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Long Distance Comet Race champion struggling to make event

2023 Edward Cross Long Distance Comet Race champions Jack and Kate Swikart (File photograph by Ras Mykkal)

Jack Swikart may be forced to relinquish his Edward Cross Long Distance Comet Race title this year without putting up a fight.

The Shrewsbury Sailing and Yacht Club sailor is keen to defend the coveted trophy in Monday’s race, but his potential involvement in the Comet North American Championship in New Jersey, which concludes the day before, may prevent him from taking to the start line.

“I would like to come but I’m not sure if I can make it because I am probably sailing in the North American Championship, which is on Saturday and Sunday, and I don’t think I can get a flight soon enough,” Swikart told The Royal Gazette.

“I am trying to figure it out, but I think I would have to get to the airport the same day as the races to try to make it, but I will have to see.

“It seems unlikely now and I am not 100 per cent decided, but I’d like to come back in future years for sure when there’s no conflict.“

Swikart became only the second overseas helmsman and the first in 27 years to win the prestigious race last year alongside his sister Kate.

“I really enjoyed the race last year and would love to do it again,” he said. “Hopefully I can make it in a future year, but I just don’t think that the flight timing works.”

Already ruled out this year is local helmsman Stevie Dickinson, who has won the race a record 21 times.

The East End Mini Yacht Club helmsman now resides in England and has opted not to return home to compete this time around.

Learn more about Edward Cross

Among the local favourites to take the title is 11-times winner Rudy Bailey, who is competing again with grandson Corey Bean as crew.

The West End Sailboat Club helmsman has mixed feelings heading into the race as he’s excited to compete again, but is disappointed it won’t be in his own boat, Temptation, which suffered substantial damage on his club’s premises in a hurricane several years ago

“I like the idea of sailing back home this year and looking forward to it,” Bailey said. “But I am disappointed because despite all the hard work I have done I am not going to be able to sail the Temptation, so I am going to have to use Howard Simmons’ boat again.

“That sort of puts a damper on it with all the work and all the effort we tried to have that boat ready for the race, the only boat I have ever won the Long Distance Race in.”

Another local helmsman expected to be in the hunt for honours is 2022 winner Benn Smith, who feels good about his chances for success competing alongside cousin Christian Ebbin in the double-handed Comet dinghy.

“I think we have a pretty good chance,” said Smith, who also won the race as a 14-year-old crew with helmsman Rockal Evans in 2012.

“I think we are a pretty good team and it looks like it’s going to be fifteen knots of breeze, so I think that will be good for us.”

Smith reckons the forecast weather conditions could work to his advantage in this year’s race, which starts in St George’s Harbour at 11am and concludes in the Great Sound, directly offshore of regatta hosts West End Sailboat Club.

“I think the wind direction is south east, the same wind direction when Christian and I won it a couple of years ago,” he added.

“We were pretty quick, so hopefully we’re still quick and I think it’s going to be a pretty fast race.”

Past winner Dale Brangman is also expected to be in contention and is excited to team up again with crew Tajahri Rogers.

“I am definitely going out to try and win the race,” the East End Mini Yacht Club helmsman declared. “I am going to miss Stevie [Dickinson] this year, so it’s going to be up for grabs and I am looking forward to it.

‘“I have my crew back that won the race with me the last time I won. He has been away in school in England, so it will be a good reunion and hopefully we can do it.”

Brangman won the event in 2019 with then 12-year old Rogers.

This year’s race marks a remarkable milestone for West End Sailboat Club rear commodore, sailing chairman, and past winner Gladwin Lambert, who is making his 65th appearance in the event.

“Really I just feel overwhelmed that I am still racing the Comets, still able to take part in the Long Distance Race and still feel competitive,” said Lambert, who finished fifth last year.

The 75-year-old helmsman, who is again competing with Stefan Maybury, won the race in 1977 and again in 1990 and believes he can get another win under his belt before he calls time on his career.

“I still have my killer instinct for wanting to win and really feel that I have one more Long Distance Race win in me, but I don’t know when,” Lambert said.

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Published June 15, 2024 at 7:59 am (Updated June 15, 2024 at 7:43 am)

Long Distance Comet Race champion struggling to make event

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