Geoff worked really well together to get us a great start. We came off the line in a dominant position as compared to the competition. We were able to catch that first shift then extend.”
Austin Fragomen, who had to depart Block Island immediately after the last race in order to attend a memorial service in New Jersey, praised Tschuss and Paul Zabetakis’ Swan 42 Impetuous (Jamestown) for pushing Interlodge IV the entire regatta. Interlodge IV was presented the Everett B. Morris Memorial Trophy for best overall performance at Block Island Race Week. It was a repeat of 2013 when the Fragomens also earned that award, which established in 1967 and rededicated in 1991. “We are very pleased with this victory because it was hard-earned, that’s for certain. It was nip-and-tuck right up until the end,” Fragomen said. “It was a very exciting regatta and everyone on the boat did a great job. We really enjoy coming to Block Island. It’s a terrific venue for sailboat racing and a very nice place to visit.”
Peacemaker (YCC), a Ker 11.5, completed an impressive performance in ORC 2 by winning both races on Friday. Skipper Leo Vasiliev (Bayville, NY) and crew began the regatta with a fourth, but then won six of the last seven races in totaling 12 points. Defending champion TeamWork, the J/122 owned by Robin Team (Lexington, NC), led the class after the first day, but could not keep pace with Peacemaker.
Vasiliev said the “YCC” stands for Youth Challenge as four of the crew attend the Webb Institute in Glen Cove, NY, a prestigious naval architecture and marine engineering school. Those students were Ben Lilly (offside trimmer), Matt Kepner (main trimmer), Ben Hunt (pit) and Ben Loncharich (mast). Richard Royce, a professor at the Webb Institute, served as tactician. Nick Nilsen, a professional with OneSails, worked the bow. “We’re extremely pleased and feel very fortunate to come out on top in a very talented class,” Royce said.
Skipper Karl Kwok and the crew of Beau Geste led wire-to-wire in winning IRC 1, comprised of three 52-footers crewed by fully professional teams. Gavin Brady served as helmsman and had Chris Larson (tactician) and Matthew Humphries (navigator) in the afterguard as the IRC 52 from Hong Kong won seven of nine races over four days. “Karl had not been to Block Island in 25 years so it was another great adventure, which is really the whole point of what we do,” said Brady, a longtime Annapolis resident who has moved back to his home country of New Zealand. “You don’t fly in from Hong Kong for just any regatta. Karl loves Block Island because of the atmosphere…you feel like you’re at a serious event.”
Kwok went home to Hong Kong with the Island Sailing Club of Cowes Perpetual Trophy. That award, which was first presented in 1965, commemorates the link between Block Island Race Week and Great Britain’s Cowes Week and goes to the first overall IRC-rated boat in the Around the Island Race. Bird, a Gulfstar 50 owned by Ed Steedman of Dallas, TX, received the same trophy in recognition of having the best overall performance in the Around the Island Race.
A pair of Farr 40-footers crewed by members of the Naval Academy varsity offshore sailing team finished one-two in PHRF 1, a diverse class of 15 boats. Skipper Hayden Kuzemchak and his fellow midshipmen on Ranger sailed an outstanding regatta, winning four races and placing second in two others in posting a low score of 17.5 points. Zephyr, Navy’s other Farr 40 skippered by Zackary Bauer, was second with 25 points. “It’s definitely special to reach a goal that you have been working hard for several weeks toward. It just feels great to achieve the result we were chasing,” Kuzemchak said. “I could not be prouder of the boat and crew. To learn how to sail a Farr 40 well enough to win a legendary regatta like this speaks to their ability, desire and dedication.”
Just two weekends ago, Ranger and Zephyr had finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in IRC 3 class at the 165th annual New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta. Head coach Jahn Tihansky kept both teams in Newport for a week of boat-on-boat training, which clearly paid off. Ranger received the John Alden Reed Perpetual Trophy, awarded for best performance by a service academy entry. “We practiced pretty much every day in Newport to build our short-course skill set and our sailors really responded,” Tihansky said. “It certainly helps to have two identical boats to work on speed. I think the parity between Ranger and Zephyr boosts them both. I thought both teams did a phenomenal job in all areas here this week.”
Skipper Jack McGuire and the Dirty Harry team (Annapolis) put forth a command performance in PHRF 3, winning five races and taking second in two others en route to 13 points. Brown University head coach John Mollicone called tactics for McGuire, a Rhode Island native who is now an Annapolis resident. Five crew members aboard Dirty Harry are products of the East Greenwich Yacht Club junior program and were there at a time when Mollicone was an instructor. They were racing a J/29 that has been fully restored after falling into disrepair and beat a sister ship (Steve Thurston’s Mighty Puffin; Bristol, RI) by 11 points. “It was a flawless team effort. We consistently got off the line clean and put the throttle down all the way around the race-course,” McGuire said. “There was zero yelling onboard. It was a quiet boat all week because we were all on the same page. We just sailed extremely clean and fast the entire regatta.”
Skipper Bill Sweetser and his veteran crew on Rush (Annapolis) had one of those regattas sailors dream about – winning seven races and placing second in the other two in amassing just 11 points. Carl Olsson’s Morning Glory (New Rochelle, NY) was a distant second in the eight-boat J/109 class with 25 points. “It was truly an amazing week. We were all pinching each other after we did so well on the first day, and then it kept happening day after day,” Sweetser said. “We were just on fire from start to finish. We’re absolutely elated and still in awe about how well we did.” Tom Babel called tactics while Bryan Tyrrell (headsails), Mike Hobson (main) and Bobby Brooks (offside) were the trimmers for Rush, which has now captured J/109 class at Block Island Race Week at least three times. “Our tactical calls at the starts and on the first windward legs were flawless. We didn’t go right when we should have gone left. We also didn’t have any major mistakes or breakdowns,” said Sweetser.
Wings, owned by Mike Bruno of Armonk, NY, was equally as dominant in J/88 and replicated Rush with seven bullets and two seconds. Wings has also won the J/88 Midwinter Championship, Charleston Race Week and the American Yacht Club Spring Series this year. “It was another great regatta for the team and we were very pleased. We’ve just got the boat really dialed in and our crew work is great,” Bruno said. “Stu Johnstone deserves a lot of credit because his tactics were impeccable.”
The J/105 class, largest of the regatta with 16 boats, came down to the wire with Paul Beaudin steering loulou (New York, NY) to a two-point victory over defending champion Good Trade (Bruce Stone/Nicole Breault; San Francisco). Good Trade got into a duel with Marisa & John Koten’s Gray Matter (New York, NY) in the ninth and final race as those two boats were first and second at the time with 26 and 27 points, respectively. Beaudin and his team on loulou were allowed to sail their own race and placed second, overtaking both Good Trade and Gray Matter.
Winners of the four classes in the Pursuit Division were the Westerly Marine 60 Reef Points (Gurdon Wattles; Little Compton, RI; Performance Cruising 1- Spinnaker), the J/97 Participant II (John Krediet, Stamford, CT; Performance Cruising 2 – Spinnaker), the Taylor 42 Africa (Tom Hansen; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Performance Cruising 3 – Non-Spinnaker) and the Gunboat 55 Jammy (Thomas Lee; Block Island; Performance Cruising 4 – Multihulls).
Storm Trysail Club wants to thank all the sailors, volunteers, and followers of Block Island Race Week presented by Margaritaville. We will see you in 2021! ■