BLOCK ISLAND RACE WEEK 2017 RACE COMMITTEE RECOLLECTIONS
By Sally Willits
Aboard the Signal boat Sarah, for the White Fleet, at the start of BIRW the weather is as different from Miami as it possibly could be. Definitely, for June, that’s a positive! Arriving on Saturday, from Coconut Grove, we enjoyed a “blue bird” day at the Boat Basin below the Oar Restaurant. This is our 4th BIRW, our third as Signal. My husband Chris has been a member of Storm Trysail Club for many years and we love to help out with Race Committee. We have the perfect boat, a Grand Banks 46-comfortable and stable.
Volunteers are busy sorting gear at the Race Committee white supply truck. Placed at the end of the dock, it was poised to equip the 22 RC boats covering 4 fleets with a Medical Boat, 2 Press Boats and Support Boats. The hub bub was just beginning.
Block Island is an island lost in time. The spirit of it’s New England settlers is still alive in simple wood clad Victorian and beachy cottages, creamy ice cream, lobster rolls and cat-tail rimmed ponds complementing the rocky shoreline and dramatic cliffs. Families have summered here for generations, only going back to inland Massachusetts or Rhode Island when school starts. The weather is perfect for summer; cool nights and breezy warm days. Below, the Oar and tent before the action begins.
As a child I spent many weeks here with my family at Twin Maples, which was then retired barracks. We ate in the old mess hall, family style with all the other “guests”. Even before that, my mother ran a boarding house near the old Spring House during WW II. Collecting beach plums for jam, reading old paperbacks on the porch of the Narragansett Inn and searching for shells on the rocky beaches, our end of summer was complete. Always the monotonous and dreamy sound of the fog horn from BI Light is heard. The island hasn’t changed a bit.
Our Florida Team can adjust pretty easily. This is the opposite of crazy Miami. But then there’s the fog…….
which doesn’t deter our group as we go out for our practice day. Below, Rick Bischoff’s Amulet, racing to retrieve marks.
Things turn around pretty quickly and you have a finish like this!
Full speed ahead on Sunday, our practice day. The first boat to leave the harbor is Sean Adams in his Ahi who scouts the wind in Block Island Sound where our fleet will be racing. He reports back to Dick Neville and Dave regarding trends in wind and current, fog and other conditions. This determines the plan for the day. Race Committee duty begins when we depart Great Salt Pond . This is no small feat. The day prior, we get the boat ready for our week’s long duty.
PVC pipe is taped to the rails of Sarah to hold flags, radios are charged in the cabin, all paperwork is gathered, computers are plugged, and foul weather gear is stowed forward in case of foul weather. We have wifi in case the hotspot the RC provides doesn’t work. Wifi goes in and out as we all well know! The keep away float is laid on the starboard rail for storage when not in use. The big board which shows courses is taped to the bridge aft by the mast for all to see. On the bridge of our Grand Banks 46, sits my husband, Captain Chris, Dave Brennan, the PRO who calls the shots, and his faithful and funny scribe, Charley Wullschleger. It’s serious up there. But always, there is levity, stories and terrible jokes.
Below, Chris Willits and Eric Kreuter sharing a salty story.
On the bow we have our very professional an experienced Timer, Barbara Velvet Voice Neville, Lucy Bertold, Betty McMahon, and Elaine Rosemond on flags. Below, Barbara, Elaine and Skip.
Saint Rosemond, the very dutiful and patient MacGyver who moves gear and helps where needed (anchoring and setting equipment) is always on duty.
From the deck Kendra Brennan, Betty and I do check in and Kendra and Barbara do finishes with our DRO John Sweeney. Betty and I sometimes back up finishes if there looks to be clusters of boats finishing quickly. You can’t have too many eyes, as the finishes and timing are very important. First to finish in class all week may not be the overall winner. Connie Bischoff, whose eyes never get tired, as scorer works tirelessly with Kendra to record finishes using Yacht Scoring, a program that Luiz Kahl wrote. Below, Lucy and Connie working hard scoring.
The program gives immediate results to the results committee on shore. Skip Mansfield,below, who has been to every Race Week since 1965, at age 93 graces our bow with elegance and manages sandwich duty for each day.
It’s a well oiled machine that most of the time works like clockwork. Below, RC Meeting at start of day on the dock.
And since BIRW is the only true week-long big boat regatta left, we all love to come to join in the festivities and support the sport we love. Below, Sarah resting before the work begins..
The paperwork needed for all of the races is voluminous. Charley as scribe must track Dave’s every word, lat and long of signal, all incoming radio traffic and of course, the all important over earlys. She is irreplaceable. Below, Charley, John (DRO) Sweeney, and Dave Brennan on the bridge.
The weather mark boats must record mark rounding order, as do the gate boats. The pin boat must provide a square line and take down over earlys and make sure the boats over early hear their calls so that they return and restart. Many times the pin boat, weather mark and gate are rocking in rough seas and it’s not easy to perch and write; or keep paper and pen handy and dry. This takes coordination and a good stomach. Picking up and dropping anchors like 20 year olds ( and paying the price the next day) is not for the faint of heart. Most of us are over 60. And fog and rough seas are no fun.
Chris, John Lowe (weather mark), Dave B (PRO), Rick Bertold (pin boat), and Bruce Harper (pin). Missing Bill Moriarty (gate) Rick Bischoff (gate), and Scott Giering (gate), and Shawn Adams.
Bruce, Bobby Brennan and Lucy Bertold (flags) at the big tent.
On Race committee we have fun ribbing each other, telling jokes and pride ourselves with loyalty to a sport that we have enjoyed since we were kids. We follow now as the seniors who watch crisp starts and finely tune weather legs. We take great pride in being able to work as a team supporting precision sailing and competition at the highest level for many classes. And we always have fun. Below, Elaine is enjoying time off the water with Saint and John Lowe..
It’s pretty special to support the sport of sailing. The attention to detail, camaraderie, respect for the weather and competition, and skill of our sailors and teammates is very gratifying.