All too soon after returning from Nova Scotia it was time for the annual Around Long Island Regatta, a 190-mile race that starts near Rockaway Point on the ocean side of Long Island, goes up the south coast, rounds Montauk Point and ends off the breakwater in Hempstead Harbor near Seacliff Yacht Club. For many sailors, this race is a ‘rite of passage’ as it can be their first time sailing on the ocean. It may be a coastal race with the Long Island coast rarely more than a few miles away, but the ocean swells and waves have caused many a boat to drop out over the years either from crew seasickness or battered boats.
In addition to having Suntex Marinas as our lead sponsor this year, we were also happy to have Landmark Hospitality’s Liberty House Restaurant as one of our other sponsors (a great way to have delicious five-star meals on board!). There were a few new crew members on this race. In addition to our core crew of Paul Donato, Susan Paul, Amir Elmallah and myself, we were joined by some Suntex Marinas tenants. That included Moochie Corrado who was with us on the Annapolis to Newport Race, John and Michele Jerger who had recently purchased a boat in Florida and sailed it up to Liberty Landing Marina, weathering some fierce Atlantic storms along the way, and Jeannette Lenoir, a journalist from upstate New York.
It was a blustery day at the start of the race, with winds blowing between 20-25 knots and seas of 4 to 6 ft. This made for some ‘fun’ positioning prior to the start, but we had set ourselves up well and had a great start, crossing the line with the front of the pack. Settling in, we quickly headed east along the coast, passing Jones Beach and Fire Island in short order as the strong beam winds (blowing from the side) helped propel us quickly up the coast. There was a low that was forecasted to cross the fleet by early evening and it was shaping up to be quite the storm – with a well-defined squall line on radar! Looking back, I could see a shelf cloud (a low, horizontal wedge-shaped cloud at the front of thunderstorms) approaching us. That shelf cloud signaled a strong storm ready to hit the fleet, and we could see the heavy rain below it as well as seeing flashes of lightening through the clouds. There was a constant rumble of thunder.
With our sails reefed, we were ready for the heavy winds often associated with this type of weather and we were not disappointed. We could see other boats behind us rounding up and struggling as the winds hit. We were hit as well, but having reefed early, we managed to maintain course – for the most part. There were times Sedna also rounded up even with the helm hard over as there were several gusts over 35 knots. Fortunately, it was a quick moving storm and within an hour, it had passed us by. We did hear over the radio what sounded like one boat being knocked down (mast hitting the water), but fortunately no injuries or damage were reported.
The rest of the race along the coast and around Montauk Point turned out to be uneventful. As we made the turn around the Point it was time to make the decision on the best way to enter Long Island Sound. The shortest route to the finish line would be to go through Plum Gut, approximately 17 miles northwest of the Point. The quickest way into the Sound is through the Race (so named because the currents can race up to 4 knots through here) which is about 13 miles from Montauk Point. In between the two is a channel between Plum Island and Gull Island. The tactical challenge is to enter the Sound as quickly as possible, but not to be caught by dying winds in the evening with the current reversing.
We chose the channel between Plum and Gull Islands while our rivals split between the Race and Plum Gut. With night approaching and the currents flushing us into the Sound, we headed as quickly as we could down the middle of the Sound hoping to reach a shoal (28 Foot Shoal) where we could drop anchor if the wind died. Alas, that was not to be! Just a few miles from the shoal, the wind died completely, and the water at 170 feet was too deep to drop anchor. So close, yet so far! At the mercy of the currents and with no wind to fill the sails, it was a long painful night as we were swept back nearly 15 miles before the currents reversed and eventually brought us back into Long Island Sound. Early in the morning with the sun slowly rising, the winds finally filled in again and we had a great run the rest of the day westward down the Sound – until Northport.
With evening approaching again, the wind – in typical summer Long Island Sound fashion – began to die off. As we slowed to a crawl, the contest between the two watches became one of which would pass the four smokestacks at Northport first. I should mention that at the time the contest began, we were almost even with the four smokestacks, making it a race of less than half a mile! I think it was two watches later (six hours) before Paul’s watch could declare victory. Unfortunately, the light wind continued to tease us Sunday morning, providing an occasional puff of three to four knots before dying out again. With a high pressure system parked over us and no change in wind expected for the next 24 hours, I decided to end our race this year. At that point, we had traveled just 3.2 miles in 14 hours!
I wish I could say it was with heavy heart that we withdrew from the race, but with no wind, searing sun and heat, not to mention the biting flies, it was an easy decision. Of course, knowing that a pool, a BBQ and a great party were just a couple hours away may have also helped 😉
There’s always next year…