Today we raced Shields out on Rhode Island Sound for the first time. Our team, new this season aboard the rehabbed #107 Grace, has had a great time all summer racing on the flat water of Narragansett Bay in Fleet 9s big Wednesday night fleet and felt that we were learning how to make our boat go pretty fast. Today, we were introduced to waves, and as the helmsman, I found myself out of rhythm with the choppy water and “sawing wood” with the tiller much more often than Id have liked. As the breeze built in the second race, this led to all sorts of discussions with Reed, co-owner and mainsheet trimmer, as to proper sail shape to help us keep the boat quiet, going fast, and pointing well. We found ample consolation ashore, however, when we learned that the majority of teams were fighting the same battle with the same, mixed results.
But despite our personal anxieties, collectively, the 35-boat Nationals fleet enjoyed a brilliant, sunny day of racing off Newport, R.I. PRO Robin Wallace, chair of Ida Lewis YCs race committee, sent us off in a dying northerly just to give us some practice, then abandoned on the run when the wind died and began to creep up out of the southwest. Newports Chris Withers was stomping the fleet when the three guns sounded, just as he had in the practice race. But his green machine struck back in the next race, doing a horizon job ahead of fellow Newporter Peter Gerard (also a green boat, which everyone now knows you need to contend for the lead in the first race). We sailed an exciting race ourselves by getting to the right on each beat and briefly passed Bill Shore on the final run before slipping behind him again to finish fourth.
Another Newport phenom, Anthony Kotoun, led the way in Race 2, another double windward-leeward in a bit more breeze (up to 12 knots or so by the second beat). Steering Jerome Jordans #57 as he has all summer, Kotoun had excellent speed, took the lead from fleet-mate Bill Doyles #222 near the top of the first beat, and never was crossed thereafter. He had to be concerned, though, at the pace Nicole Alio was finding for her #74, which crossed the line second ahead of Shore, whose two third places give him the regatta lead. Jordan/Kotoun are a point behind in second, and George Petrides of Seawanaka Yacht Club on Long Island is third with finishes of 7-6. Petrides is a new Shields owner this season and has helped rebuild the Seawanaka fleet from four boats to eight. His steady finishes show that therell be good local competition for all sailors who go to the Nationals next year at Seawanhaka.
Our team sailed really well in the first half of the second race, recovering from a second-row start, working to the right, and then sailing fast downwind to round the gate mark in fifth. But we managed to make a few wrong choices on the next beat, tack a little too often, sail a little too slowly, and try a little too hard to cross #222 on port. Our friends were kind enough to avoid taking off the last four feet of our transom, and we responded by doing circles and ended up 15th and annoyed about it. Yet once wed been treated to an excellent regatta barbecue with ribs, chicken, beef, cole slaw, and an awesome potato salad, all washed down with a couple glasses of Newport Storm, we felt better. We werent the only ones who wouldve liked to take back a few false moves, and were contending for the top 10, tied for 9th with Alios #74 and Mike Schwartzs #90 from Chicago. Friday promises to be another nice, sunny day with a moderate southwesterly breeze, and theres plenty of racing ahead.