Vineyard Race reflections

The following Vineyard Race tales were shared with the Buzzard Society at their 2010 dinner.

Wayne Beardsley

I don’t remember the exact year but the race was with Bob Andrew on A-Train.  I was assigned to stop off in Mamaroneck on my way up to Stamford and buy some dry ice to help keep the frozen foods frozen.  I did that, but without telling anyone I also bought two quarts of Hagen Daz ice cream, some fresh bananas, and some Redi Whip.  The race got off to a really fast start with perfect spinnaker reaching conditions.

Some time around dinner we actually started passing a tug boat pushing barges east on Long Island Sound.  As everyone was finishing up their meal, and cheering our great progress, I popped up on deck with banana splits for everyone.  We all agreed that it just didn’t get any better.  As an FYI,  A-Train won the trophy for first around the tower that year.

As you may recall Bob Andrew had a partner in A-Train, a very distinguished gentleman who was SYC Commodore at the time, and had never been known to raise his voice in anger, let alone utter an outburst of profanity.  As partners, they of course divided up the watch captain duties, with Bob’s friends, including myself on his watch, and the friends of our unnamed Commodore on the other.

Sometime along in the first night of the race, all of us on Bob’s watch were below deck sleeping, while the other watch briskly sailed east under spinnaker and a good breeze.  Suddenly we all awoke with a start as Bob’s partner was heard to yell “holy sh*t” or words to that effect.  We looked at each other in shock and then rushed on deck knowing that something truly momentous was happening, only to discover that we were aimed directly at the middle of the Clinton Breakwater.

Fast action by all hands averted a first order disaster but it was a close call.

Charlie Gulotta

The Vineyard Race for me has been a 38 year adventure with many different stories. The ones that stand out the most are those involving the different owners I have had the pleasure to race with. All very distinguished gentlemen with many different idiosyncrasies – two stand out.

I started my Vineyard Race adventure in 1972 aboard the Sitzmark a McCurdy & Rhodes sloop owned by Dr. Walter Neumann. “Doc” was a fierce competitor. He was of German background and was a big skier back in his day hence the name of the boat. When I became a crew member he was in his seventies but wanted to win more than most people half his age. Paul Fitzgerald an ex Navy officer was the navigator and ran the boat. We sailed out of the New York Athletic Club. I raced with Doc extensively for three years and competed in three Vineyard Races. He had some very interesting traits. All the plates, bowels, and cups were numbered on the boat and at the start of each race Doc would post on the bulkhead a crew list with numbers assigned. The crew he thought had performed the best in the previous race would be given a low number which would correspond to the eating arrangements. If you got too many high numbers you would no longer be on the crew. When the crew performed well in a race Doc would celebrate by breaking out rum and Entenmanns coffee cake, he took great pleasure in giving you a small slice of cake and a half a cup of rum. If the race did not go to his liking there was no celebration and everyone was sent home with an empty stomach.  He was frugal in some areas but in others he went over the top. He wanted to win and spent a fortune trying to improve the performance of Sitzmark. One year he extended the transom and covered the boat bottom with a special bubble coating in an attempt to improve performance. Paul Fitzgerald was Doc’s man and both of them smoked. Doc would break out a cigar after dinner but Paul being an ex Navy man chained smoked camel cigarettes and drank black coffee constantly. I still have vivid images of lying in a bunk opposite the navigation station while we were pounding thru the Race on our way to the tower watching Paul sip black coffee and fill the cabin with smoke from his ever present cigarette.

The second owner at the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Dave Tortorello the owner of Partnership a J-122, the winner of last years Vineyard Race. I had the pleasure of being a member of the crew. He is much younger than Doc and does not smoke but also has some very interesting characteristics which make racing for him memorable. Unlike Doc who started races being very stern with no one allowed to talk – with Dave, Partnership approaches the starting line with the stereo blasting to get the crew focused on winning. For the start of this year’s Vineyard Race we were playing one of the songs from the movie “Slum Dog Millionaire”. It’s called “Jai Ho” which in Hindi means Victory to you!! We were so intent on getting ourselves cranked up on the music that we almost missed the race committee’s radio announcement to sail the shortened course. This year’s race was shorter but just as much of a challenge for those of us trying to find some new course marks inside Long Island Sound. It still had the same frantic finish down the sound hoping to make it to Stamford before the wind died. For Partnership this year was a great success and for me a wonderful experience.

It would be remiss not to mention some of the other owners I have had the pleasure to sail with. They are still alive and might be here where as Doc Neumann is dead and Dave Tortorello is too young to be in attendance.

  • Reverend Buster or Cliff Crowley on Moondance
  • Past Commodore of the Stamford Yacht Club Rocky Harwood on Quintet
  • John Santa on Galadriel

The Vineyard includes all of the challenges you want in a race. No matter what the situation it is hard to forget the rush and excitement of screaming down Long Island Sound in the middle of Saturday night under spinnaker surfing on the brink of being out of control.

