By Keith Burrage.
Some 22 years ago we organized the first Atlantic Highlands Fling as a fun way to race up to Block Island, with all that offers, and help draw the New York, New Jersey and Chesapeake Multihull fleet down east to participate in the excellent NEMA racing and cruising events.
In 1997 we had a strong fleet of nine entrants, a fun get together in Atlantic Highlands and an exciting race, won by Dave Lussier in a really well sailed F27. What could be better than racing to a beautiful island, away from the oppressive heat and humidity that July announces on the east coast?
Unfortunately with the multihull scene favoring smaller, folding, trailerable boats, interest in offshore racing diminished and after the third edition in 1999 the Atlantic Highlands Fling was discontinued.
But, in 2019 the Fling was back! By early spring we had interest from eight owners declaring their intent to race. In an effort to encourage more cruising boats to tag along we added the “By Hook or By Crook” trophy: even if getting to Block Island required firing up the “iron topsail,” the first cruiser to make the Island could get an award and join the festivities!
Sadly, as race day approached, a series of events, including a serious lightning strike nixing the TRT 1200, the fleet whittled down to three starters.
Perfect weather conditions on race day provided a brisk, port-favored, windward start and plenty of boat speed to beat the adverse tidal flow up to and around Sandy Hook.
After getting around the hook into a downwind flow, Nice Tri, the Dragonfly 1000, set her asymmetric and with Summer Magic, the St Francis 44 under her reacher, the leaders stayed tight on the Hook, cheating the current and ran south into the expected southerly shift that brought the downwind sails to the deck and sheets sweated in for the beat south. After a less than perfect start with his new ride and fast learning crew Alston van Patten on his Contour 34 Coltrane was getting dialed in as we worked the lifts right into the surf on our way to Manasquan sea buoy.
Nice Tri rounded first and popping her chute flew off to the northeast in the teens. Summer Magic following half an hour later, set her reacher and headed due east. But Coltrane, the crew not feeling they were familiar enough with the boat, elected to call it a day, turned around and headed for home.
As evening fell we enjoyed a near idyllic downwind reach, Nice Tri gybing along the Long Island south shore, Summer Magic continuing off to the east until the forecast westerly shift had her gybing off to the northeast where she converged with Nice Tri a couple of miles west of Montauk - all aboard Summer Magic elated that our offshore tactic had paid off handsomely.
Nice Tri cleared Montauk and pressed on eastwards while Summer Magic gybed again once clear of Montauk and weather-bowed the ebb current sweeping out of Block Island Sound which drove her eastward toward the finish in the dying breeze. Nice Tri slipped off to the southeast, realizing too late how strong the set was, then gybed to the north and almost parked with insufficient wind to beat the ebb. Summer Magic crossed the finish line having taken 27 hours 22 minutes to complete the 160 mile course, averaging 7.17 knots through the water. Nice Tri struggled in on the faltering wind disappointed not to have taken line honors - next time! Needing to get home for work, Nice Tri, after taking on some diesel, headed out which left a pretty thin crowd for the party but we all, including Coltrane, had a blast and hope we can attract a bigger fleet next year to this, the longest offshore event in the NEMA calendar.