Catch a familiar summer scene that has been rarer this year as boats with full, colorful sails race off Newport. The Ida Lewis Yacht Club has a record-breaking number of boats sailing in its annual distance race. Above are local sailors Ken Read and Suzy Leech aboard Alchemist. The boats will be visible from Fort Adams. Start time is 11 a.m. on Aug. 15, and the boats will begin gathering and milling about an hour before. If the wind is out of the north, the fleet will go to Castle Hill and then head north counterclockwise around the island. If the wind is southwest, they will sail past Castle Hill and out to the ocean, with the inshore boats going to a mark near Castle Hill and then heading clockwise around Conanicut. The return for those sailing inshore is likely between 4 and 8 p.m., and for the offshore sailors it will be predawn on Aug. 16.
The Ida Lewis Distance Race on Aug. 15 has a record-breaking 74 entries, evidence of how much sailors are itching to compete, even with all the event modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It definitely will not be your normal Ida Lewis Distance Race,” said Pat Kennedy, event chair. “We have been taking it week by week, but we started early on with tailoring the event to family and friends and keeping our plans flexible.”
There will be 44 boats in the Aloha small boat class, Coronet larger boat class and Cruising Spinnaker class. They will sail a never-before-offered inshore course that tracks 33 nautical miles around Conanicut, Prudence and Patience islands.
“Those teams will not need to sail overnight, which makes it easier for those forced to sail with a smaller crew,” said Kennedy.
The balance of the fleet, an IRC class with 10 boats and a PHRF doublehanded class with 20 boats, will sail one of the race’s four traditional overnight offshore courses. The round-trip courses, ranging in length from 112 to 169 nautical miles, are determined by the race committee just prior to the race to best fit the weather conditions. With turning marks at Castle Hill, Brenton Reef, Block Island, Montauk Point, Martha’s Vineyard and Buzzards Tower, they incorporate some of New England’s most celebrated cruising grounds.
The doublehanded sailors, comprising the largest class of its kind in the history of the race, will see Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup veteran Ken Read of Portsmouth and Suzy Leech of Newport sailing the Jeanneau Sunfast 3300 Alchemist. Their doublehanded mixed crew represents a new class for the 2024 Olympics.
“Our campaign is a collaboration between myself, North Sails and Jeanneau to help promote doublehanded racing in North America,” said Read, who recently won the New England Solo/Twin Race in the same boat, sailing doublehanded with his brother, Brad. “Not that we are inventing doublehanded racing here, just giving it a bit of a nudge because with the Olympics in 2024 having an offshore class, the U.S. needs to start gaining some new momentum on this side of the sport.”
Read has sailed several editions of the Ida Lewis Distance Race on fully crewed boats and has many reasons to love it.
“It’s a great race because the course is not set in stone and is always configured to be diverse, with a variety of angles and conditions,” he said. “Nobody wants to bash away upwind and downwind offshore, so it’s always great fun … a good test.”
Also sailing “Mixed” in an announced 2024 Olympic campaign are Newport’s Jesse Fielding and Francesca Clapcich of Park City, Utah on their Figaro 3 State Street Marathon Sailing.
“It’s fantastic that the Ida Lewis Yacht Club has found a way to host this race during these challenging times,” said Fielding. “We can’t say thank you enough to the organizers and volunteers. In terms of racing, the choice of courses for the Ida Lewis Distance Race is always interesting, and we’re looking at a very competitive class.”