Newport Ashore and Afloat
By Will Welles
The Shield Nationals are rapidly approaching us here in Newport and all of us are excited to have the class join us here in our hometown. Seeing as many folks have either never been to Newport, or haven’t visited in a while, I’d like to share some “local knowledge” tips for navigating, both on land and sea.
First off, Newport is still quite busy this time of year, so parking and getting around town may take more time than you might expect, so my first piece of advice is plan on a bit of extra time getting to your destination. Thankfully, Newport is a great town to meander through and is full of fun things to see and do so there will be lots to check out along the way.
Once you arrive, you’ll find there are lots of great restaurants and watering holes to relax and refresh after racing on open evenings. Some of my personal favorites are Scales and Shells, Zelda’s, Mama Louisa’s, Clarke Cooke House, The Black Pearl and Rhumbline. All are in downtown Newport on Thames, Street, America’s Cup Ave. or within walking distance. I would mention that many of these restaurants are popular so when you know when and where you want to have that special team dinner, make a reservation as early as possible.
If you need any new sailing gear, Team One Newport is close by on Thames Street and carries all the best. There is also a West Marine mega store in Middletown for any needed parts, a fairly short car ride away. Also, local rigging shops Rig Pro, in Portsmouth, RI and Hall Spars and Rigging in Bristol, RI are near enough for major rigging issues.
As you know, the regatta is being run by the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. This extraordinary club offers stunning views of Newport Harbor and is a favorite location for a relaxing post race beverage while watching the sunset over Fort Adams. Boats will be launched and hauled across the harbor at Sail Newport, located on the grounds of Fort Adams, which is a state park. Fort Adams is a beautiful place with lots’ of open space, good parking and a welcoming staff, which makes it one of my favorites in Newport. The team at Sail Newport are true professionals at hosting large world class events, they know how to deal with lots of boats, and if you have any questions, reach out to one of the staff to get the scoop as they will certainly have a plan to help you make your program run smoothly.
Many sailors who arrive by air will likely land at TF Green in Warwick, R.I., just south of Providence. There is a shuttle, but I’d really suggest having a rental car to get around easier. Bikes and scooters are good as well since Ida Lewis is a fairly long walk from downtown Newport.
While the “off the water” stuff is, to me, an important ingredient to a successful event for my team, I expect you have read this far looking for the “secrets” to sailing in Newport. Having traveled to several events this year, I think it’s safe to say that predicting the conditions, weather and counting on “local knowledge” may be best taken with a large grain of salt! That said, here are a few tips and indicators I use typically count on that have served us well in the past.
Firstly, there really are only two racing areas to run a major regatta like the Shields Nationals. Generally, the best location, in my opinion, is the “Outside Course”. The “Outside Course” is in Rhode Island Sound and typically offers great waves and good breeze and fair, open-water racing. It is worth noting that it takes up to one hour or more to get from Newport Harbor out to the race area, which is generally near off R2 outside of Brenton Reef. That said, if the sea breeze is on, I promise you it is worth the trek! . There aren’t too many secrets in sailing here. Teams that have good boat speed, sound tactics and great boat handling are typically rewarded with good solid finishes, but a few mistakes and you will have to work hard to earn a top finish. If all goes as planned you can count on a stellar sea breeze. The local knowledge (grain of salt time!) always say if your wind shots are left of 210, go left and if they are right of 210, go right. It doesn’t work all the time but, short of any other compelling reason, it is a good starting place.
The other racing location option is north of the Newport Bridge. This course will typically have flatter water and, though a bit closer of a commute, you can count on a fair bit more current when sailing to and racing here. Usually, we would only race there if conditions are such that racing outside would not be possible due to weather, sea state or other conditions. When sailing up the bay, expect it to be a little more “lake-like” because we will be racing close to land, yet there will be a lot of current and that needs to be factored into your playbook. While the current charts are useful, the timing can be off depending on where you are in the bay so use current charts to get general timing and keep your eyes peeled for current changes on lobster pots, government marks, etc. Those will be your best indicators of where the water is really flowing underneath your Shields.
I hope this was of some help and, if you have any questions while you are in Newport please feel free to reach out to me or any of our North team. We look forward to seeing you here!
Will Welles won the 2014 J/24 World Championship in Newport’s waters.
He has been a member of the Shields #226 team since 2007.