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Aug 19, 2019 5:11 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Devon Yacht Club Set To Host 50th Annual 'Round Gardiners Island Race This Saturday

The 50th annual Round Gardiners Island Regatta is this Saturday at Devon Yacht Club. DREW BUDD
Aug 20, 2019 9:23 AM

There aren’t too many sailing races on the South Fork that can say they’ve been around consistently for 50 years. The ’Round Gardiners Island Race, hosted by Devon Yacht Club in Amangansett, will be able to do just that this Saturday, August 24.

The club is set to host its semicentennial, which was started by its namesake, Lawrence I. Clarke, the longtime governor and commodore of the club from 1965 to 1970. Another club member, Oliver Moore, was a big proponent of the race, and racing in general, and continually made suggestions to Clarke that a race around the island should be had. Moore eventually won the third running of the race in 1971.

While things have certainly changed aesthetically since the beginning years of the race, the heart of the event remains the same: the sailing.

Devon’s current commodore, Curt Shade, who is a regular sailor of the event himself, said one of the most interesting things about the race is that conditions can change at a moment’s notice, leaving skippers to make on-the-fly adjustments.

“Conditions can change, certainly from year to year, but there can also be 180-degree shifts throughout the day,” he said. “We’re talking about a typical summer day, so wind direction can change and the currents are quite strong. It’s the type of race you can do really well in the beginning, but still find yourself in last by the end. It’s a fun challenge from a sailor’s perspective, due to the variety of conditions.”

Christopher DiSunno, a Sag Harbor resident, is an avid sailor of the race who has competed in it almost every year since 1998, even picking up a victory two years ago. He said competing in the race can be a stiff challenge.

“We have fondly referred to it as the ‘cursed’ Gardiners Island Race because the light winds and tides result in some boats not being able to finish,” he explained. “Sailboat racing in light air is always challenging. It takes a lot of effort to stay focused and keep the boat moving. In fact, we found ourselves trapped last year by a strong tide and light air in Bostwick’s Bay at the shallows of the rip. We were forced to withdraw as we were pulled close to running aground, and had to start our engine. The year before we won, took line honors and had the best finish time overall. The light winds are simply due to the time of year.”

Another draw to the race, DiSunno mentioned, was that it’s a part of the Eastern Long Island Yachting Association Island series and championship racing circuit.

Bill Lyons, member of the sailing committee at Devon, said not a whole lot of changes have been made since the inaugural race in 1969, which was won by two-time winner John H. Lockwood in a Herreshoff 29. Most boats at the time the race began, Lyons pointed out, were mostly, if not all, wooden with canvas sails. Now, almost all boats are made of fiberglass and canvas sails have transitioned to carbon fiber with spinnakers that have gone from symmetrical to asymmetrical. While Herreshoff’s, Sparkman’s and Stevens’ designed sailboats were popular back then, J-Boats and Alerions are now the norm. The Alerion 28 is a modern boat based on Nat Herreshoff’s original private boat design, and Devon has a fleet of 14 of them, Lyons said.

“We have not instituted many changes over time — if you raced in 1969, you would be comfortable in 2019,” Lyons said. “The race course hasn’t changed much in 50 years. It has been shortened a mile or two. The good thing about racing around the island is that we get to sail all points of sail.”

Racing begins just after 10 a.m., typically, and the finish time depends on the type of boat in the race. There are different divisions depending on the size and sail of the boat, but most boats finish between three and four hours after the start.

One thing that is new to this year’s race is that the awards party and dinner will be much more casual than in years past, and everyone, from the sailors to club members, are invited. It’s a Caribbean-themed barbecue sponsored by Regatta Craft Mixers and Gosling’s Rum, and Shade hopes everyone attends.

“We have a lot of racing throughout July and August, and it’s a nice end-of-season event. We think it’s always a nice way to cap off the summer,” Shade said. “It’s toward the end of August, weather is pretty good, kids are going back to school and it’s a nice way to finish their summer.”

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