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Annapolis to Newport Start Reports
Picture-perfect conditions greeted the Friday fleet of starters for the 2019 Annapolis-to-Newport Race, which got underway at 11 a.m. on the Chesapeake Bay.

Racing News

Ideal conditions for Friday starters in 2019 Annapolis-to-Newport Race 

Picture-perfect conditions greeted the Friday fleet of starters for the 2019 Annapolis-to-Newport Race, which got underway at 11 a.m. on the Chesapeake Bay. 

North-northeasterly winds ranging from 8 to 12 knots enabled the 23 boats in five classes to enjoy a downwind start and many miles of beam reaching. 

Principal race officer Bruce Bingman set the start line just south of R2 off the mouth of the Severn River and the entire fleet crossed with spinnakers flying. 

A popular strategy was to come off the starting line on port jibe and make a beeline to the deep water of the shipping channel, since the current was about to begin flowing out the bay from an unusually high tide.

A few boats, such as Laurent Givry’s Beneteau Figaro 3, took an alternative route to the western side of the bay and it seemed to pay dividends, as Le Defonce quickly moved into the lead within the Doublehanded class. 

Of the boats that went east in search of the expected current advantage, Lady Grey – a J/110 skippered by Herrington Harbour Sailing Association member Joe Laun – showed strong form and speed in leading the entire fleet down the bay.

Just prior to 6 p.m., the Yellow Brick Race Tracker showed that Jane Says, a J/124 skippered by Gibson Island Yacht Squadron member Robert Dunigan Jr., had overtaken Lady Grey after approximately 43 nautical miles of racing.

Friday’s fleet of starters featured the following classes: ORC 2, Performance Cruising, PHRF Classic, ORR 2 and Doublehanded. A second start will be held Saturday morning (11 a.m.) for the five remaining classes: ORC 1A, ORC 1B, PHRF Racing 1, PHRF Racing 2, and ORR 1.

“It’s looking like a beam reach down the bay and a broad reach up the coast,” said Rick Lober, skipper of the Beneteau 473 Celerity that is competing in ORR 2. “It would be incredible if we didn’t have any windward legs.”

Lober and his Celerity team made their debut in the 2017 Annapolis-to-Newport Race and finished fourth in the Performance Cruiser class. Celerity was among many boats that got smacked by a severe squall in the Atlantic Ocean and that was a lesson learned for Lober.

“I found that sail changes are important. You’ve got to be prepared to reduce sail in advance of heavy air,” he said. “So it’s really about being aware of what’s coming and acting proactively.”

Bingman has been carefully studying five different weather models and said most show reaching conditions for a majority of the 475-nautical mile passage from Annapolis-to-Newport.  

“I think the Friday starters will have a short beat in the Atlantic Ocean after rounding the Chesapeake Light tower,” Bingman said. “Right now the prediction does show the wind cranking to the east, which would put the fleet on a reach in the ocean.”

Bingman said forecasts show some severe weather hitting around the time most of the 52 boats will be approaching the entrance of the Delaware Bay.

“It looks like the faster boats may be able to finish on a reach. However, I’m thinking the slower boats may need to do some beating to get into Newport,” Bingman said. 

In 2017, host Annapolis Yacht Club finished the race off Fort Adams. Organizers have rectified an issue with the local Coast Guard station and the Annapolis to Newport Race will once again have its traditional finish off Castle Hill Light this year.


“It’s a terrific team-building event and there is also a great sense of accomplishment upon completing a race like this. Doing Annapolis-to-Newport is something you remember all your life,” said Lober, who has a crew that ranges in age and experience. “We have a nice blend of seasoned sailors and twenty-somethings who will do a lot of the heavy lifting.”

Odette, a Hylas 56 owned by Annapolis Yacht Club member Jasen Adams, will have four teenagers as part of its 10-member crew.  Alex Adams was 13 years old when he crewed for his father in the 2017 Annapolis-to-Newport Race, logging more than 100 miles as helmsman in helping Odette to a runner-up finish in Performance Cruiser class. 

“We have a platform that is comfortable and can accommodate a lot of people. We’re all about ocean racing and introducing more sailors to ocean racing,” Jasen Adams said. 

Alex Adams attends the Portsmouth Abbey School and will have two teammates – Evan Boyd and Jenna Palmer – aboard Odette. St. Mary’s-Annapolis sailor Andrew Tollefson, a lifelong friend of the younger Adams, is also part of the crew.

