Re-birth of a yacht race

Two clubs re-organize Block Island Race Week 2018
Fri, 11/03/2017 - 9:15am
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Sensing a shift in how much time (and energy) most people can give to a full week of sailboat racing, two yacht clubs have decided to revamp an old Block Island racing tradition.

The officers of the Block Island and Duck Island (out of Westbrook, Conn.) Yacht Clubs have retooled Block Island Race Week. The rejuvenated Block Island Race Week has already been scheduled: June 17 through June 22, 2018.

The race will alternate with the Storm Trysail Block Island Race, which runs every other year, and will return again in 2019.

The central idea of Block Island Race is to bring the excitement of a regatta to as many boaters as possible, but to also take out some of what may be most daunting about race weeks: the early start and finish times, and length of races a participant can compete in during each day of the regatta. With time at a premium in today’s ever-running corporate environment, the idea that a person, especially a younger person, can take an entire week off to participate in a race is not as easy as it once was. 

Talking about the new race week with The Block Island Times were organizers Jim Fiorato, James Gallacher, and Ray Torrey of the Block Island Yacht Club, and Todd Berman, the Commodore of the Duck Island Club. 

“There have been off-year regattas in the past, almost every year,” said Gallacher, “but we had an instance where there wasn’t going to be a regatta next year unless these two clubs stepped up.” 

Berman, the Commodore of the Connecticut club, said another reason to hold the race was that Block Island is one of the most desirable sailing locations in the world.

“Block Island is a destination for people year-in and year-out,” Berman said. “It’s a great place to be racing, and to be when you’re not on the boat.” He first came to the Island when he was “14, 15 years old. I slept in the bow of a J/24 and thought I was king of the world.” He talked of the feeling he gets when he enters the Great Salt Pond. “For me, it’s the beginning of summer. It’s very, very impactful for me.”

He added: “There isn’t a better place to sail. The chance to help in putting on this event in 2018 is a little bit of a chance for me to give something back.”

Jim Fiorato said the idea came about when he was talking with another member of the Duck Island Club one day at The Oar, and then, in January, Fiorato started to talk to Berman. “Then it’s just been sort of snowballing,” said Fiorato.

The goal, they all agreed, is to turn the regatta into what Fiorato called “a pretty significant event. Maybe we won’t hit a home run in 2018, but it will spark a great tradition.”

The group hopes, in part, to attract younger participants, who have trended away from racing in these week-long regattas.

“One of the reasons is these races have morphed into very physically demanding events is they really take their toll, even as amateurs,” said Berman. “A lot of people who could participate choose not to because it’s so physically demanding.” Gallacher added that younger people are not buying boats, and particularly find it difficult to take a week off to sail and then go back to work.

For the Block Island Race Week, there will be more diversity in the kind of races scheduled — and later start times. “We’re trying to accommodate sailors who might not otherwise come,” said Berman.

Fiorato said the partnership between the Block Island and Duck Island Clubs has been instrumental in creating the event. “They bring an enormous amount of sailing and racing experience. We bring local knowledge — the island demographics, what works, and what is problematic.” Sue Reilly will be the Principal Race Officer and Henry duPont will be the Chair of On-water logistics. 

Torrey said that one of the primary goals the organizers have is to “run a fiscally conservative event. We’re not looking at a lot of profits. Every step of the way we’ve developed processes and procedures that keep that strictly in mind. We’re going to do it right or not at all.” 

Although there has been some permitting involved, and cooperation with the New Shoreham Police Department, the Harbors Department, and the U.S. Coast Guard, the real challenge will be to find volunteers.

They all agreed that at the height of the race week, as many as 25 volunteers a day may be needed. Anyone interested can send an email to Jim Fiorato at biyc02807@gmail.com or by phone at (401) 466-3000. More information on Block Island Race Week, as well as sign up forms, can be found at birw2018.com. 

“I thought we’d run into numerous snags,” said Torrey. “But we’ve had people come out of the woodwork to help. So far, I couldn’t be happier.”