2013-11-07 / News

America’s Cup veterans sail Ultimate Pressure to new record

By Ken Shane


Jerry Kirby, an America’s Cup veteran, skippered Ultimate Pressure around Conanicut Island in the fastest time of the year. Kirby and his crew set the Around Jamestown Record on Oct. 24. 
Courtesy/Hugh Piggin Jerry Kirby, an America’s Cup veteran, skippered Ultimate Pressure around Conanicut Island in the fastest time of the year. Kirby and his crew set the Around Jamestown Record on Oct. 24. Courtesy/Hugh Piggin The challenge is simple: Get your sailboat – monohull or multihull, large or small – around Conanicut Island as fast as possible.

That is the premise of the recently concluded second edition of the Around Jamestown Record challenge, and for the second year in a row, records fell.

According to Hugh Piggin of Manuka Sports, the group that organizes the regatta, competitors are welcome to make their attempt at any time and in any direction. The only stipulation is the speed attempt is made during the challenge window that opens in May and closes on Halloween.

While the competition is open all summer, most of the attempts come in October. According to Piggin, the reason is that the fall weather brings strong winds from the desired directions of east and west. The crew that succeeds in breaking the overall record wins the skipper’s weight in Mount Gay rum.

“There was a lot more participation this year as word is getting out and the local sailors are keen to win bragging rights and the Mount Gay,” Piggin said.

On Oct. 24, with only one week left in this year’s challenge, four boats decided to make their runs on the same day. The prevailing wind was a strong westerly, the kind of conditions thought to be perfect for a record-setting day. A new record for monohulls under 32 feet was set by Bill MacGowan’s MacX, but 21 minutes later, Alex Wadson and his Shaw 6.50 shattered the record. Manic circumnavigated the island in 2 hours, 29 seconds.

Manic, the overall winner in the recent Sail for Hope, carried a crew of four for the record attempt. Wadson said the boat was entered last year, but conditions were never right to make the attempt.

The wind was patchy going around the north end of the island, according to Wadson, which made him think his crew’s attempt might fall short. The power reach down the West Passage went well, but when the boat reached Beavertail, Wadson still thought they wouldn’t come close to the record.

That’s when conditions changed for the better.

“We were able to put up a spinnaker and we bombed in really fast from there to the finish,” Wadson said. “That’s where we made our money.”

Then it was time for the catamarans to show their stuff. Two Marstrom 32s were on the bay, and it was Jerry Kirby’s Ultimate Pressure that ended up smashing the previous record with a time of 1 hour, 7 minutes and 59 seconds. Kirby’s time set the overall mark by shaving over five minutes off the previous record. Another Marstrom 32, Bronco, which set the previous record Oct. 2, attempted to eclipse the new mark on the last day of the competition. However, the crew came up short.

Kirby, a veteran of three America’s Cup campaigns, skippered Ultimate Pressure. His crew included America’s Cup sailor Kimo Worthington, and America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veteran Ken Read. Read said the entire Marstrom 32 fleet had been talking about the record since the local fleet was formed at the beginning of the year.

“If you look at weather patterns,” Read said, “you realize at this time of the year you have the best chance of a strong westerly or a strong easterly to really take a chunk out of the record.”

Read, who is president of North Sails, said the decision was made to make the attempt some time ago. Since then, Worthington had been keeping an eye on weather conditions, waiting for the perfect day to make the run. Worthington determined 3 p.m. would be the windiest time of the day. It was right around that time that Ultimate Pressure crossed the starting line, going counter-clockwise around the island in a westerly breeze that ranged from 15 to 23 knots.

“The angle from Beavertail into the Dumplings is really the most acute angle,” Read said. “In a westerly, you really have to go counter-clockwise. You’re trying to avoid tacking and gybing.”

Read, who is usually driving a race boat, traded positions with Kirby, who is famous as a bowman. The change of positions resulted in some challenges as the boat careened around the island.

“Jerry’s driving is just on the verge of being completely out of control,” Read joked. “I say that with all fondness and all due respect. He has no throttle, so he’s the perfect guy to drive the boat in an around-the-island record attempt.”

Kirby made a couple of record attempts with Ultimate Pressure during the summer, but it was the October winds that made the difference. Kirby agreed Worthington was responsible for calling the weather window. On the day the Ultimate Pressure set the record, Kirby said he had a busy workday ahead of him. But Worthington called and convinced him that the conditions were perfect to make the run.

“We hit a really good weather window,” Kirby said. “We had plenty of pressure. The entire thing was a challenge. We’re lucky we didn’t tip the thing out.”

Kirby was quick to credit his competitors aboard Bronco. When the Bronco crew noticed Ultimate Pressure was taking off in windy conditions and lacked a chase boat, it followed Ultimate Pressure all the way around the island to ensure the safety of Kirby and his crew.

“It was pretty good sportsmanship, even though we were going after their record,” Kirby said.

Read and Kirby agreed they can do better, and they plan to attempt it next year. Read predicted the time would be under an hour by the end of 2014, while Kirby said a crew that sailed well in the right conditions could bring the record down to a low 50-minute mark.

According to Kirby, he’s been getting calls from around the world about the Around Jamestown Record, more than he’s ever gotten from any other race. He said the prospect of winning his weight in Mount Gay rum, not to mention the local bragging rights, might keep him chasing the record until he’s in his 90s.

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