Annapolis, MD (June 1, 2016) - Ian Hill grew up racing a Pearson 26 double-handed with his dad. Father and son lived aboard the tiny sailboat, which they also cruised around the lower Chesapeake Bay.
After spending so much time on the water as a youngster, Hill got away from sailing for about 20 years.
Recently, the Chesapeake, Virginia resident decided to end his hiatus and initially purchased a Jeanneau 44 in order to go cruising with the family. It turns out the kids were a bit too young to enjoy that endeavor so Hill said he "reluctantly" returned to racing.
"I quickly learned the Jeanneau wasn't the best boat for racing so I decided to invest in a more suitable platform," he said.
After considerable research, scouting boats at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis and test sailing the finalists, Hill purchased an XP44 - a critically-acclaimed design produced by X-Yachts of Denmark.
Hill debuted his new boat with spectacular results in the 67th Down the Bay Race for the Virginia Cruising Cup, which was sponsored this year by Marker 20. The Hampton Yacht Club member and his crew aboard Sitella captured line honors, secured first place in class and earned the overall victory. Hill, who had never previously skipperd an entry in the venerable event, was presented with the Robert M. Ravin Memorial Trophy for fastest elapsed time and the prestigious Virginia Cruising Cup as overall winner on corrected time.
"This is a huge, huge honor and quite a surprise," Hill said. "It's a real anomaly to win such a grueling race coming right out of the box, but a true blessing. I give all the credit to my crew. I wasn't sure what to expect out of the boat since it was our maiden voyage, but I had total faith in my team."
Hill heaped praise upon crew manager Martin Casey Jr., navigator Mark Wheeler and tactician Brendan Drinkwater in particular. Casey spent eight months putting together the program and played a big role in preparing the boat. He worked closely with Mark Sims of True North Yachting, who performed the commissioning over the course of five weeks and stepped the mast, upgraded the halyard system, installed electronics among many other tasks.
"It was due to the hard work of Mark and Martin that this boat was race ready," said Hill, who was also very thankful for the diligent efforts of Jerry Latell of Ullman Sails Virginia, who built the boat's entire inventory and was instrumental in tuning the rig.
Wheeler, vice commodore of the Hampton Yacht Club, has sailed countless miles on the Chesapeake Bay and offshore aboard skipper Sled Shelhorse's series of boats named Meridian. His experience was invaluable and a big reason why Sitella completed the 120-nautical mile course with an elapsed time of 23 hours, 16 minutes and seven seconds.
"Mark's navigating and tactical direction were the major keys to our success. He kept our focus throughout the race and did not miss a tack or sail change over the entire 23 hours. He accurately predicted every wind and current shift," Hill said.
Hill called Drinkwater, who served as shift helmsman and co-tactician, a "real inspiration to the crew at key moments" throughout the race. When not on watch, Drinkwater was also the crew chef and created several delicious meals.
Completing the crew aboard Sitella were Chad Wilkins (main trimmer, pit), Jimmy Hardesty (main and jib trimmer), Jamie Collins (foredeck), Chuck Eberwine (foredeck), Austin Meincke (main, jib), Sean Henry (mast) and Sam Neubert (bow, mast).
The XP44 is a strong upwind boat and it's a good thing because frontrunners in the Down the Bay Race saw consistent 22-24 knot south-southwest winds most of the way. Sitella hugged the western side of the Chesapeake Bay for the majority of the race before crossing over in order to take a better angle into the finish off Fort Monroe Sea Wall.
"It was blowing hard on the nose pretty much from start to finish. Fortunately, this boat goes upwind in a breeze real well," said Casey, noting the wind did drop about a knot an hour beginning around 3 a.m. on Saturday then laid down considerably around sunrise. "I'd say the conditions really were ideal for this boat, which points incredibly well."
Sitella posted a corrected time of 22 hours, 28 minute and 17 seconds. PHRF B winner Remedy, a J/36 skippered by Will Roberts of Virginia Beach, was runner-up on handicap with a corrected time of 23:01:43. Heron, an Annapolis-based J/122 skippered by Greg Leonard, was second across the finish line - an hour and 36 minutes astern of Sitella.
Having been away from the sailing scene for two decades, Hill knew little about the Down the Bay Race for the Virginia Cruising Cup. Having learned some of the history during the voyage, the Sitella skipper is quite proud of capturing the Virginia Cruising Cup.
"Mark Wheeler filled me in as to how prestigious this race is so it's a huge honor to join the illustrious list of overall winners," said Hill, who has outlined an ambitious season schedule culminating in the 2017 Quantum Key West Race Week.
