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5 Tips for Block Island Race Week Newbies

The iconic Block Island Race Week can be a daunting challenge for race newcomers, but these five tips will help you do Block like a pro.

June 22, 2017

Arriving on Block Island for the 2017 Storm Trysail Block Island Race Week with a backpack full of sailing gear and no idea what to expect can be daunting. Fog and big breeze are just two likely culprits for making the New England staple regatta a worthy challenge. After an exciting few days on the island though, a race newcomer weighs in with some recommendations for future new kids on the block.

After stepping off the ferry I immediately hopped on my bike and cruised around “downtown” in search of food. After some quick fish tacos, I decided to continue to see the island on my bike.

1. Drop your stuff before you go on a tour

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As a southerner with no experience riding up and down hills, I got my pre-race warm-up in for the week trudging uphill in the saddle.

Sunday, our planned practice day, brought rough weather and fog all over the island. In June, I found my southern blood not acclimated in the least to the temperatures, which leads me to my next recommendation.

2. Pack more than you think you need

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Monday didn’t see any improvement in the weather and we were given a postponement day, which allowed our crew to explore the island. As one of the United States Census Bureau’s last of the great places (there are only 12), there’s no shortage of things to see. Our entire team loaded into our Volvo, thankfully with a third seat, and set out on a lighthouse tour of the island. There’s rumor that there are 365 ponds on Block Island, so we made sure to count those as we drove the island too.

block island race week
Sailing around Block Island with the J/44 fleet at the 2017 Race Week. Stephen R Cloutier/Block Island Race Week

3. Take time out from sailing to experience Block Island

We first visited the Southeast Lighthouse, which is located on the Mohegan Bluff, exactly where its name says it will be. It is considered one of the most architecturally sophisticated lighthouses built in the 19th century. While the lighthouse is no longer operational, it remains preserved on the island for visitors to enjoy. The day we visited, the fog was so thick and the breeze was so heavy, the lighthouse could have been straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. Jackets zipped up, we made our way back to the car for the next stop.

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The North Island light has not experienced as much care as the Southeast lighthouse has. In 1984, the lighthouse, which had fallen into a state of disrepair was famously sold for one dollar to the town of New Shoreham on Block Island. Since then, it has been restored and is now home to a museum.

Despite the weather, the tent at Block Island was still in full swing after our excursion. Block Island Race Week hosts some of the most excellent sailors in the world, in a casual setting. What makes the event unique is that it seamlessly mixes classic sailors with the young guns making an impact on the racing scene. College sailors and young professionals are going head to head with guys who attended their first Block Island 50 years ago, and then rubbing elbows with them at the tent or on the dock.

4. Have a mudslide

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After our first day of racing, we definitely needed to take the edge off. Big breeze with a brand-new crew to the boat made for a pretty weak performance. So one dislocated shoulder later, some blood on the deck, and a hole in our spinnaker we headed up the dock for our boat meeting. Despite the rough day, everyone was all smiles with a drink in hand, and we had a productive discussion about what could go better. Sure enough, our Around The Island race the next day went over much more smoothly.

We headed out in sunny Block Island summer weather anticipating seeing the island from a different perspective. The upwind leg brought steady breeze and blue skies, but as soon as we turned downwind, we had a huge increase in wind speed. After getting our chute down to ensure no more tears, we watched the carnage downwind as boats ripped through entire spinnakers.

5. Expect anything

As quickly as we rounded BI1 to beat upwind and finish the race a dense fog filled in. There’s nothing more eerie than knowing there are 125 boats on the leg of the race course with you and not being able to see a single one. Finally we were able to locate the finish line and made our way into the dock, this time feeling more confident about our performance. From here we look forward to more exciting and successful days on the water. After all, anything can happen.

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