Tag Archives: Newport

Annapolis to Newport Race

Suntex flagI was really excited to be back in Annapolis for the start of the Annapolis to Newport race. I find the city a vibrant, exciting place with a long history steeped in maritime tradition. Sailing seems to be a passion here and it vies to be the sailing capital of the U.S. Along with my regular crew, Paul, Susan and Amir, we invited some of the tenants from Liberty Landing Marina to sail with us on this iconic North American ocean race. Joining us were Marcus Ansell, Jeremy Nash and Moochie Corrado, all avid sailors keen to try their hand at sailing/racing on the open ocean.

Amir the RockstarFor this race I’m thankful for my sponsors who have been very supportive this season. Suntex Marinas was helpful in getting the boat ready for the race back at Liberty Landing Marina, its flagship property, and Liberty House Restaurant, part of Landmark Hospitality, provided some delicious veal and portobello mushroom meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy for some of our meals (there was so much delicious meatloaf!). I should add that Amir was a rock star in the galley. Even when the boat was heeled (leaned) over 25-30 degrees, he was happily preparing meals for everybody.

On the day of the race start, the weather forecast looked good with 15-20 knots out of the northeast. This would make for a great 120-mile run down the Chesapeake from the start off Annapolis to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Norfolk, Virginia. This year the race was set up with two race starts on separate days, the performance cruising boats started on Thursday, while the faster racing boats (like the 80-ft maxi, Donnybrook) started on Friday. The Thursday start was also different this year in that roughly 30 boats would all be starting at the same time. That made for a very exciting start, with all the boats tacking (turning) very close to each other trying to position themselves for a quick start at the front of the pack.

Spinnaker Run down the Chesapeake We had a good start and with the spinnaker flying and were quickly sailing south towards the mouth of the Chesapeake, making over 8 knots at times. There were some challenges sailing in the Chesapeake, besides helming at night without the moon or stars or other external visual references to steer towards. The first challenge is the timing and location of currents which could significantly reduce our boat speed if miscalculated. Second, is the heavy commercial shipping traffic (tugs and barges, freighters, tankers, etc) which need to be avoided. These ships travel quickly through the shipping channels and you do not want to be crossing closely in front of them! Third, are the fish traps – some marked on charts, others not – which are a hazard at night. The fish traps are a series of poles with nets stretched between them, often without working lights to show their location. You do not want to get caught up in these!

In spite of those challenges, we safely and quickly navigated down the Chesapeake and by 0600 Friday morning we crossed the Bay Bridge Tunnel in fog and headed out into the open ocean for the next part of the race – a 330-mile beat (upwind sailing) to Newport.

Weather Forecast in GRIB FormatBefore we were out of cell phone range from land I grabbed the latest weather forecast, and that forecast was not good! The new forecast called for 26-32 knot winds right on the nose with 10-15 foot seas by Saturday night. Because it would be on the nose, it would be a rough, rough pounding in the waves with apparent winds in the 35-40 knot range. To put it mildly, that would not be pleasant.  In reviewing the forecast, the winds did look lighter if we stayed closer to land but that would add extra miles to the route. Deciding to put the safety of crew and boat first, I opted for the longer, but safer route closer to shore.

However, before we headed on our new route to Newport, we had a nice surprise waiting for us. Shortly after we rounded a navigational aid which marked the turn to Newport eight miles offshore, Susan, who was at the helm, shouted that the boat had suddenly stopped! I ran up from down below wondering if we had grounded or got caught in a fishing net. We hadn’t grounded as we were in 45 feet of water, and I couldn’t see fishing nets under the boat, so that didn’t appear to be the cause. Then Amir noticed that the anchor had dropped and was holding us fast! Apparently the force of the waves crashing against the bow had knocked the pin holding the anchor out. And, because I had forgotten to ensure it was lashed down (big learning experience for me!) the anchor was free to drop with all 220 feet of chain and rode running out.

It was a tense half hour, as Amir and Paul struggled to bring the anchor back onto the boat. In the middle of raising the anchor, another sailboat, one of our competitors, emerged out of the fog and heading toward us.  Fortunately, the crew saw us and quickly changed their heading. They must have wondered what we were doing with our sails up but going nowhere! The rest of the day was uneventful as we settled down into our watches, and continued our race towards Newport.

Saturday was a mixed day. It started out with more fog and just a light breeze. Eventually the wind picked up as thunderstorms built up around us. Fortunately, the storms passed on both sides of us, saving us from strong squall conditions. I found out after the race, that some boats which went further east were hit with +50 knot winds, and one boat was knocked down (mast in the water) and had its hard dodger ripped off by the strong gusts! Several others had their mainsails ripped by the winds.

