Twice-delayed Hal Madison Race sails on

Thu, 08/27/2020 - 8:00pm

The 37th edition of the Block Island Club’s annual Hal Madison Race on Saturday, Aug. 22 featured a series of firsts, in keeping with an unusual year on Block Island and the world at large.

It was the first time the race was postponed twice before finally being sailed; the first time there was a socially-distant, mask-up skippers’ meeting (same for the awards party); the first time there was a designated dinghy class; the first time the race was won by a former staffer and president of the club and the first time a dinghy won the Madison trophy. That dinghy — a Megabyte — a 14-foot centerboarder, sailed smartly by Sven Risom, bested five keelboats.

The action started just after noon under partly cloudy skies, with winds about five to 10 knots, generally out of the west, with some swells. The fluky, shifty winds made it hard for the race committee to set an ideal windward mark for the course off the southwest coast of the island, so this race turned out to be about boat speed and sail trim. Bob “Red” Closter on his J/24 Island Spirit, and John Seider, head club sailing instructor racing a Colgate 26, exchanged leads and battled for line honors on the first leg and throughout the race. On both windward legs, Closter chose a course further north of the other boats, adding an extra tack, but making excellent time. Seider led most of the fleet in coming at the first mark from the left side of the course. There were three generations of Closters aboard Island Spirit, including son, Rob, and grandson, Keegan.

Much of the fleet launched spinnakers for the two downwind legs, moving briskly on broad reaches. While the big boats circled the 6-mile course, occasionally passing each other, Risom plugged away, making no unforced errors, and holding a steady fifth position, but noticeably closer than expected to the larger craft.

There was a photo finish for first across the line, with Seider edging Closter by just 3 seconds. All the boats finished within 14 minutes on uncorrected time after nearly two hours of racing, with a slightly longer gap after PHRF handicaps were applied. On corrected time, Closter won the spinnaker class, followed by Seider and Lydia and Jake Kramer on a double-handed Colgate 26. My wife, Alix, and our children, Tristan and Phoebe, along with myself, took first in the non-spinnaker class on a Colgate 26, and Risom won the dinghy class and the perpetual Madison Cup.

The annual event was started by two teenage Block Island Club sailing instructors in 1983. A year later, the Madison trophy was unveiled, honoring Hal and Virginia Madison, founding members of the club. Hal was an early club president and supporter of its junior sailing program. Committee boat duties were undertaken by club manager Alex Donohue and Emily Beinkampen.