(Newport to Bermuda- Jun 18th)- The forecast was nice, if not benign, for this year’s event. Good wind was predicted for the early stages of the race. The 184-boat international fleet with nearly 2,000 sailors aboard was the third largest in the race’s 104-year history. The course runs 635 miles from Castle Hill Light at the opening to Narragansett Bay into the Atlantic Ocean and across the Gulf Stream to the finish line off St. David’s Head, Bermuda.
“We expect a fine afternoon sea breeze of 10 to 15 knots to get the boats out into the Atlantic,” said Bjorn Johnson, chairman of the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee. “It may get lighter as the boats sail out into the Atlantic, but there will be a strong favorable current in a Gulf Stream meander carrying the boats toward Bermuda. The 184-boat fleet is divided into five divisions whose final standings will be determined by factoring handicaps into the boat’s elapsed times. The largest class of 103 boats is the St. David’s Lighthouse Division for predominately amateur racing crews. There also is the 26-entry Double-Handed Division for boats sailed by just two sailors. They sail for the Phillip S. Weld Prize and Moxie Prizes. In addition, the top boat in the IRC rule standings will receive the North Rock Beacon Trophy.”
In a statement to the sailors, Commodores McCurdy and Shrubb said, “Hundreds of sailors and thousands of supporters make this race a major international sporting event every two years. Ocean racing is a marathon of endurance and finesse. Some experienced crews may make this year’s race look easy: Others will learn more than they thought they would. The challenges can be both stressful and satisfying.”
What happened on the race course was intriguing, to say the least. There were three specific entrance/ exit points that all leaders of every class honored within a several mile radius. Few deviated from the formula, with big boats that generate more speed and apparent wind able to meander a bit less than smaller boats, still make some navigational mistakes and win. The primary features were (i) the warm water eddy about 90 miles out from Newport with SSE favorable current on its eastern wall, (ii) the SSE flowing Gulf Stream meander and (iii) the small cold water eddy adverse flow just south of the Stream’s meander west of rhumbline. In short, the race winning strategies are outlined below.
On Day 1, 24 hours later on Saturday afternoon, most everyone was steering a course just west of rhumbline to determine how early they would enter the favorable current, warm water eddy at its northerly most point about 90 miles offshore (see photo). 39.46.00 N and 70.35.00 W seemed to be the ideal Lat/Lon entry point for the top boats.
By Day 2, 48 hours later on Sunday afternoon, there was a clear demarcation in the strategies. One group stayed closer to rhumbline and further east of warm eddy with less wind pressure, too- this included race leader SPEEDBOAT and also the J/65 BRAND NEW DAY, J/122 RESOLUTE, J/109 APSARA, J/44s GOLD DIGGER and CHARLIE V, J/120 AVRA, J/120 ROCKET SCIENCE, J/133 SIREN SONG, J/130 CILISTA. This group entered the Gulf Stream meander quite far SE of the warm water eddy and rode “uphill” SE flow towards Bermuda, but with less wind. The fastest group entered the top of warm eddy about 220nm SSE from Newport taking flow going due SSE and along with more favorable wind angles and breeze- this included the three musketeers amongst the big boats (BEAU GESTE, PUMA, RAMBLER literally tracking on top of each other). J’s that pursued this strategy included the J/35 PALADIN, J/42 DOLPHIN, J/42 FINESSE, J/46 SEA BISCUIT, J/42 TRUE, J/44 BEAGLE, J/44 VAMP, J/44 GLORY, J/44 RUNAWAY, J/133 SIREN SONG, J/120 RICHOCHET and J/145 VORTICES. At the time, the J/145 VORTICES was simply steaming southeast only 20nm behind the J/65 BND in about a 12-15 kt SSW breeze.
On the afternoon of Day 3, 72 hours into the race, the group that stayed further west of rhumbline and riding perhaps better breeze and more favorable current continued to gain over classmates further East. At the time, the J/65 BND was still about 40 miles out from the finish at 1400 hours on Monday and the J/145 VORTICES was flying towards the finish just 85 miles out. At this point, it was starting to become apparent that perhaps the two stories of this race were the duels between two J/35s and two J/42s. The two Double-handed J/35s, PALADIN and GREAT SCOT, were both about 200 miles from the finish and match-racing just 2 miles apart– both had gone the faster route of sailing west enough to catch the favorable south-flowing warm eddy and using that to launch them into the faster part of the Gulf Stream flowing south on its eastern wall. The other duel between the J/42s, one sailed by one of the most renowned Bermuda Race skippers, Henry Morgan now sailing in his 25th Bermuda Race (over 50 years!) on DOLPHIN and Howie Hodgson on TRUE, both about 3 miles apart and just 190 miles from the finish at 1400 hours.
