KEY WEST SAILORS AT NEWPORT, RI RACES

By wonderful coincidence, six members of the Key West Community Sailing Center found themselves in Newport, Rhode Island on August 15th and 16th, all because of their love of sailing and their desire to race.

Newport is the undisputed sailing capital of America, and despite the global pandemic, organizers of the New England 100 F-18 Catamaran race and the Ida Lewis Distance race had given the green light to sailors to participate safely. The New England 100 is a yearly event for F-18 One Design catamarans. It provides a great test of speed, skill, and toughness covering 100 miles over two days on Narragansett Bay. The Ida Lewis Distance Race features a 112 nautical mile course and a 169 mile course over some of the most beautiful sailing areas in the world including Castle Hill, Block Island, Montauk Point, Martha’s Vineyard and Buzzards Tower.

Both epic regattas were scheduled on the same weekend. The Key West Community Sailing Center members were there to race! Participating in the New England 100 were Henry DeGroot, Ben Hermelin, Jared Sonnenklar, and Elsa Garcia. Zoe Norbom sailed in the Ida Lewis Distance Race.

Ben and Jared were sailing together on a chartered F-18 catamaran, while Henry sailed as crew with local F-18 sailor Ian Ray for the New England 100 race. After prepping their boats and practicing on Friday, the first day of racing donned with extreme winds exceeding 30 knots and Saturday’s racing in the F-18 class was canceled.


The organizers of the Ida Lewis race went ahead and set up a downwind start just off Fort Adams in Newport. Due to high winds and the need to set a Spinnaker for the start of the race, there was more than the usual amount of chaos at the starting line. Torn spinnakers, crashed gybes, and broach wipeouts were common. However, all competitors eventually got over the starting line and onto the race course.

The F-18 catamaran class included multiple professional sailors and an Olympic-level competitor from the Nacra 17 catamaran class. After a two-hour delay, the race committee set a 37-mile course, starting in Newport Harbor and running downwind and south to the tip of Jamestown Island then windward along the west side of Jamestown Island, under the Newport bridge and around Prudence Island. A 15-to-20-knot northeasterly breeze provided thrilling spinnaker racing on the first leg of the course, and at least one crew capsized their catamaran at the leeward mark. Then there was a long tactical windward leg from Beavertail all the way to the top of Prudence Island. Finally, a white-knuckle “edge of disaster” reach took the racers back to the finish line at Newport Harbor.

On Henry and Ian’s boat, the spinnaker tack line exploded during the wild last leg, forcing them to sail to the beach and make repairs. Jared and Ben faced a plethora of challenges with their chartered boat, including but not limited to, a snapped halyard right before launching, being unable to un-cleat the mainsheet for the majority of the race, and a dagger board stuck in the up position for the entire starting sequence! The many challenges aside, all the crews made it back intact, accomplishing an incredible feat. Henry and Ian took 6th and Jared and Ben, after struggling to locate the finish line and crossing it three times, notched a 7th out of an 11-boat fleet of one design F-18s. Who really won between the two boats depends on who you ask!

After the regatta, Ben, Zoe, Scott Gerke and Henry got together at Henry's mother's house for a homemade dinner. Ben and Henry went down to the beach and dug up a mess of quahogs and Scott provided delicious hamburgers and libations. Together, the sailors dined on delicious clam chowder and burgers to celebrate a great weekend of racing!