By JOHN LEANING
HYANNIS - (1/8/02) Expert sailors say Nantucket Sound's standing as one of the premier sailing locations in the world could be in jeopardy if the proposed wind farm is constructed.
Developers from Cape Wind Associates want to build 170 wind turbines on a 28-square-mile portion of Nantucket Sound called Horseshoe Shoal.
Sailboat race enthusiasts say they're worried the development would disrupt sailing competitions in the area, both by presenting obstacles to sailing craft and by interfering with wind currents.
"Essentially, what would happen here is we'd be done," said Thomas Duggan, race officer for the world championship Laser races and chief organizer of the annual Figawi race.
"It's a way of life, our culture. Generations of kids have grown up sailing these waters. Over the last 10 years we've put this area on the map as a prime area for sailing events, both nationally and internationally," he said.
The Figawi is an annual regatta that runs on Memorial Day weekend, attracting 200 racing boats for the Hyannis-to-Nantucket round-trip course, along with dozens of spectator boats. For three decades, the race attracts many well-heeled boaters, including U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, from throughout the East Coast.
Duggan referred to a nautical chart of Nantucket Sound and noted that the wind farm would be constructed near current race courses.
"Looking at the map now, I can't imagine we'd continue to hold events in the lee of that. I can't imagine them saying, 'Let's sail underneath all those things,'" he said.
Cape Wind's project, estimated to cost between $500-$700 million, is under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and various state and federal agencies, including the US Coast Guard's marine safety office in Providence.
Leonard Fagan, Cape Wind's vice president for engineering, yesterday countered some of Duggan's concerns, saying the wind farm should not have any effect on the sound as a haven for sailors.
Duggan, owner of Southeastern Millwork in Sagamore and a resident of Sandwich, is a senior judge and national race officer for the U.S. Sailing Association. But he emphasized in an interview yesterday that he was speaking only as a private citizen.
But Duggan became more concerned after receiving a letter from Figawi Board of Governors chairman J. David Crawford, which outlined potential problems and asked for donations to be sent to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, an organization fighting the wind-farm proposal.
Steamship Authority captains also raised concerns about navigation in Nantucket Sound if the wind farm is built. At a meeting of the Steamship Authority's board of governors last month, Flying Cloud Capt. Bruce Malenfant said the proposal would "eliminate a lot of navigational options" for the ferries.
Officials from the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office (MSO) have said they will take a close look at potential navigational hazards that could be posed by the wind farm.
Marine safety officer Peter Popko said events such as the Figawi race will be considered in a risk assessment the Coast Guard will require and review.
Among other things, the Coast Guard will want to know marine traffic routes, density of traffic, seasonal variations, and risk of collisions between vessels and the towers.
"This is obviously a new world, a new situation. We would expect a risk assessment to take into account events such as this," he said, referring to the Figawi.
"During a risk assessment, we need to consider are there races that occur there, and what additional hazards may be posed by towers being there," he said.
He said the assessment was still in draft stage and had not yet been forwarded to the Army Corps for comment.
But Duggan believes the issue is simple.
"From a racing standpoint, you don't send boats there, and from a liability standpoint, you do not send a racing fleet through there," he said.
Duggan said that is a slim safety margin for a sailboat that may be sailing in adverse conditions.
"Even if a sailboat is going six knots, you have a potential to bang into one tower every three minutes," he said.
Fagan said it might be possible to alter the location of some of turbines to make it easier for Figawi race officials to plot a race course.
"It's possible that something could be done. I'd welcome the opportunity to sit down and talk with him. I think it's worth discussing," Fagan said.
Duggan said that "Sailing World," the country's leading sail racing magazine, identified Nantucket Sound as one of the eight best sailing venues in the world two years ago. He said he worries that distinction would be lost.
"We'd be done if we had to sail in the lee (downwind) of those towers. That would be a shame. We've worked hard in Hyannis to come up with a good sailing program.
Fagan said Cape Wind's own studies, as well as engineering work done at existing offshore wind farms in Denmark, found that turbulence downwind of wind farms dissipated after about 1,500 feet, slightly less than a third of a mile.
He also said that turbulence was most prevalent at the height of the rotor tip blade, about 80 feet above sea level, far above small boat masts.