By Day 4, 96 hours elapsed on the race, all the big boats had finished, with the J/65 BND finishing at 0200 hours and getting a well-deserved, well-sailed 2nd IRC/ 3rd ORR in class. It was a fast enough race that everything down to the J/42s and J/35s finished by early evening Bermuda time on Tuesday.
The big story for J sailors in this year’s event may perhaps be the extraordinary success by several J’s racing in the Double-Handed division (comprised of 2 classes). With 26 varieties of sailboats participating, eight of the Double-Handers were J’s- about 33% of the fleet! The J’s proved, yet again, they’re nearly unbeatable when sailed by competent sailors/navigators who can sail their boat at 85% or more of its speed potential/ VPPs for long periods of time, especially if you point them in the right direction and don’t break anything! Hats off to these intrepid souls who pushed their physical, mental and emotional limits to prevail over a large and very competitive fleet that included some Class 40 luminaries. In DH2 the duo of J/35s, Jason Richter’s PALADIN and Darrien Garnier’s GREAT SCOT, simply pushed them to sail better, smarter, faster with the net result that they not only eclipsed their class with a 1-2 punch, but also finished 1-2 overall, respectively in the Double-Handed fleet! But, here’s the quandary, virtually identical boats– GREAT SCOT wins by 3 minutes elapsed in front of PALADIN, but loses by 30 minutes on corrected handicap time? Go figure. In DH1, leading the charge was Nathan Owen’s J/46 SEABISCUIT followed by Gardner Grant’s J/120 ALIBI in second, followed by Greg Leonard’s J/120 HERON fourth and Scott Miller’s J/122 RESOLUTE in fifth! Congratulations to all- job well done! One-two in both DH classes by J sailors is an awesome achievement!
The St. David’s Lighthouse division, where the vast majority of the fleet was racing, had 105 boats with 26 of them J’s- 25% of the fleet. Leading all J’s home to the St. David’s finish line was Jim Madden’s gorgeous J/65 BRAND NEW DAY followed by the super fast, carbon-flyer, the J/145 VORTICES, sailed by Chris Saxton. Jim and team sailed BND well to finish 2nd in IRC Class 8 (9th overall IRC) and 3rd ORR in Class 8 (13th overall)– a damn good showing for a boat so unbelievably well-equipped that with two cavernous slide out refrigerators, a ginormous freezer, a wine cooler fit for a king and air-conditioning going full tilt with enough megawatts to cool off the Middle East, meant its crew could enjoy all the comforts of home yet still fly towards the finish line leaving near rooster-tails in its wake. Living with almost the same degree of comfort was “newbie” J/145 owner Chris Saxton on the J/145 VORTICES, finishing 3rd in ORR Class 7 (19th overall), quite a showing for taking delivery of the boat just weeks before the start of the race!
Like the J/35s dueling it out with their bigger, newer brothers in the Double-Handed division, the balance of J’s sailing in the St. Davids’ Lighthouse division, including J/42s, J/44s and J/120s that sailed hard, fast, smart and gained their fair share of silverware, including winning some divisions! The duel of the 35s was matched by the J/42s Henry Morgan’s DOLPHIN, Howie Hodgson’s TRUE, Newton Merrill’s FINESSE and Bernie Coyne’s AMIGO VI. In what turned out to be the toughest division in the entire fleet, Class 3 ORR/ IRC, the J/42s went second and third, DOLPHIN and FINESSE, in IRC respectively, behind class and overall SDL winner, CARINA! In SDL Class 4, the J/120s did well with Richard Born’s J/120 WINDBORN winning ORR, Jim Praley’s J/120 SHINNECOCK getting fourth and the US Coast Guard Academy’s J/120 RICOCHET in fifth in IRC! In Class 6, Tom Carroll’s J/133 SIREN SONG finished fourth and Jeff Eberle’s J/130 CILISTA ended up fifth.
In the nine boat J/44 class, the ONLY one-design offshore class in the Bermuda Race (take that NYYC 42s!!), the scoring surely must leave open to debate the value of ANY handicap system on what are essentially one-design boats! In IRC, Leonard Sitar’s VAMP was first, followed by GLORY sailed by Jack Neades from the US Coast Guard Academy and Larry Glen on RUNAWAY! In ORR (yup, the re-invented IMS), the tale of the tape was completely different, GLORY first (!!), then RUNAWAY and then VAMP in third!! Said the famous cartoon character Wiley Wabbit, “What’s up Doc?!?” So, invoking Galileo’s law of averages, Einstein’s black hole theory of relativity, Murphy’s law and the plain and simple “wet finger in the wind”, it appears that GLORY won!! Yahoo! Celebrate the fact that America’s US Coast Guard Academy is doing great things recruiting warhorse J’s and getting the cadets to sail hard, fast, smart and navigate well!! Perhaps the Colonialists’ “coast guard” taking a page out of the British Navy/ RAF sailing playbook?? For more Bermuda Race sailing information and iTracking real-time positions.