Greenwich clubs setting sail on Friday nights

The Belle Haven Club hosted the Third Captain’s Harbor Friday Night Race this summer. — Henry Cobbs photo

The Belle Haven Club hosted the Third Captain’s Harbor Friday Night Race this summer. — Henry Cobbs photo

As the sun set over Long Island Sound Friday night, 26 privately owned sailboats and 13 club-owned Ideal 18’s competed in the third Captain’s Harbor Friday Night Race of the summer.

The series, in its tenth year, is composed of four evening races each summer.

In the early 2000’s, before the series started, it was customary for each yacht club in Greenwich Harbor to host a single race for its own membership.

Then, a decade ago, Riverside Yacht Club invited racers from Old Greenwich Yacht Club, Indian Harbor, and Belle Haven to join in their race for one Friday night during the summer.

Greenwich sailors loved the increased competition and camaraderie of the combined race. Ever since, the four clubs have come together to plan and execute a summer series. Each summer, the clubs rotate hosting and race committee responsibilities by evening.

The Belle Haven Club hosted the Third Captain’s Harbor Friday Night Race this summer. — Henry Cobbs photo

The Belle Haven Club hosted the Third Captain’s Harbor Friday Night Race this summer. — Henry Cobbs photo

“Certainly the camaraderie on the water is part of what makes this series so special,” said Pierre Gourdon, assistant race committee director. “Many of the participants have raced against each other for years, and are always ready for a rematch. The skippers take the time and make the effort to prepare their boats for these races and are very competitive on the water. But you don’t need a professional crew. While some teams arrive with crews that have been practicing together for weeks, others arrive with family and friends on board for a fun evening sail. All ages are represented.”

The series divides privately owned boats into three divisions by boat size and racing characteristics. In addition to the different divisions, the series employs a handicap system to further ensure an equal playing field for all entries. The faster divisions often have longer courses.

The Ideal 18’s have their own course and are expected to complete several races per evening.
The Belle Haven Club hosted this past Friday night’s race and celebration.

At the beginning of the evening, the race committee was provided with a choice of 26 possible courses. They prescribed a three-leg course for the first three divisions.

The conditions leading up to the race on Friday were ideal.

However, as the starting time drew near, the wind tapered off to just two to three knots as boats were sailing out and by the time the start got off, there was barely enough wind to make any headway.
The drastic change in wind speed and direction, which occurred after the course had already been set, caused problems for racers and organizers.

“We had to focus on boat speed as the wind was very light,” said Beth Forbes of Indian Harbor, who crewed in an Ideal 18. “In addition, the current swept many away from starting line.”

“There is always potential for light wind in this locale, particularly with evening racing in the summers,” added Gourdon. “The participants are always eager to compete, so we always try to run the race, even in light air. We will sometimes postpone the start if the wind is too light, but expected to pick up. Most important is permitting the yachts to get a fair start with enough wind to maneuver.”

“The leeward mark was a mess,” said Dick Hoyt, owner of Outdoor Traders store in Greenwich, who was racing aboard Antelope in Division III. “The tide was going out, there was no wind, and it took forever to get around with two other boats in the way.”

Skipper and octogenarian, Bob Coulson, took second place in Division III. He and his wife, Cinnie, are in first place overall for their division, with just one race remaining.

“As usual, [our strategy] was to win, but we made a dog’s breakfast of the start and lagged behind several other boats,” Coulson said. “Then we tacked over to clear our air and arrived at the windward mark in third place, following Tecumsuh, a faster boat. We followed them to the second mark and to the finish.”

“We grabbed a Heineken from a friend while they cheered ‘row, row, row your boat’ as we paddled back to the mooring field after the wind died completely,” joked Forbes.

The winners in Divisions I, II, and III were Rick and Skip Sinclair, Aileen Hutchins and Luke Wakeman, and Donald Rotzien, respectively. The first place sailor in the Ideal 18 division was Roger Van Loveren.

Full results for the series can be found on

The race committee stayed out on the water until 9 pm, the full time allotted for the race. Some stragglers finished within just minutes of the time limit. However, many others dropped out and never finished the race.

“The light air made racing difficult during the last race (we held two),” said David Bigelow, Belle Haven Club Waterfront Director and Ideal 18 Race Committee Chair. “The fleet was moving at a snails pace, thus it was hard to decide if the race should continue or be abandoned; we chose to continue. The finishes came in waves with the light breeze, leading to a few close finishes.”

After the race, Belle Haven hosted a celebration with a buffet and grills to cook your own food. In addition, a brief award ceremony was held to honor the evening’s outstanding performers.

The final race in the series will be held by Old Greenwich Yacht Club on July 25.

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