After a whirlwind of speculation and decision making regarding the official course for the 2016 Islands race, the boats are safe in port, sailors are dry and fed and trophies have been awarded. All boats sailed through the finish line last night minus two who retired early in the competition due to gear failure.
The Friday start featured sunny skies and a disappointing southerly wind at just 4 knots! Not to worry - the front that the Organizing Authority and Race Committee was anticipating ripped through the start area not long after the start as the Race Committee boat was traveling back to Newport Harbor. Lighter winds followed the initial squall, then built steadily as the backside of the front filled in.
Smaller sea states with 6-8’ swells and significant wind chop marked the hours following the start. Winds varied between 20 and 30 knots with gusts. According to crew member Stuart Bannatyne from the Division 1 winning boat, Pyewacket, “It rained hard. It was a point-to-point race, yet the way the wind was shifting made it really challenging. But it was that kind of challenge that made it an enjoyable race.”
Mighty Merloe, the 60’ ocean trimaran which was the first boat to finish and won the Division 1 class, had their share of struggles as well. Crew member Paul Allen recounted his most vivid memory. “What stood out to me the most was passing by the Oil Islands while we were going really fast- about 34 knots in a swell. I was concerned about the big steel mooring cans for the rig service boats so I was on the lookout for those. To avoid one, we couldn’t run down because of the rig, and we couldn’t steer up or we would have flipped!”
There was plenty of other race gear casualties though. Consider one of the smaller boats out there, BlueFlash, a J/88 who placed second in Division 4. According to crewmember Sean Grealish whose father, Scott Grealish, was skippering BlueFlash, “We shredded two sails because of a bad broach. We were sailing at 18 knots which is double what the J/88 I s supposed to do. It would have been nice to be on a larger boat.”
Others weren’t as phased by the squalls. Jeff Brown onboard the J/65 Maitri thoroughly enjoyed the rough weather and had a different idea on how to best cope with bumpy conditions and damaged gear. “This was our first time on the new boat and we were having an absolute blast. We were eating lasagna and salad from Old Venice right when our first kite blew up. So then we started going 10 knots with our main alone all while still enjoying our lasagna.”
For some, the weather and conditions served as a great learning opportunity. There was a collection of younger crew members from the Newport Sea Base onboard the IMX-38, Apprentice, who have competed in the Islands Race prior, but never before in such challenging conditions. According to crew member Catherine Reynolds, “A major part of the race that stood out to me was when the first storm hit us. We weren’t sure what to do at first, but it was great to work together and figure out what to do.”
Event chair Wayne Terry commended the Islands Race staff for their decision making skills. “I think the Organizing Authority did an exceptional job with excellent leadership. We appreciated the patience from competitors as we waited to watch forecasts and tried to make the best decision.”
Upon finishing, many sailors reported that they celebrated the challenging day the only way they know how- by rushing straight to the warm, dry bar!