Tuesday night sailboat races are a Jamestown tradition
Racing sailboats on Narragansett Bay, the sailing Mecca of North America, is a passion enjoyed by many, and Jamestown is right at the heart of the action - especially on Tuesday nights.
Every week, the Jamestown Yacht Club hosts Tuesday night racing in the East Passage of the bay. The club features spring, summer, and fall series, and the enthusiasm of the competitors rivals that of the America's Cup.
"Tuesday night racing is the most fun in life," says Dennis Nixon, skipper of "Jazz," a 1985, J24 sloop. "It's the best racing in the world," he added.
"We love it," said Richard Hyde, skipper of "Freight Train," a Freres 36-foot sloop. "Sailboat racing is the only competitive sport in the world that allows you to participate and drink beer at the same time," he said, laughing.
"All my friends race," says Rob Bestoso, skipper of "Chairman Arafat," a 1965 Pearson, 22-foot sloop. "It's a guy thing. We go out on the bay and do battle - get that competitive spirit goin'. We talk about guy stuff, race hard, and celebrate our win with a few beers. We don't always win, but we usually do pretty good," he added.
"We live for Tuesday night during the summer," says Harry Lane, skipper of "Fast Lane," a J24 that is a frequent winner. "We do well because my wife organizes the crew," he added. "We're all experienced, and we've sailed together for years on a fast boat, and that helps," he noted.
Preparation for the races begins at 5 p.m. every Tuesday evening throughout the racing season. Dick Allphin boards the launch at the Conanicut Marina dock at East Ferry for a ride to his power boat, the Nancy B. He has volunteered his time and the Nancy B. as the official committee boat for the JYC racing series for 14 years.
Allphin is one of the most experienced timekeepers on the bay. He also picks up the racing committee at the fuel dock, and sets and anchors the orange pyramid shaped marker used to define the starting line. The Nancy B. is then tethered to a mooring at the opposite end of the start line, where Allphin shouts the times that start each of the five classes of boats.
"I do it to get out on the water," says Allphin. "I also help with Sail Newport and other races. "I don't race myself, but I enjoy setting the marks and watching the boats compete. It's always exciting," he said.
JYC races strictly adhere to Performance Handicap Racing Fleet of Narragansett Bay rules, and that requires a knowledgeable racing committee with an abundance of experience. Attorney Steve McInnis, race committee chairman, is just the man for the job.
Along with racing committee members Nancy Jamison, Cheryl Rienzo, and Jane Eaton, McInnis and his crew manage the races efficiently, accurately, and with the precision of a finely made watch. They have worked together for so long that everybody knows exactly what to do and when to do it.
Although the atmosphere on the committee boat is relaxed, conversation is sparse, and everyone involved is always busy until the last boat crosses the finish line. Committee members communicate in calm conversational tones. Occasionally, McInnis barks into the bullhorn to notify a boat or two that they have crossed the starting line early, or that the entire class crossed the line before the horn sounded and the start flag went down, in which case he gives them a massive recall. Early starters are given a verbal penalty. They are required to go back and re-cross the starting line while the other boats are well on their way to the first mark. Managing about 50 boats with a class starting every five minutes is no easy task, but the JYC racing committee appears to pull it off with ease.
The loudest voice on the boat is that of Allphin, who, with watch in hand, shouts things like, "Prep flag down. One minute to start!" That is followed by "30 seconds to start!" Then a 10-second countdown to the horn sounding as the flag is dropped smartly. Nancy Jamison made note of how to drop the flags. "They tell us to drop the flags smartly," she said to the amusement of her colleagues.
With full sails and frothy wakes, the boats silently cross the start line powered only by the wind. Although racing sailboats usually average less than 12 miles per hour, even on good days, the races are exciting. The competition is stiff, and when the boats cross the line nose to nose in a finish that is decided by inches, it is an awesome sight, and a win is just as exhilarating as any highspeed car race.
After the race, McInnis enters the results in a computer using a program that calculates the handicap of each boat. The scores are then posted on the Internet, usually on the same evening. JYC races are open to all members and nonmembers whose boats have a PHRF rating. A nominal registration fee is required.