2015 down the bay Race picCuker plots rhumb line course, corrects to top of fleet once again

This year’s Down the Bay Race saw a slight increase in entries and Benjamin Cuker joked with organizers from Storm Trysail Club and Hampton Yacht Club that he was responsible.

“I was saying that when other skippers saw that a schmuck like me could win with a smaller, slower boat they figured they had a good chance as well,” Cuker said with a laugh.

In all seriousness, Cuker did wonder if other participants considered it somewhat of a fluke that an IOR-influenced design launched in 1976 was able to secure overall victory in a historic race that has always been considered a true challenge of seamanship and skill.

Cuker and his crew aboard Callinectes proved that what happened last year was certainly no fluke by capturing a second consecutive Virginia Cruising Cup. Patrick O’Bryan served as co-skipper as the Cal 3-30 posted a corrected time of 13 hours, 40 minutes and 50 seconds in placing first in PHRF C and earning the overall victory for the 66th Down the Bay Race.

Callinectes“It’s absolutely fantastic to win this great race again. I’m still on Cloud Nine,” Cuker said when contacted on Tuesday night. “Going in as the defending champs, there was a measure of pressure. I give all the credit to the crew for working hard from start to finish. It was another rewarding result.”

Callinectes crossed the finish line off Fort Monroe just prior to 5:15 a.m. with an elapsed time of 19 hours, four minutes and 50 seconds. That was almost three hours faster than its winning time in 2014 and the crew’s attentiveness throughout proved crucial in the end. Callinectes wound up winning on corrected time by just 3 minutes and 15 seconds over PHRF B victor Invictus, a Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 skippered by Paul Fenn of Annapolis.

Callinectes is the seventh boat to claim the Virginia Cruising Cup two seasons in a row and the first since Smoke, a Nightwind 35 skippered by Dan Smoker, accomplished the feat in 1998-99. Prior to that, the last back-to-back winner had been Al Van Metre’s famous Running Tide in 1975-76.

O’Bryan and bowman Ronnie Triplett were holdovers from last year’s crew. Joining the team for this year’s race were Greg Peak (mid-boat, winches) and Nicholas Rupnerine (helmsman, trimmer).

Cuker, 61, has been a professor of Marine and Environmental Science at Hampton University since 1988 and also serves as faculty advisor for the school’s intercollegiate sailing team. Rupnerine, a 34-year-old native of Trinidad, was the star skipper for the Hampton co-ed dinghy team from 2001 to 2004. O’Bryan is a 27-year-old civil engineer, the 57-year-old Triplett works at the Newport News Shipyard while Peak is a 51-year-old retired veterinarian.

“Our strategy was to stay in clear air and sail the shortest distance possible. There were several boats in our fleet that we knew would be tough, but we focused on sailing our race rather than trying to cover or get into passing battles,” Cuker said. “Indeed, right after the start, three of our competitors got into a fight, bringing each other up and out to the edge of the course while the rest of fleet sailed the rhumb line.”

Cuker was proud that Callinectes, rated as the second-slowest boat in the fleet, passed several boats during the 120-nautical-mile passage that began off Annapolis on Friday morning. Dick Neville of the Storm Trysail Club-Chesapeake Station started the 32 boats in four classes in 18-knot northwesterly winds that enabled most boat to cross the line under spinnaker.

Cuker was thankful for a new headsail he recently received from Jim Miller of Doyle Sails in Hampton. Miller cut down an old Pentax No. 1 genoa and created a 130-degree No. 2 that was ideal for when Callinectes sailed too tight to carry a spinnaker.

“Sheeted to the outboard tack, this blast reacher gave us more effective speed than the rest of the fleet carrying number ones,” Cuker said.

Cuker said it proved fortuitous that Blew By You, a Tartan 10 skippered by Austin Powers, attempted to overtake Callinectes upon approach to the finish. “Having a crew of five meant that nobody really slept during the race and by five in the morning we were all mentally fatigued. It was a good thing the Tartan 10 tried to roll us several times about three miles out as that got everyone woken up and prepared for the finish,” he said. “Considering how close the final result was, our focus coming into the finish clearly paid off.”

Donnybrook, an Andrews 80-footer skippered by Annapolis Yacht Club member Jim Muldoon, easily secured line honors with an elapsed time of 11 hours, 21 minutes and 51 seconds. Willy Keyworth and Bert Collins served as watch captains while James Gray was navigator aboard Donnybrook, which achieved a maximum speed of 22 knots on multiple occasions.

Muldoon said Down the Bay was the first overnight race he ever entered, capturing class honors aboard a C&C 41 some 35 years ago.

“I’ve always enjoyed this particular race because you get the challenge of sailing the whole Chesapeake Bay,” Muldoon said. “This year was another fun race and I cannot say enough about the wonderful welcome we received at the Hampton Yacht Club.”

Donnybrook fell into a lull near Point Lookout and the crew changed sails seven times in the span of an hour with the wind coming from all directions. Muldoon said the breeze eventually piped up to 15 knots and the Andrews 80 reveled in close reaching conditions the rest of the way.

Heron, a J/120 skippered by Greg Leonard of Bowie, Md., placed first in PHRF A and wound up third in the overall standings with a corrected time of 13:50:01. Amara, a Tartan 3700 owned by Ed and Aimee Darling of Portsmouth, Va., took first place in the PHRF Non-Spinnaker class.

For complete results, visit the official Down the Bay Race for the Virginia Cruising Cup website:

Contributed by Bill Wagner