On Board with the 35th Biennial Annapolis-to-Newport Race

Nearly 70 years ago, a fleet of 36 boats set sail from Newport, Rhode Island, picking up anchor in Narragansett Bay to make an Atlantic Ocean pass before, 80-plus hours later, sailing into Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Maryland. Thus, the Annapolis-Newport (A2N) race was born. Thought the course was witched in later years to begin in Annapolis, the race has become a tradition -- a sailor’s rite of passage that’s met by civilian skippers and Navy and Coast Guard cadets alike. This week the tradition continues as another fleet takes on 475 nautical miles of high seas and inshore hurdles to compete in the 35th biennial Annapolis-to-Newport competition June 4th and 5th.

Chelsea Clock is on board once again as a trophy sponsor, bringing with us one of our most beloved and prestigious timepieces: the Mariner clock. (In 2013, the competition awarded the Chelsea Clock Seafarer Trophy to the boat with the best combined performance in the A2N race and the previous year’s Newport-Bermuda race. Leonard Sitar and Vamp took home the prize in the IRC class, while Doug Jurrius and Belle Aurore took it for PHRF.) This year’s winner will be announced after the race at the awards ceremony at New York Yacht Club’s Harbor Court on Tuesday, June 9 -- so stay tuned!

For the 35th race, the Annapolis-to-Newport committee is introducing a few changes: There are two start dates this year, June 4 and 5 -- the earlier anchor draw going to those smaller boats that might be coming in a bit more slowly.

"Our goal is to get the entire fleet finished in Newport by Tuesday afternoon," said co-chairman Dick Neville. "And the best way to ensure that was to create a new starting format, giving the smaller, slower boats a 24-hour head start on the bigger, faster boats."

There’s also a new Performing Cruising Class for racer-cruisers this year to tempt owners of boats manufactured by Beneteau, Tartan, Jeanneau, Swan, C&C, and the like to participate, appealing to a new set of sailors who might be interested in distance racing. That means there will be a lot of newbies in the water this weekend, but the committee believes that by taking the right preparation and precautions, they'll fare just fine.

Still, there are all kinds of elements for skippers to consider before setting sail -- provisions, route, safety, and weather among them. The 2013 installment was the first in A2N history to start late: Tropical Storm Andrea threatened to strike Chesapeake Bay at the same time as the competing fleet would likely be crossing. Despite the setback, the best time -- George David on the Rambler -- came in just four hours short of the record (42:56:12, set in 2001 by a Farr 60 named Carrera, owned by Joseph Dockery and skippered by Chris Larson).

Traditionally, to make the course more manageable, some skippers break up A2N into legs: the race down the Bay, to Chesapeake Light, to Block Island, and finally the navigation of Block Island before crossing the finish. Each leg has its obstacles, whether that be traffic, quick and unpredictable changes in the wind and current, or a combination -- and that’s if everything (and everyone) on board is in shipshape.

The starts begin at 11 am Thursday, and spectators are encouraged to come out on the Chesapeake Bay to cheer on participants. If you're a New Englander like we are, you can join the party at the other end, in Newport. Even if you’re not making it out for this year’s race, there’s a nifty tracking site to insure you can keep up with the race from the couch.