A total of 41 boats in six classes competed in the 67th Down the Bay Race, which is organized by the Storm Trysail Club-Chesapeake and Hampton Yacht Club and was sponsored this year by Marker 20.
Roberts was also a first-time participant in the Down the Bay Race after purchasing his 1984 vintage J/36 in October, 2014. It came from Montana and had limited miles of fresh water sailing. "This boat was very well cared for, having spent two-thirds of its life in heated storage," said Roberts, who spent a year converting the boat from a cruising setup.
Most of the crew aboard Remedy had done considerable offshore racing aboard a Swan 45 named High Yield, owned by Hanns Ostmeier of Germany. Roberts had sailed Remedy to second in the Cruising Club of Virginia Spring Series and won the Cape Henry Cup, but called a class victory in the Down the Bay Race the team's top result to date.
"This is a great race and we really had a good time," said Roberts, who felt navigator Christian Schaumloffel's familiarity with the Chesapeake Bay was a critical component to the win. Schaumloffel is a previous winner of the Down the Bay Race aboard the Hobie 33 Mirage.
Members of the Remedy crew were patching a bad spot in the No. 1 genoa five minutes before the starting gun and were about a minute late to the line as a result. They never stopped working thereafter, performing a whopping 49 tacks during the race.
"We saw winds as high as 27 knots and the swells were building throughout the night. It was a really wet boat," said Roberts, noting that Remedy did trade places regularly with the J/110 Lady Grey.
Remedy stayed on the Eastern Shore side of the bay all the way to Cape Charles to avoid the adverse flood current and that strategy paid off. "We rounded 1YR and quickly realized we were in good position," said Roberts, whose finished a little less than 10 minutes behind the J/109 Afterthought and a mere 12 seconds before the Beneteau First 36.7 Stardancer.
Hampton Yacht Club past commodore David Taylor was a crew member on Remedy. HYC rear commodore David McConaughy and board member Leigh Chapman crewed aboard Afterthought.
Class C winner was current Hampton Yacht Club commodore Jamie Shoemaker, who co-owns the J/30 Goes to Eleven with Ron Quinn. Shoemaker did the Down the Bay Race several times as a teenager and college student, but had not competed for three decades before entering Goes to Eleven last year.
"I've always loved this race so to win our class is a real thrill," Shoemaker said. "We had some really talented sailors onboard, guys who have done the race a whole lot."
Heading the list was navigator John Hanna, who "planned our strategy well then executed it beautifully," according to Shoemaker. Watch captains and primary helmsmen Mark Sarrett and Warren Hunnicutt were also instrumental in the team's success.
"We had the boat tuned up well and did a very good job of keeping our boat speed up throughout the night," Shoemaker said. "When the sun came up on Saturday morning and we didn't see any boats around us, we thought we were in the back of the fleet. It turns out we were in the front."
Commodore Shoemaker was pleased with the turnout for the Down the Bay Race, which has enjoyed a significant resurgence since being revitalized by Storm Trysail Club and Hampton Yacht Club. "It's a terrific race with tremendous tradition and all indications are that it has a great future," he said. The leadership of the Hampton Yacht Club strongly supports this event and looks forward to its continued growth and success."
Flipper, a Gougeon 32 catamaran owned by John Wayshner, was the corrected winner in the Multihull class. Veteran multihull skipper Tim Layne assisted Wayshner on the double-handed adventure with the two switching helming duties every two hours.
Wayshner credited Layne, who holds the overall elapsed time record for the Governor's Cup aboard his catamaran Wild Card, with watching the tides and determining when it was best times to cross the bay or short tack.
This is the only G32 on the Chesapeake Bay and the lone water-ballasted boat in the Chesapeake Multihull Association. Wayshner admitted Flipper was the beneficiary of some luck as the group of trimarans that were a couple hours ahead hit light winds near the finish - allowing the sole catamaran in the class to make up time.
"The G32 is a very tender boat and capsizes easily. We had our hands on the sheets at all times and dumped the main and screacher several times during the race to prevent going over," sadi Wayshner, noting that Flipper hit 10 knots while on beam reach following the turning mark at York River. "We used the water ballast and even reefed for a couple hours. I thought the boat handled the wind and waves pretty well."
Flipper lost its port rudder around 1 a.m. while the starboard rudder failed about 200 yards from the finish line. Wayshner and Layne were too close to retire and managed to get across safely.
Tranquillity, a Hunter Legend owned by Thomas Orlowski of Smithfield, Virginia, was the only boat to finish in PHRF Non-Spinnaker. All four boats competing in the Double-handed division elected to retire due to the heavy winds and high seas.
For complete results and other race information, please visit the official Down the Bay Race website: http://www.yachtscoring.com/emenu.cfm?eID=1605