“We do have a core crew of five sailors who have logged thousands of miles on Odette. That being said, we’re certainly aware that we have some novice ocean racing crew,” Jasen Adams said. “We’ll take each decision as it comes. Having spent some time with these sailors, I think we’ll be fine. Again, Odette is a very seaworthy platform with a wide weather window.”

Alex Adams received the Youth Helmsman Award for the 2017 A2N and hopes to repeat that honor while steering during both watches. He is one of three principal drivers aboard Odette along with his father and Rich Hoyer.

Alex Adams was asked what his three friends would learn during their longest, and in some cases first, offshore passage.

“It’s definitely different from dinghy sailing,” he said. “I think it’s a very rewarding experience you can’t get anywhere else. They will learn how to be part of a racing crew and the importance of fulfilling your specific role.”

Annapolis resident Ken Comerford is skippering a J/111 named Moneypenny and will have his two sons – Kyle and Willy – as part of the crew. Kyle Comerford recently completed an outstanding career as skipper of the SUNY-Maritime offshore sailing team while younger brother Willy competes at the College of Charleston. 

“As you get older, I think you do anything you can to spend time with your kids,” said Ken Comerford, getting choked up as he spoke. “I do very much appreciate every opportunity I get to go sailing with my sons.”

There is quite a rivalry between the Comerford brothers, and it will no doubt manifest itself at some point during the long trip between Annapolis and Newport. Kyle is serving as navigator while Willy has agreed to handle the foredeck out of necessity. 

“They both have their own strengths and skills,” Ken Comerford said. “Willy has really impressed me with his ability on the bow. Kyle will be doing the navi-guessing the whole way, making sure we’re pushing the boat as fast as we can and living up to our polars.”

Comerford, a veteran ocean racer with many miles under his belt, expects a fairly straight-forward passage.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big tactical race. I think it’s going to be a drag race with a lot of reaching,” he said. “Every time we run our models the wind seems to go farther and farther aft, which would be good for this boat.”

Prospector shooting to break course record for Annapolis-to-Newport Race

Prospector blasted off the starting line while being powered by a fractional asymmetrical spinnaker and staysail configuration.

Part-owner Marty Roesch was at the helm as the Mills 68-footer rapidly pulled away from the rest of the 23-boat fleet that started the Annapolis-to-Newport Race on Saturday morning.

Prospector, owned by a syndicate known as Shelter Island Transatlantic Partners, was passing Poplar Island just over a half hour after starting. Larry Landry, one of four owners, was hopeful of exiting the Chesapeake Bay by around 8 p.m. on Saturday.

“This boat really has some giddy-up to her,” said Landry, noting the Mills 68 has reached speeds of 25 knots downwind. 

Indeed, Prospector was rocketing along at approximately 17 knots on a tight reach on Saturday and was soon out of sight of the large spectator fleet that gathered for the second Annapolis-to-Newport Race start. 

Conditions were similar to those that propelled the Friday starters down the bay – 10 to 14 knots out of the east-northeast with gusts in the upper teens. 

Shelter Island Transatlantic Partners initially got involved with grand prix offshore racing with the original Prospector, a Farr 60 built by Carroll Marine. That boat was formerly known as Carrera and set the Annapolis-to-Newport Race record in 2001. Annapolis professional Chris Larson skippered as Carrera completed the 475-nautical mile course in 42 hours, 58 minutes and 12 seconds.  

That course record stood for 15 years until it was finally broken during the 2017 edition of Annapolis-to-Newport. Warrior, a Volvo 70 skippered by Stephen Murray Jr., completed the passage in 40 hours, 14 minutes and 36 seconds. 

Prospector’s four owners, which include Paul McDowell and Dr. David Siwicki in addition to Landry and Roesch, are hopeful of bettering Warrior’s mark.     

“This boat is most certainly capable of breaking the record,” Landry said on Friday night. “I think the forecast might put us in position to do so.”

Weather Routing Incorporated, which is providing daily forecasts for A2N, shows the Saturday starters enjoying running and reaching conditions well into Sunday morning. Long-range forecasts call for the wind to shift east then east-southeast, which would produce downwind conditions in the Atlantic Ocean as well.

“It appears to be a very favorable forecast, but you just never know what the wind conditions will actually be,” said McDowell, adding that it sets up as “a rather unusual Annapolis-to-Newport in terms of sailing angles.”    

