It’s a lovely destination where New Englanders have flocked for generations to take in the salt air, perhaps eat a little taffy and a few clams, and relax and recharge.
Each summer, vacationers by the thousands descend upon Point Judith, on Rhode Island’s south coast, to catch a ferry to Block Island, 13 miles out to sea.
Block is not a huge island by Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket standards. Still, it teems with roads perfect for bicycling, grand old hotels, restaurants and shops, sandy beaches, wooded hiking trails, freshwater ponds and countless little nooks to get away from it all.
By sailboat, it’s fairly easy to reach, though it can be an upwind slog from Newport and points east thanks to the renowned sou’west sea breeze that builds most afternoons and turns Block Island Sound into a froth of whitecaps. Throw in a little fog and adverse current, and the trip can become quite interesting. Still, if you can tolerate New Yorkers, it’s a lovely destination where New Englanders have flocked for generations to take in the salt air, perhaps eat a little taffy and a few clams, and relax and recharge.
Except, of course, during Block Island Race Week. For five days every odd year in June, the Storm Trysail Club transforms the laid-back mooring field, anchorage and marinas in Great Salt Pond into a Woodstock for foulie-wearing Type A personalities.
This year was the 27th sailing of this venerable gathering that attracts sailors from across southern New England and beyond. My colleague and sales guy here at Cruising World, Ted Ruegg, has attended every race since 1987, when he was sent there on assignment by our sister publication, Sailing World. Ted hails from Annapolis, Maryland, the inland sailing capital, and for the past several race weeks, he and his wife, Heide, have rented a house and, with their pal Dave Robinson, have formed a core team that’s augmented by friends, and occasionally staff members from the two magazines.
Ted and Heide were aboard the Farr 33 Sugar in 2001, with a posse of Marylanders, when it won the whole shooting match. That year, they delivered the boat to Block and back home again to Chesapeake Bay, adding considerably to the salty-tale Ted Ruegg trimmed main and X-yachts X4 owner Bob Rodgers did the driving during each day’s race. potential of the regatta.
Twice, Ted sailed aboard a Farr 395 named Upgrade, and raced several times with his pal Pete Dupont on J/boats.
More recently, though, Ted has found ways to borrow new sailboats from area dealers. This year, I jumped at the chance to join his campaign for three days aboard Ringle
X, a new X4 racer-cruiser from X-yachts. The sporty sloop came with its owner, Connecticut X-yachts dealer Bob Rodgers, as skipper. For the record, Bob’s an avid reader, and the name Ringle was borrowed from Patrick O’brien’s maritime classics. The X indicates it’s Bob’s 10th boat of the same name, rather than a nod to the builder. I was first smitten by the X4 during our Boat of the Year test sails last fall, when our judges deemed it Best Full-size Cruiser Under 50 Feet. That fondness only grew after three days of events that included the Around the Island Race and two long trips around government marks that lie between Block and Montauk, Long Island. Ringle X raced in the pursuit-start spinnaker division, which included a J/24 and a Ker 55. Some interesting handicap spreads there.
Just because of its name, the Around the Island Race has sat on my wish list for a while, so it was a joy to put a check mark in the “done it” column, even though fog came in so thick that we never did find the actual finish line. And those trips to Montauk and back? Well, who knew there were so many ways to twist up an asymmetric. No matter, the Mount Gay flowed like a river at the party tent afterward, where we successfully staked claim to a scenic, sunny spot on the lawn overlooking the harbor. At the last running of the race, Ted and team were aboard
Invictus, a Jeanneau Sun Fast 3600 that finished second in its class. During that year’s Around the Island Race they pegged the speedo at 16.8 on one wild and squirrelly spinnaker run.
I was with them in 2013 for a few days, when they claimed third place aboard a Jeanneau 379 that had as many leaves on the cockpit table as sheet winches: two, which made setting colored sails a special thrill.
But that’s the thing about a gathering such as Block Island Race Week. It’s terrific to finish in the money, but OK if you don’t. As Ted says, “Block Island is a very special place to sail.”