Tim Platt

The Vineyard Race has a storied history, made richer by the many fine yachts and superior sailors who have returned each year to make this a signature event on the East Coast distance racing calendar.

Others will recount memorable stories about the decked out new racing machines, the vintage vessels, and their crafty skippers and crews.

But the weather always plays a role in the strategy for and outcome of the Race, as aptly demonstrated by comparing three back-to-back years: 2005–2007.

In 2005, the wind started off light, and became lighter still. The early bird watch Saturday morning came on deck at 0600, and was greeted by the wet tendrils of early-morning fog.  We had not yet cleared the Sound, with the Race looming ahead, but a declining wind and the promise of a flooding current if we did not make Eastings in a hurry.  Our trusted skipper soon thereafter checked out for what must have been his fourth slumber of the Race, and true to form, rejected our overtures to awaken, first at 2 and then again at 3 hours into the watch, in order to confront the increasingly grim conditions.

When we finally succeeded at summoning his attention at 0930 hours, we alerted him as follows: the wind had declined to nil; we were surrounded by pea soup fog; the wind forecast called for more of the same; the current was scheduled to start flooding within the hour; and we sought permission to go bare poles, so as to spare the flogging of his new sails in the swells and slop of Eastern LIS.  He listened and nodded, and yet commanded us to stay the course.

At about 10, with the morning watch change, the skipper received an updated briefing, which consisted of a repeat of the prior report’s data, plus a recommendation to drop the anchor to prevent negative CMG in the face of the new flooding current. Our fearless captain assembled the data, contemplated our options, and then challenged the new watch to show the new off-watch how to race in light air.

The other watch captain bit his lip for the next half hour, determined to eke the best he could out of a no-win(d) situation, and yet finally succumbed to reality, handing the wheel off to a mate, diving below, checking the nav data, and then yelping, “Cripes, Skip, we’re being set back to the City:  our CMG is -2.5 knots.”

This declaration at last caught the skipper’s attention, who arose, stretched, idled his way to the nav station, and after some somber brooding, first authorized bare poles, and then some 20 minutes later, anchor’s ahoy.

What a difference a year makes!

The 2006 race started off with a bang, with boatloads of wind at the start, so much so that only 26 boats started, out of 54 registered.  Then, with the winds increasing to over 50 knots in the face of an increasing storm, only 3 boats (Blue Yankee, Snow Lion, and Lora Ann) finished, with Robert Towse’s Blue Yankee demonstrating solid seamanship, courage and superior racing over the 234 mile course (including a tough upwind slog from the start to the Buzzards Bay Tower), finishing in just 25:20:02.

Rich duMoulin, Lora Ann’s stalwart skipper, wrote up his own account, including these memorable words: the 2006 “Race was an exhilarating experience. We learned a tremendous amount about our boats, and ourselves, and can go offshore as better and safer sailors in the future. We also picked up great new stories and jokes about seasickness, and improved our knowledge of storm sail handling and trim, steering over waves, and food preparation in zero gravity. Perhaps most important we strengthened our friendships with our fellow crewmembers.”

The 2007 race brought an odd mixture of two different weather systems, and resulted in two very different races:  the first 12 hours were spectacular, even for the back-enders, with a full breeze from the aft quarter driving most of the fleet to the BB Tower by sunrise Saturday morning, although the cagey ones gained an early lead by snarking their way through Fishers Island Sound to mitigate an even worse flooding current through the Race.  But the wind shut down for by late morning Saturday, and created a whole new race for the trip home.  The smart money among the smaller craft drove hard  to the north after rounding Block’s southwestern corner, determined to find a localized northerly just yards off the Connecticut shore, and then hugged the shore all the way to New Haven to establish meaningful fore-aft separation from even those well-crewed boats just 150 yards further South sailing the same compass course.

That’s racing, Vineyard style.

In short, the weather always makes a difference in the Vineyard Race, so in building a crew and planning a strategy, the sage skipper knows that it pays to be prepared, and have a plan for all conditions.

Jeff Ohstrom

My most memorable Vineyard race was the 2009 race.  This race is most memorable, not because of a brilliant finish or a particular fondness of Seaflower Reef, or long term memory problems, but for the fact that it is the only race in which I have anchored twice due to the absence of wind and adverse tide conditions.  Although frustrating at first, both anchorages bring back fond memories and a good time was had by all.  During our first anchorage, north of Long Sand Shoal, our French chief prepared some exquisite pancakes with chocolate and nutella and blue berries and raspberries and whipped cream and… while we observed some of our competitors ahead of us jibe their brains out only to drift back closer to us.  During our second anchorage in the vicinity of Plum Island, we watched several boats drift from well ahead of us to well behind.  Having passed several boats while at anchor, and nothing better to do, we uncorked a bottle of champagne to celebrate the moment.  In the end, we voted the anchor MVP.


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