Tomorrow afternoon (Eastern time), three Mini Transat boats based in the Long Island Sound will challenge the 238-mile "Vineyard Course" in the 80th running of the Vineyard Race, hosted by Stamford Yacht Club. The Vineyard Race is a perennial classic in the northeast United States, and is the last major distance race of the season--until my idea for a 300-mile late September-early October offshore race finishing in NY Harbor takes off. Unfortunately, Abilyn will not be taking part this year because a friend had the indecency to dedicate herself unto the bonds of Holy Matrimony this weekend. Just kidding, Danna.
So while I'm being a good friend in Portland, Oregon, the three Mini crews will no doubt be primed and set for the long haul from just off Stamford, CT, out of Long Island Sound, up to Buzzards Bay Tower, around Block Island (leaving the island to starboard) and back into the Sound to finish in Stamford Harbor.
Each of the Mini crews will be sailing in the PHRF double-handed class, along with some notable Class 40s, one of whom is skippered by Jeffrey MacFarlane, the former #1 ranked Mini sailor--in the world. (I gotta get him on Abilyn for a few practice sessions). I don't believe that any of the Mini sailors are going into this race thinking they can beat the Class 40s, since Minis lose upwind due to waterline, and lose in reaching and running conditions because Class 40s are just bigger/faster versions of Minis, and--just like Minis--excel off the breeze. That said, I've done the math...for the Mini, USA 806 (111 PHRF rating), to beat the Class 40 Dragon (-9.0 PHRF rating), USA 806 would have to finish no more than 7 hours and 59 minutes after Dragon. Hey, it's possible. Just this past July in the 350-mile Route Halifax St. Pierre Ocean Race, a "series" Mini corrected out against an Akilaria Class 40 and a Volvo 60 to take the overall PHRF win.
But what will be interesting is not how the Minis fare against the rest of the fleet, but how they fare against each other. Although all three boats are built to a box rule, one of the boats is quite different from the rest. Two of the boats--USA 806 and Frogger (USA 702)--are "series" Minis. As described in an earlier post, this means that they are built with a fixed keel and fixed rudders, and use non-exotic materials in the construction of the boat--i.e., aluminum and resin-infused fiberglass, no carbon. The third Mini, Valkyrja (USA 415) is a "proto" Mini. Although I'm not sure whether Valkyrja is made with any carbon, it does have a deep, canting keel, water ballast, taller mast, and carries more sail area than USA 806 or Frogger. As such, Valkyrja can be expected to point higher upwind, and haul more ass downwind. But there is no rule that "series" Minis cannot beat "protos." This is supported by Classe Mini stats. In fact, USA 806's Pogo 2 design has been tremendously successful in the Classe Mini circuit across the pond, even against "protos." With the Minis, it will come down who sails the course more efficiently.
Last year, Abilyn raced the "Vineyard Course" double-handed, and had an amazing downwind leg all the way out to Buzzards Bay Tower, seeing between 17 and 28 knots of breeze from the SW and hitting boat speeds of over 14 knots--enough to allow us to keep up with the big boys. The big breeze continued as we rounded Buzzards Bay Tower--we saw 25 knots on the nose and 5-7 foot, steep waves until we rounded Block Island, and then saw between 15-17 knots on the nose until about 4 miles from the finish, where the wind died completely. When it was good, it was good; and when it was bad, it was bad. Ah, the Long Island Sound.
This year's race does not look like it will be serving up big breeze and big waves. As Hurricane Cristobal moves farther and farther offshore over the next few days, an area of high pressure will develop, and move east off of Cape Cod, which, absent thermal activity, likely will bring light and variable breeze to the Sound early in the race.
Using the routing feature at PredictWind.com, which has partnered with Abilyn Racing on its offshore campaign, the breeze over the race course will range between 3 and 16 knots, with an average wind speed of under 10 knots. That said, PredictWind.com's models estimate that racers will be reaching nearly 60% of the race, which is a good sign for the Minis (get those Code Zeros ready!) However, one model does show that racers will see 17-20 knots late Saturday night into Sunday from a tight upwind angle. Since Minis do not sail fast close to the breeze, let's hope this model turns out to be the wrong one.
Stamford YC runs a great regatta, and arms each boat with a tracker that can be followed using RaceQs. You can track the Minis, and the entire fleet at http://raceqs.com/regattas/vineyard-race.
If you're racing, enjoy. If you're not, maybe next year!