The 69th Sam Wetherill Trophy Race

Overnight - May 21-22, 2021


Congratulations to all the skippers and crews who competed in the 69th Sam Wetherill Trophy Race, sailing 140 nm from Saybrook Light to Gay Head and back.  Blue Skies, skippered by Bill Gunther (Rear Commodore EYC) won the Sam Wetherill Trophy for best overall performance.

We are grateful to Matt Myers, and Linda von Rosenvinge for wonderful photos of the race and the club events. 
 
Feel free to download any pictures you want from our site by clicking on the arrow in the top right of the page.
 
 

 
 

See the results at YachtScoring.com

 
 

 

 

We are indebted to Phil Dickey, owner/skipper of Flying Lady for this firsthand account of the 2021 race.


The Essex Yacht Club Sam Wetherill Race, in its 69th running, was sailed on Friday, May 21-22, featuring the largest fleet in years, with 23 entries.  The course was expanded to include a leg out to Bell 31 just west of Gay Head, followed by a return trip with Block Island left to starboard.  Prior to the 2021 edition, the course had consisted of a loop of Block Island, starting and finishing just outside the Saybrook breakwater.

A group of ocean racing enthusiasts at EYC, led by Rear Commodore Bill Gunther, proposed to the Regatta Committee the idea of making the Wetherill a more classic ocean race, with a course totaling 140 nautical miles. The course would be sailed almost completely in open ocean, in the waters south of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, to a mark 1.5 miles off of the Gay Head Light, a mark not previously used in regional ocean races.  The choice of the mark near the Light made the Wetherill competitors eligible for the New England Lighthouse Series Trophy, an award given to the winner of that PHRF circuit for races sailed near lighthouses.

Slow start in light air

After a brief skippers’ meeting on Thursday 5/20/21 at the Club, followed by a lively reception, the competitors gathered at the starting line on Friday morning for a scheduled 11:00 first warning.  However, due to light wind, the start was postponed, and the first two of four classes were started at 13:25 and 13:30.  There were further postponements for classes three and four, who started at 13:45 and 14:36.  The light air continued, and after sailing close to the sand bar, about two-thirds of the boats found more breeze and continued inshore.  The remainder found more breeze to the south of the sand bar, leading to a course down the middle of the Sound with approximately seven knots of true wind speed.  The wind filled nicely as the fleet exited the Sound. Just hours after the start, competitors were faced with the first of several strategic decisions-where to exit the Sound in foul current. The preponderance of the fleet chose the Race, but several competitors traversed Fisher’s Island Sound establishing an early lead.

A stunning backdrop at the turn

First to round the G31 bell at Gay Head were the J122 Blue Yonder, the Skye 51 Blue Skies, and the Swan 46 Flying Lady. Gay Head Bluffs, illuminated by moonlight, were a stunning backdrop as boats rounded the green flashing buoy in strong current. The breeze continued at around twelve knots true out of the southwest until after daylight, but by the time most of the fleet rounded the southern end of Block Island, the breeze had again gone light.  Blue Yonder and Blue Skies made progress toward the Race before the breeze shut down. The strong ebb current and light winds made it challenging for the lead boats, which eventually snuck in very close to Little Gull.  The remainder of the fleet struggled to re-enter the Sound, but those that persevered, found a building southwesterly breeze that clocked into the west.

Over the line

Blue Yonder and Blue Skies finished at the Saybrook Lighthouse on 5/22/21 at 15:40 and 16:03 respectively, followed by J105 Reckless at 19:01.  On corrected time, Blue Skies was the winner of class 3, followed by Blue Yonder and Reckless.  Two boats retired.  In the doublehanded Class 1, there was only one finisher, the Xc38 Lark, and two boats retired.  In Class 2, the winners were the C&C Curlew, the Olson 38 Tynaje, and the Morris 46 Navicular. One boat retired.  In the Multihull Class 4, there were no finishers and two boats retired. Blue skies won the Sam Wetherill Trophy for best overall performance.
The Club hosted a festive awards ceremony on Sunday 5/23/21 at 17:00, where drinks and food were served.  The competitors were pleased with the race and the awards ceremony, and many gave suggestions that will improve next year’s race. Most also indicated that they would race again in 2022.
The 69th Wetherill was a great success.  The Essex Yacht Club has in the last few years supported the growth of an ocean racing group, and that effort has led to a reimagined Wetherill as a major ocean race, the first of the season in the region.  Momentum exists to improve the Race for next year, and the ocean racing group hopes that the Wetherill will become an early season classic.