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Remembering B.I. Race Week's 'voice'

Jane Mansfield, known for years as "the voice" of Block Island Race Week, died March 8 from an extended illness in Punta Gorda, Fla.

She was 76 years old.

Jane Mansfield

Mansfield was involved with the race for more than 40 years, as an announcer as well as running the duty office, says her daughter Bridget Schumacher. That time behind the microphone, starting in the late 1960s, gained Mansfield notoriety within the racing community.

"I remember being a little girl eating in a restaurant and someone got up from a nearby table and approached my mother saying, 'Oh my gosh, it's you! It's the voice!' " says Schumacher.

The Storm Trysail Club of Larchmont, N.Y., hosts the race every year. It is a 185-nautical-mile run from Stamford, Conn., down Long Island Sound, around Block Island, R.I., and back to Stamford. In its 65th year, the race has become a rite of passage for many newcomers to the sport. The 2010 running is slated to begin May 28.

Penny Langone of Larchmont, N.Y., who raced with her father in a Cal 40 during the 1960s, remembers Mansfield's distinctive voice well and also her equally distinctive personality.

"She was in charge of roughly 5,000 misbehaved sailors and she took her job with great joy," says Langone. "She had such a keen sense of humor that she was not afraid to use over the loudspeaker."

After one evening of revelry, Langone remembers, she heard Mansfield's voice ring out over the docks, chastising one sailor who'd clearly celebrated too long: "Stan," Mansfield announced, "judging by the way you are walking, you should go home and sober up."

"She had such a deep voice for such a petite, small person," says Langone. "A real class act."

Mansfield was the announcer until 1991 and was involved with the duty office until 2007. Her husband, Skip, an avid boater, says her duties included processing paperwork for the sailors and making sure accounts were kept accurately.

Mansfield was born and raised in New Rochelle, N.Y., and married in 1956. She soon found herself catching the sea bug when Skip began taking her frostbiting with the Storm Trysail Club.

"Ocean racing was my passion and I drew her along," says Skip Mansfield. "She loved it."

The couple started out with an 18-foot Hampton One Design sailboat, graduated to a 40-foot lobster boat built in Nova Scotia for cruising, a 27-foot Albin aft cabin model, and moved up to their current vessel, a 30-foot Luhrs sportfisherman.

They settled in Rye, N.Y., and moved to Miami in their later years, then finally to Punta Gorda, Fla., where Skip Mansfield still resides.

Skip says one of his fondest memories of his wife was in the late 1960s when a friend gave the young couple a 43-foot yawl to use for a week; it had a fully stocked galley - plus an oven.

"Jane really liked to cook, especially offshore, and I liked to eat, so we were perfect for each other," says Skip. "I'll never forget the smell of baking bread while being under way."

Jane Mansfield was the face of the duty office at Block Island, says Marcy Trenholm, executive director of the Storm Trysail Club, who knew Mansfield for 20 years. "She trained me when I started in 1989 when I had no clue what I was doing, but she was always there to help out."

Jane was also a member of the entertainment and decorating committee of the Isles Yacht Club in Punta Gorda, Fla.

Jane is survived by her husband, Skip, three daughters - Heather, Bridget and Deidra - and eight grandchildren.

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This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the June 2010 issue.