Jeremy FishingWe had another small adventure – this time positive – on Saturday when Jeremy decided to try his hand at fishing. It didn’t take long, and within fifteen minutes he proudly caught a fish, the first time one was landed on my boat.

By 1830 on Saturday, the clouds cleared and the late setting sun came out, promising a clear night full of stars. This was a nice change from the previous nights of dark skies and constant fog and mist, water dripping off our eyebrows.

Sunrise at SeaThe rest of the race to Newport was smooth sailing and everybody was happy to have a watch under the beautiful night sky with the stars shining brightly overhead. The rising moon late at night was also a stunning sight as it slowly lifted above the horizon. It also helped that we had some delicious left over meatloaf sandwiches to enjoy during the wee hours of the morning! Thanks again to Ken Trickilo, the executive chef at Liberty House Restaurant. The early morning sunrises were also a sight to behold.

During the following two days, we were fortunate to see dolphins and sea turtles swimming around us. We even passed a few large Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish. One sight that caught those of us up on deck by surprise, was a picnic table floating leisurely far from land with a bird perched on it as if waiting for crumbs.

Race Finish at Castle Hill LightRounding Block Island, all the crew came up on deck for the last sail into Newport and the finish off Castle Hill Light. It was an exciting time to finally cross the line after 460-miles and the crew burst out in loud cheers!

Four and a half days with seven sleep-deprived people on a small boat, sounds like a recipe for conflicts and short tempers. But, that was not at all the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite, and I was very happy with the camaraderie and the positive attitude had by all. I hope everyone came away with a sense of wonder and excitement that ocean sailing/racing can bring.

P.S. – It was sad news to hear that a great, kind person and excellent sailor at Liberty Landing Marina, passed away shortly after we returned. Seymour Friedel will be warmly remembered for the smile he brought to our hearts and the joy he had for being on the water.

Another Racer in the Distance

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Volvo Ocean Race – Newport Stopover

VOR Race VillageThe Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) boats had arrived in Newport between May 6th and May 7th with one of the closest finishes in race history. After over 5,000 miles, Dongfeng and Abu Dubai finished just three and a half minutes or a couple hundred meters apart to take 1st and 2nd respectively. With the winds so light near the finish line, crew were even sent up the masts to pop or push the battens in the sail to the other side with each turn.

passionThe excitement in Newport, RI was palatable. In just the first few days more than 40,000 people had visited the Race Village set up at Fort Adams, taking in their first look at the Volvo Ocean Race boats and visiting the team and sponsor pavilions. It was the only North American stopover of this iconic ocean race, and the first time the VOR boats visited Newport, RI, the historic sailing capital of the U.S.

We arrived on Monday evening after a 21 hour sail (actually motor) through thick fog and no wind. Although I was tired from the trip, it was exciting to pass the VOR 65 boats as we headed to our dock for the week. Over the following few days, I spent time at the Race Village and was quite impressed with the energy that was there. Various teams had pavilions set up to highlight their sponsor’s activities and ecological efforts. There were numerous activities for the public including youth sail races, high performance sailing exhibitions, and of course the iconic America’s Cup 12 meter boats. There were also concerts, films, opportunities to meet the sailing teams and other fun activities. All in all fun-filled and entertaining! Suntex Racing was also well represented in Newport and at the Race Village.

Suntex Greg Suntex Paul 1

Sedna VORBut, lets not forget the racing! It was great to be able to take Sedna out on the water and see the in-port race right near the starting line. We were even picked up by the film crew with Sedna being seen on the VOR in-port video (bottom left on the photo). Watching these Volvo 65 race boats accelerate out of the start and head to Castle Hill was thrilling. mapfre dong fengFor the actual race start from Newport to Lisbon, Portugal, we were again out on Sedna watching the action from the water unfold, while Paul Donato and Bjoern Kils from NY Media Boat were out on Paul’s plane taking some great action shots from the air. We were able to get some great photos which were followed and liked by among others, Volvo and Gaastra two of the key sponsors. By the time the boats left on their race to Lisbon, more than 125,000 people had visited the Race Village.

VOR NYMediaBoatAlvimedica  mapfre  brunel et al  brunel Alvimedica  VOR 3

All too soon, it was time to head back home for a ‘quick’ ocean sail to Liberty Landing Marina. The evening started out with clear skies and it was a nice treat to see the International Space Station (ISS) quickly cross the night sky over us. To think that the Volvo Ocean Race takes eight months to sail around the world (with stops at various ports), yet the ISS circumnavigates the earth in only 90 minutes! That is a study in contrasts.