Landry and McDowell agreed it’s imperative that Prospector be able to head toward Newport upon entering the Atlantic Ocean. If the predicted easterly wind shift does not come through, the Mills 68 might have to head offshore for many hours in order to improve its sailing angle.    

“This race is going to hinge on when we get into the ocean and what we find out there. The timing of that shift in the ocean will be crucial,” Landry said. “We need to be able to turn left and go northeast in the ocean. So that right-hand shift is a critical variable for us.”    

Prospector is doing A2N with a primarily amateur crew with the four owners holding important roles. Landry is the tactician while McDowell and Roesch are aboard watch captains. Dr. Siwicki, one of the three original owners along with Landry and McDowell, works the pit.    

Roesch, an Annapolis resident who owns the J/111 Velocity, recently joined the partnership and is one of the primary helmsmen along with McDowell. Artie Means (navigator), Henry Little (runners), Dave Scott (main trimmer), Stuart MacNeil (headsail trimmer) and Quinn Tobin (pit) are the professionals onboard.    
“This is a very good all-around boat that performs well in all points of sail,” McDowell said. “It is very well-built and sails very nicely whether going upwind or downwind.”    

Saturday’s start featured entries in ORC 1A and 1B, PHRF 1, and ORR 1. Rikki, a Reichel-Pugh 42 owned by Boston resident Bruce Chafee, quickly established itself as the second-fastest boat behind Prospector.

A group of five Farr 40-footers campaigned by Oakcliff Sailing and the Naval Academy Varsity Offshore Sailing Team raced in close quarters – separated by just a few hundred yards.     

Oakcliff, based in Oyster Bay, New York, is a high-performance training center for young sailors who have progressed beyond traditional training methods. Oakcliff has three Farr 40s (Black, Blue and Red) competing in the 37th biennial Annapolis-to-Newport Race.       

Meanwhile, Navy has entered its two Farr 40s, Ranger and Zephyr, with crews consisting entirely of midshipmen. Hayden Kuzemchak is skippering Ranger while fellow rising senior Zack Bauer is skippering Zephyr

“Of course, the number one goal is to win the race. However, we also want to improve our sailing skills and gain valuable offshore experience,” Kuzemchak said. “If we can accomplish both of those goals the Ranger crew is going to be very satisfied.”    

Bauer said the Navy teams want to beat each other, first and foremost. However, both Ranger and Zephyr are determined to finish in front of all three Oakcliff entries.    

“It’s definitely super-competitive between the two Navy crews and bragging rights are really at stake in this race because of how challenging it is,” Bauer said. “We’re looking to stay safe, be competitive within our class and definitely take it to Oakcliff.”    

Jim Praley, chairman of the Annapolis-to-Newport Race, participated in the Saturday start aboard the family-owned J/120 named Shinnecock. Jimmy Praley held the title of skipper and steered at the start while his father and namesake is serving as navigator.    

“We feel like we have a really robust fleet this year with a good mix of veteran competitors and newcomers to Annapolis-to-Newport,” Jim Praley said. “I think it’s going to be a great race with excellent conditions and a lot of people are going to walk away happy.”    

Praley, who just completed his second and last term as A2N chairman, was pleased to have 19 boats competing under the ORC rating rule that is being offered for the first time in A2N. Most of the 12 entries racing under the ORR rule are racer-cruiser designs.    

Host Annapolis Yacht Club devotes considerable resources during the two-year buildup to Annapolis-to-Newport and the Friday-Saturday starters were the culmination of many volunteer hours. Praley singled out Linda Ambrose, regatta manager for AYC, for special praise.    

“Linda is absolutely fabulous. You could not possibly pull off an event of this magnitude without someone like Linda, who is a true professional and so dedicated,” Praley said. “I cannot even imagine how many hours she puts into this race. I don’t know Linda’s husband very well, but he must be the most tolerant man in the world.”    

Upon conclusion of this year’s passage, all participating boats will be berthed at the Newport Yachting Center. There will be a hospitality tent on site with partners such as Helly Hansen (merchandise), Barbados Tourism Marketing (travel and leisure), Gosling’s (spirits) and Boston Beer all maintaining a presence.    

“I think it’s a real plus on a lot of levels to have all the boats at the same location. There’s a lot of camaraderie on the docks of the Newport Yachting Center as the sailors tell sea stories and either celebrate or commiserate as the case may be,” Praley said.

Photos courtesy of Wilbur Keyworth.

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