Block Island Race Week
Anneliese Slamowitz, a summer intern for The Block Island Times, participated as a crew member on Team Manitou in the newly-revamped Block Island Race Week, which took place on June 18 through June 22. Block Island Race Week takes place on alternate years with the Storm Trysail Club’s Block Island Race. Anneliese filed the following report:
Monday, June 18:
The first day of Block Island Race Week, very few competing vessels even left the harbor. With a forecast of wind blowing more than twenty knots, and a pond full of whitecaps, the Race Committee called the race before the day even began. Our rivals, the Wild Child crew, were seen disembarking from their boat to go home to eat burgers and drink beer. Team Manitou, however, reefed our main, donned our fowlies, headed for the cut, and got in another day of practice for the races to come.
Tuesday, June 19:
Day two was terrifying. Under normal cruising conditions, steering a big sailboat is the easiest job on the boat. Unlike a tiller, the wheel steers just like a car, and helmsmans can steer wherever they want, leaving the pit crew to manipulate every other little part of the boat just right. Block Island Race Week is by no means comparable to normal cruising conditions. Less than 10 seconds from the start, I was steering the boat towards the committee boat side of the line when all of a sudden Ken Fischburg and his crew barreled towards us, aiming Wild Child between Manitou and the committee boat. Our skipper was telling me to fall off while our tactician told me to stay on course. I steered the boat straight ahead as Wild Child got closer and closer until I could see the hairs standing up on their bowman’s neck. The rest of the race was uneventful until we encountered a race committee boat seemingly hanging out in the middle of the finish line. Unsure of what to do, I remained on course, and, unfortunately, whacked a member of the race committee in the head with our large yellow and blue A2 spinnaker.
Wednesday, June 20:
Day three, Team Manitou gathered at our tender, expecting the race to be cancelled in response to a forecast of light wind. Instead, the race committee called for course one, the around-the-island race. We at first thought they were joking. The around-the-island is a quintessential Block Island sail. Block Island locals and summer people have the home court advantage in this particular race because they know all the hidden rocks and wind pockets. Despite this advantage, Block Island native teams Manitou, RUSH, and Wild Child found ourselves watching from the crowd as our competition received awards for their speedy rounding. It was a tough loss that made us reconsider our tactics and how we were working together as a team. I had to improve my steering through jibes and as a team we needed to work on our spinnaker douses around marks.
Thursday, June 21:
The fourth day of race week followed the trend of the previous three days: oscillating wind direction and unsteady wind speed. The first race got off to a good start, with the Swan, Impetuous, in the lead and the three J 111s following in hot pursuit. We had lost half of our crew and the majority of our weight the night before, when three guys had left the island for various reasons. We replaced the 500 pounds lost with two of my best friends on the island, Hannah Gelnaw and Sibley Dickinson, two skinny girls, who, in the words of Orrin Starr, “each equal one half of a bubba.” Even with the addition of my friends, team Manitou suffered a tough loss with these guys gone. Our spin douses became messier and we were no longer operating as one cohesive unit. One of the benefits of the loss, though, is that the percentage of women on the boat was up 30 percent since the beginning of the week and the average age had dropped about 20 years. Unfortunately, sailing is a heavily male-dominated sport. Women are often given jobs like “squirrel:” the lightest person on the boat who can move around and get things without throwing off the heel angle. Our genetic makeup, however, puts us at a disadvantage to men, who on average are bigger with more muscle, so are more useful on the rail and in the pit. I have always been frustrated by the sexism of the sailing world, but this week, in an important role at the helm, and with a 40 percent female team, I felt like I had earned my place in the sailing world, regardless of my gender. This was just as fulfilling as winning any race.
Friday, June 22:
When the last day of Race Week came, I don’t think any of us were ready for it to be over. All week, we had unsuccessfully been chasing Bravo, another J 111 in our class, and had consistently been coming in fourth and fifth out of six boats. In the first race of the day, Ken Fischburg’s boat, Wild Child, who we had hoped to beat, overtook us with leeward rights in a mark rounding. We hoped to catch them on the upwind stretch to the finish line, but we lost ground, finishing 42 uncorrected seconds behind them. Our spirits were low by the time the countdown started for the second race, but as our sails luffed next to the committee boat, two of our competitors, Impetuous and Wild Child, crossed the line early. After a nearly perfect start, we flew up the course. My dad and skipper, Greg Slamowitz, stood directly behind me at the helm making calculations about wind direction and current on his clipboard, while tactician Orrin Starr flew around the cockpit seemingly doing 10 things at once. On the final approach to the finish line we tacked too early, losing ground on Impetuous and barely holding our lead on Bravo. We tacked again, praying that we had lay on the committee boat end of the finish line. The sails were trimmed all the way in, all of our weight was out on the rail, and our fingers were crossed. Russ Arnone, a long-time member of team Manitou, turned back to the cockpit and said “Anneliese, it’s all on you now.” I tuned everything else out and stared straight ahead at the telltales flapping on our jib. My eyes were watering and my heart was thudding. By some miracle, the wind shifted right in our final approach and we were lifted across the finish line. The whole crew let out a collective sigh of relief. We had finished second across the line (third with corrected time) and were guaranteed to take the podium later that night.
This report was filed by Block Island Race Week co-ordinator James Gallacher:
After a hard-fought week on the water, first place came down to a tiebreaker between Block Island local, Tom Lee, aboard his Melges 24 Jammy Beggar, and Jamestown resident Paul Zabetakis aboard his Swan 42, Impetuous.
In the final race Impetuous was flagged for being over early and had to claw its way back through the fleet to gain a well-earned victory for the week in the Spinnaker class.
Lee finished in second for the week with Sedgwick and Andrew Ward aboard their J/111 Bravo rounded out the top three.
In the cruising fleet, four different boats were able to secure victories in the five races that took place over the course of the week, including Block Island’s own Chuck Townsend aboard his Alerion 26, Nimble.
Tom Hansen and crew aboard their Taylor 42, Africa, were able to secure their place atop the cruising class with an impressive scoreline of two firsts, and three seconds.
Awards were presented at BIMI at the conclusion of the week, where competitors, volunteers, and sponsors enjoyed a late afternoon on Block Island among friends.
By the way, island residents sailed five of the boats in the regatta.
The organizers are looking forward to hosting the next off-year from the Storm Trysail Club’s Block Island Race in 2020.