Rounding Block Island, the clouds rolled in followed by fog, and again it was a sail back with radar and AIS as our best friends. At least the wind picked up on the last third of the sail and we had a great spinnaker run back to New York Harbor and home.

Now that I’m back home, it’s time to prepare for the Annapolis Newport Race which starts on June 4th.

  Newport Sunset 2  Newport Sunset

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A Foggy Trip to Newport

In less than a month, our first race of the season will begin. The Annapolis Newport Race is one of the iconic races on the East Coast of the U.S. and we are delighted to have Suntex Marinas as one of our key sponsors this year. They have helped bring a sense of adventure and excitement to our racing season.

routeWith the Annapolis Newport Race coming up, and the Volvo Ocean Race boats at Newport, RI, I thought it would be a great opportunity to take the available crew up to Newport on the ocean side for some pre-race training. It would be the first sail of the season for them. Given that the plan was to leave on Mother’s Day, we decided to leave later in the evening around 9 pm. After all, Moms were the priority that day!

Manhattan at DuskThe weather forecast was generally good. Winds were forecasted at 10-15 knots (with gusts to 20 knts) from the south and shifting to the southwest later. That would make for a great broad reach through part of the night, then a fun spinnaker run up to Newport. The less exciting part of the forecast was the dense fog advisory in effect until the following day around noon.

Fortunately, the fog held off as we left Liberty Landing Marina and headed under the Verrazano Bridge out onto the open ocean. It was a beautiful initial three hours of sailing on a warm evening with stars acting as our guide. Alas, it was too short though. By 12:30 the fog began to roll in and ended up staying with us for the remainder of the sail up to Newport.

Some of the crew were initially nervous about sailing in dense fog. After all, how can you sail if you can’t see? Granted, at first it can be quite intimidating, but if properly prepared, it is manageable. Obviously, the biggest concern on the ocean is the potential of a collision with a (usually much bigger) boat. However, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risk. Namely, understanding how to use radar and knowing how to use AIS (Automatic Identification System).

digital_radar_imageOne of the most important tools for sailing at times of limited visibility is radar. Radar gives us the ability to “see” objects such as land, other ships and navigation markers even when there is dense fog and in the dark of night.  However, it does take time to understand radar and to properly interpret what appears on the screen. The crew will have good practice on this sail.

Another tool is AIS which will show nearby boats as triangles on a chart plotter (electronic map). Clicking on the triangle will give you that boat’s navigational details including whether it is on a collision course. The two key terms to know with AIS are CPA (closest point of approach) and TCPA (time of closest point of approach). This data essentially tells you how close the risk of a collision is and when that could occur.

Once the crew settled in to a night of sailing in fog off the coast of Long Island, people relaxed somewhat. However, they soon encountered another challenge. Helming a true course in fog can be quite difficult as there are no visual cues such as the moon or stars to help steer a straight line. Nevertheless, there are still sensory clues that can help. One of the techniques I teach is to feel the direction of wind on your face or head when you are sailing on course and try to constantly be sensitive to that, using it as a guide. Also, the boat will have a certain motion as it sails with the waves on a particular direction. Learning to feel that is important for good helming. Finally, there is the compass that can be used to help steer a straight course. Just remember that you don’t want to simply react to compass changes as the slow swinging of the compass can lead to over steering.

Sailing on a broad reach along the coast there was a time or two when the person at the helm accidentally gybed and began sailing in the opposite direction (oops!). But with time, everyone improved remarkably. For those whom it was a first time sailing in fog at night it was a great learning experience, and they improved considerably by the end of the trip.

foggy sailDaylight hours did not bring any relief from the fog. It stayed socked in around us with visibility less than ½ mile and at times, less than a hundred yards. It was disappointing for some to pass close to Montauk Point without being able to see it. Later as we rounded Block Island, we passed navigational markers less than a quarter mile away although we could not visually see them. However, they did show up on radar and they could be heard through the dense fog.

castle hill lightIt wasn’t until we were close to Newport that we saw our first sight of land. Castle Hill Light slowly appeared out of the fog as we made our approach, and then one by one other landmarks began to appear out of the mist.  As we rounded Fort Adams, we could see the Volvo Ocean Race Village and the six boats all tied up at the docks. It was a beautiful and exciting sight!


castle hill