|By John Rousmaniere
getting a little tense as the start of the 47th Newport
Race approaches. After months of preparation, crews are stowing gear
and testing sails, boats with cooks are sending expeditions to
boats without cooks worry about tardy deliveries of freeze-dried food,
and the race headquarters (the New York Yacht Club’s Sailing Center)
is filled with officials and sailors registering their boats and filing
forms with Bermuda’s immigration officials.
that seems inconsequential compared with what Karl Kwok’s 80-footer
Beau Geste has to do. On June 11 (last Friday) she started the
race from Annapolis to Bermuda. She finished on the 14th
(setting a new course record), hove-to long enough to take aboard 24
pizzas, and then headed north toward Newport for her second Bermuda
Race, starting June 18.
and tacticians, meanwhile, are hunched over their computers and trying
to get a sense of race conditions. On Tuesday afternoon it looked as
though the start will be in a healthy sea breeze. “Everybody should
blast out of here on an upwind leg,” predicted Bjorn Johnson, chairman
of the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee. But after a few hours of this,
there’s a good chance that the fleet will sail into a big high and
wrestle with light westerlies.
At least there’s a 200-mile
finger of favorable current parallel the rhumb line.
the fleet holds steady at 188 boats, this will be the third largest
race in the 104-year, 46-race history of the Thrash to the Onion Patch,
after the 265-boat turnout in 2006 and 198 in 2008. The only other
time there were more than 180 entries was 2002. That turned out to be
one of the wildest races in race history, with another long finger of
favorable current kicking up a brutal sea and pushing Roy Disney’s
Pyewacket to a new elapsed time record for fixed-keel boats of 53
hours, 29 minutes.
Speedboat starts in 2008
the wind comes up, this year’s race could also be one for the big
boats. The 99-foot Speedboat or 90-foot Rambler would
have a shot at a new course record. Behind them would be a pack
of 60- to 70-footers like Bella Mente, which cleaned up at the
New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta last weekend, or the English Rán,
which last year won the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race and took Class 1 in
the Rolex Sydney-Hobart. Also in this group is Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy’s Noonmark
VI, on an extended circumnavigation to compete in the world’s
major races. A sentimental favorite is Zwerver, a 56-foot
wooden sloop with an eight-foot tiller that Olin Stephens (a member
of the Bermuda Race Role of Honour) designed for a Dutch sailor in the
the wind is light, this should be a comfortable race. One crew has
that they hope to spend the off watches doing yoga and watching movies.
If the going is that placid, this should be a small-boat race, and all
eyes will be on Peter Rebovich’s Sinn Fein, going for a
third straight win in the 104-boat St. David’s Lighthouse Division.
One of her challengers will be a sistership Cal 40, Bill LeRoy’s
Gone with the Wind, which has been shipped east from San Francisco
David’s is one of a pair of the race’s divisions (five in all) that’s
experienced a significant change in size, it its case downward from
122 to 104 boats “That’s probably due to the economy,” says Bjorn
Johnson. “But the big news about St. David’s is that there are
many more first-timers than usual. Typically, a little over 20 percent
of the boats are sailing their first Bermuda Race. This year it’s
Double-Handed Division has also changed size, it its case moving upward
with 23 competitors, almost double the 12 starters in the 2008 race.
If that number holds, the division will sail in two classes, with
race-oriented boats in one and cruiser-racers in the other. Johnson,
himself a double-handed sailor, says these boats are becoming popular
for several reasons. “First, it’s a family boat. Some crews are
two friends, but more couples are beginning to race together now. And
these boats are so much simpler to sail than they used to be, what with
GPS, good autopilots, spinnaker socks, and everything else that makes
them easy to use.”
one more advantage to double-handers, says Johnson: “With fewer people
there’s much more room. Think of it, when I go off watch I’ll have
my own private stateroom!”
one of the race’s many special features. Whatever the conditions,
light or heavy or in between, most crews would consider themselves
lucky to be in the running for one of the division prizes that will
be handed out on June 26 at the spectacular prize-giving ceremony at
Government House (the home of the island’s Governor, appointed by
Queen Elizabeth). There are the Lighthouse trophies for the St.
David’s (amateur crews) and Gibbs Hill (professional crews) Divisions,
the Carleton Mitchell Finisterre Trophy for the Cruiser Division, the
Moxie and Weld trophies in Double-Handed, The Royal Mail Trophy for
the Open Division for cant keelers, and the North Rock Beacon Trophy
for top boat under the IRC Rule.
St. David's Lighthouse Trophy
are many other prizes – some for navigators, the William L. Glenn
Family Participation Prize for the top crew that includes at least four
members of the same family, and (the race’s oldest prize) the Galley
Slave Trophy, which one goes to the cook of the last boat to finish
and is awarded with the sympathy of anyone who has ever had to cook
at sea in small boat for days at a time. When the first boat on elapsed
time crosses the finish line off St. David’s Lighthouse, by long
the commodores of the two sponsoring clubs, the Cruising Club of America
and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, are always on hand to present
and a case of beer.
Carleton Mitchell Finisterre Trophy for Cruiser Division
then there are the races within the race. Morris Yachts will present
a prize to the top-finishing boat built by the Down East yard.
The J-44 class will award a new prize in memory of longtime Gold
Digger navigator John Bonds.
Important facts about the
Newport Bermuda Race:
in 1906, the biennial Newport Bermuda Race is the oldest regularly
ocean race, and the inspiration of the Fastnet, the Sydney-Hobart, the
Port Huron-Mackinac, and other races. Since 1926 the race has been run
jointly by the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Bermuda Yacht
Club through the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee.
46 races, there have been 4,677 boats with approximately 49,000 sailors
who have raced approximately 3,000,000 miles. Two boats have been lost,
and one life (in a fire in 1932).
race inspires remarkable loyalty among thousands of sailors who have
raced 635 miles across blue water since the first “thrash to the Onion
Patch.” More than 50 sailors have competed in at least 15 races. Some
have done more than 20.
the race is almost entirely out of sight of land and crosses the often
stormy Gulf Stream, every boat must pass a rigorous inspection. The
Bermuda Race is called “the thrash to the Onion Patch” because most
include some closehauled sailing across the Gulf Stream in rough water
(what sailors call “a hard thrash”), and until the twentieth century,
Bermuda was an agricultural island where large onions thrived.
Every Bermuda sailor is by definition a Thrashee.
Track the Race on iBoatTrack
Digital spectators can watch the race by visiting the iBoatTrack