Cool set of photos on Scuttlebutt today of the demolition of the old bridge that used to link Conanicut island and the town of Jamestown to the mainland of Rhode Island. (For those readers unfamiliar with the geography of New England, the state of Rhode Island is not an island, and for that matter New England is neither new nor English.) The pictures reminded me of the time I sailed a race round Jamestown Island in a Sunfish in 2000 as part of the 50th anniversary celebration for the Sunfish - including sailing under that ancient bridge.
On Saturday there was a one race regatta in Narragansett Bay for which the first prize was a place at the Sunfish World Championships the next year. John Kolius (better known for achievements in slightly larger boats) showed up, sailed a Sunfish with a recreational sail straight out of the box from Vanguard, and whupped the pride of New England's Sunfish hotshots. I was so far back in the race I spent the whole time asking the sailors around me, "Who is that guy up front with the colored sail?"
We had lunch on Rose Island, including a tour of the lighthouse for anyone interested, and in the afternoon a parade was planned for all the assembled Sunfish to sail along the Newport harborfront. This is where things started to get a little hairy. The parade was delayed a little - in order to wait for the helicopter from the local TV station, I believe. Then in the middle of the parade a violent downpour of rain broke out with crashing thunder and lightning flashes all around us. The fleet must have been suffering from collective brainfade because we all headed back the considerable distance through the harbor to our launching point at Fort Adams. I remember thinking as I sailed between all the moored yachts that I should be safe because their masts were a lot taller than mine. Some guys from Vanguard in rescue boats were attempting to round up the Sunfish sailors and tow them in but they were outnumbered and several of us had to make it the whole way home under sail.
Once we were safe under the relative dry of the tent at Fort Adams it was discovered that one of the sailors had not made it back. His non-sailing wife was going frantic until somehow the news was relayed that he, out of the several dozen experienced sailors there, was the only one who had done what we are all told to do if we see lightning when dinghy sailing: head straight for the nearest shore. He had gone ashore at Ida Lewis Yacht Club and was perfectly safe.
At the party on Saturday evening, Vanguard unveiled with pride their special 50th anniversary edition Sunfish which had the ugliest blue and gold sail you have ever seen. I don't think they sold very many. A few years later I found one of those ugly sails in tatters on a beach somewhere so I took it home, cut it into irregular sized pieces, and used it as a jigsaw puzzle for my sailing students whenever I needed to entertain them for 10 minutes on a windless day.
On Sunday several of us headed over to Saunderstown Yacht Club for the Round Jamestown Island Race. The race started by heading south, around Beavertail and then into Jamestown village for a lunch break on the beach. (Our times arriving at the beach were recorded so a total elapsed time for the race could be calculated.) Then in the afternoon the race was restarted and we sailed under Newport Bridge, around the northern end of Conanicut and in a dying breeze under the two Jamestown bridges, new and old, and back to the yacht club. I remember the wind was spooky and swirly under the older, lower Jamestown bridge - maybe some ghosts were affecting it.
I think I had a respectable finish in the race, though I was not in the trophies. I talked to one of the organizers afterwards, thanked him and told him how enthusiastic I was about the race and that I definitely wanted to do it again the next year. He explained that it's not an annual event and, if it has been held again, I have never been back.