Block Island Race Week Starts in Style

Block Island Race Week
Block Island Race Week Starts in Style Stephen Cloutier/STC

Bill Sweetser sported a broad smile as he stood in the stern of his boat that is berthed at Champlin’s Marina.

Sweetser could not have scripted a better start to Storm Trysail Club Block Island Race Week, presented by Margaritaville. Monday’s wind conditions fell into the sweet spot of the Annapolis entry and the crew responded with a superb performance.

Sweetser steered Rush to victory in all three races on the opening day of the regatta, taking early command of the J/109 class. Tactician Tom Babel made all the right calls while trimmers Brian Tyrrell (headsails), Mike Hobson (mainsail) and Bobby Brooks (offside) were on point.


“Sometimes you sail in conditions you feel very comfortable with and today certainly favored our boat and crew,” Sweetser said of the westerly winds that held relatively steady between 8 to 10 knots. “We just tend to do really well in light to moderate winds within the J/109 fleet. I know I drive better in those conditions.”

Wings accomplished the same feat in the J/88 class with skipper Mike Bruno leading the Armonk, New York entry to straight bullets. Stuart Johnstone is calling tactics aboard Wings, which is coming off a class victory at Sperry Charleston Race Week.

In the third one-design class, New York City residents John and Marisa Koten led Gray Matter to solid score line of 3-3-2 to set the pace in J/105, which has attracted 16 entries.


Racing was extremely close in the ORC 1 and 2 with mere seconds separating the first and second places finishes in both Race 1 and 2 after more than an hour sailing around the buoys. Jim Grundy and his crew aboard Baby Bella hold a one-point lead in ORC 1 after beating Interlodge IV by one second in the second start.

“Isn’t that great? It shows the designers of the rating rule has done an outstanding job,” Grundy said. “We’re having extremely close racing among boats that are rated very fairly.”

Interlodge IV (Austin and Gwen Fragomen) is tied with Impetuous (Paul Zabetakis) with 10 points a piece, but holds second place by virtue of winning Race 3. Baby Bella, a 42-footer designed by Harry Dunning, has Dunning aboard as navigator and Chuck O’Malley as strategist.


“What an idyllic day of racing we had. It was like sailing in paradise,” said Grundy, a Pennsylvania resident. “We have a pretty clear advantage in this wind range. We were planing three-quarters of time on the downwind legs while our competition was not. We made huge gains on the runs.”

Block Island Race Week
Bill and Jackie Baxter’s J/111 Fireball at Block Island Race Week 2019. Stephen Cloutier/STC

There was equally tight racing in ORC 2 with Teamwork emerging as the leader after the opening day. Skipper Robin Team steered the J/122 to a 19-second victory over the J/121 Incognito (Joe Brito) in Race 1 then finished 26 seconds behind the Ker 11.5 Peacemaker in Race 2. Race 3 for ORC 2 was tossed by organizers with Storm Trysail Club because the finish line mark dragged and caused confusion.

There was a good battle among the 52-footers in IRC 1 with Beau Geste winning the day after sandwiching a pair of bullets around a third. Gladiator, a TP52 owned by Tony Langley of Great Britain, briefly held the lead after winning Race 2.


This is the second Block Island Race Week for Beau Geste skipper Karl Kwok, whose last appearance came 25 years ago when he owned an ILC 40 built by Carroll Marine. “A lot has changed on Block Island since then,” said Kwok, who lives in Hong Kong.

Gavin Brady serves as helmsman aboard Beau Geste and has other renowned pros such as Chris Larson (tactician), Matthew Humphries (navigator) and Darren Jones (main trimmer) in key roles.

Gladiator sailed very well today. This is a new boat and we are still getting a feel for it,” Kwok said. “Our team was totally motivated going into the third race because we were behind. We managed to just slip past Gladiator and Fox (Victor Wild).”

Ranger, a Farr 40 campaigned by members of the Naval Academy varsity offshore sailing team, are atop the PHRF 1 class after winning a tiebreaker with the J/111 Moneypenny (Ken Comerford). Skipper Hayden Kuzemchak led Ranger to victory in Race 3, which proved decisive.

“Today was a real confidence-booster,” Kuzemchak admitted. “After some first race jitters, we calmed own and were able to put together two very solid races.”

Ranger, along with Navy sister ship Zephyr and the MudRatz Offshore team’s Summer School, are scratch boats in the diverse 16-boat class. All three Farr 40-footers rate the same.

“I think the big thing is to find a clear lane coming off the starting line and use our speed to leg out,” Kuzemchak said. “We are trying not to get tangled up with any of the slower boats.”

Skipper Kevin McNeil and his Annapolis-based crew aboard Sea Biscuit came out of the gate on fire – winning two races then closing the day with a second to take a three-point lead over fellow Farr 30 HeadFirst 3 (Peter Toombs).

Dirty Harry, a J/29 skippered by Jack McGuire, made a strong statement in PHRF 3 by posting a pair of bullets separated by a second. Mighty Puffin, another J/29 owned by Steve Thurston, is five points behind.

“We were just dialed in all day. We were able to get off the line clean in all three starts and had great boat speed, great crew work,” McGuire said.

Six of seven crew members aboard Dirty Harry, including the owner, are products of the East Greenwich (RI) Yacht Club junior program. They were all coached at the time by John Mollicone, who is calling tactics for his former pupils.

Four classes of Performance Cruising entries are racing pursuit courses each day. Reef Points, a Westerly Marine 60 owned by Gurdon Wattles of Little Compton, Rhode Island, drew first blood in Performance Cruising 1.

As scratch boat, Reef Points started last and had to pass the other five boats in the class – ultimately beating the J/125 Spectre (Brian Prinz) by just under five minutes.

“I think the pursuit format is great. We’ve done it before and are very much in favor of it,” Wattles said. “You wind up interacting with most of the boats in the class in some way.”

Monday’s Pursuit Course was 12.5 nautical miles in length and took the fleet toward the southwest end of the island. After rounding a government mark, it was a pleasant spinnaker run back to the start-finish line just south of the Great Salt Pond.

Participant II (J/97, John Krediet) topped Performance Cruising 2 while Rascal (Ericson 39, Christopher Schneider) was the winner among the non-spinnaker entries of PC3. Flight Simulator, a Corsair Cruze 970 skippered by Tom Reese of Youngstown, N.Y., got the gun among the five multihulls in PC4.

For more: