Tiedemann Classics Regatta

OnawaBlackwing Among Winners at Tiedemann Classics Regatta

Newport, R.I. — According to Onawa skipper Mark Watson, success on the classic yachting circuit requires a gentle touch. But, he adds, this isn’t to say that older wooden boats must to be babied.

Tiedemann Classics Regatta “They’re not fragile at all,” says Watson who skippered the classic 12 Metre (above) to wins in two of three races and the Vintage Class overall title at the Robert H. Tiedemann Classics Regatta, held last weekend at the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court in Newport, R.I. “There were some pretty good puffs coming down the bay [on Sunday]. These older boats can withstand all of that pressure and strength, but the boat handling is a little more cumbersome. With those older yachts, there are a lot of lines to pull and there are not a lot of big winches. It takes a more gentle touch getting an older boat around the race course. A little more finesse, and not just brute force.”

After a four-year absence, the Robert H. Tiedemann Classics Regatta returned to Narragansett Bay last weekend, with more than two dozen classic yachts from 28 to 76 feet gracing the waters off Newport. While the event has traditionally focused on the wooden yachts that were so beloved by its namesake, this year’s event was a real tribute to the full breadth of yachting history, featuring true classics such as the 95-year-old NY40 Marilee and the 101-year-old S Class, one America’s Cup winner, an Olympic gold medalist and a collection of newer boats, most built out of wood, but a few constructed from more modern materials.

While the sun was in relatively short supply last weekend, the wind was plentiful. On Saturday, after a short delay for lack of visibility, the larger boats raced around Conanicut Island, a 18-mile course that took most of the afternoon to complete. On Sunday, the race committee utilized government marks in the East Passage of Narragansett Bay to ensure every boat was tested on all points of sail and in wind that wasn’t too far off the upper limit.

In the Vintage Division, the largest in the regatta with nine boats, Onawa won the Around the Island Race on Saturday and Sunday’s first race, each by roughly two minutes on corrected time. In the final race, however, Ken Colburn’s Marilee charged to the win, showing his team’s increasing confidence in the new-to-them classic. Just nine seconds behind on corrected time, Onawa tied with Dorade. In the final standings it was Onawa in first, with Marilee second and Dorade, Olin Stephens’ ground-breaking ocean racer, in third.

“I think we had good sail selection and we had good starts,” says Watson. “We put ourselves in the right places on the racecourse, hats off to [tactician] Andy Green for a lot of help on that. Ironically we made very few mistakes. I say ironically because we just haven’t had that much time in the boat. We kept the maneuvers to a minimum and didn’t push the boat too hard. Sometimes being conservative pays off.”

Eric Hall’s Blackwing (right) was built out of fiberglass in 1995, making it a veritable babe amongst some of the octogenarians and nonagenarians on the Tiedemann entry list. But the design of the 28-foot Stuart Knockabout, by L. Francis Herreshoff, goes back to 1932, and the narrow hull with minimal freeboard is unmistakably from a previous generation of yacht design.

After a long career as one of the leading composite spar manufacturers in the world, one might expect Hall to favor a more modern design. But he says he fell in love with the narrow 28-footer on his first sail, and success on the racecourse has followed suit. Blackwing took first in all three races in the Classic Division.

Tiedemann Classics Regatta

“[The feeling of sailing Blackwing] goes a little bit past a sailor’s feeling to a very subjective, visceral feeling,” says Hall. “It’s one of those boats that responds to good sailing. I had [former New York Yacht Club Commodore] Jory Hinman and Steve Prime with me. Jory’s just an excellent sailor and Steve is right behind him. We were working the boat, and when it got in the grove you had this feeling. I love this boat. It’s done very very well. It’s just surprisingly fast for a design that age.”

Of course, even the fastest design isn’t worth much in the standings without a good crew. Hall was quick to answer when asked how he and his team won the regatta.

“What we did very well is sail the boat upwind,” says Hall. “I just concentrated on the [telltales] on the jib and did nothing else. I just looked at the jib all day long and Jory and Steve called the trim and did this and that, called the waves and puffs, and that really worked well.”

Tiedemann Classics Regatta

Other class winners included Jack Curtin’s 12 Metre Intrepid (Modern Classic / Spirit of Tradition), John Taft and Tom Glassie’s Fortune (Vintage Non-Spinnaker) and Fred Roy’s S Class Surprise.

“We were pleased with the broad range of boats and to have people participating in the regatta after a four-year hiatus,” says Jesse Terry, who chaired the event and finished second in the Classic Division on his Alden Abigail (at left). “To bring everybody together so early in the season was fantastic as the majority of the classic yacht racing takes place in August.”

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