By Chris Museler
It was a sight that can be found only
in Newport. Sailors of every vintage – the tall, tanned, Fabio-looking
crews of the carbon maxis, and the Topsider-wearing men and women with
the requisite polo shirts – lined the street in front of the marquee
at the Jane Pickens Theater for the Bermuda Race skippers meeting.
Old friends were shaking hands, not having seen each other since the
2008 race. Wide-eyed newcomers were eagerly poking their heads
inside the historic building in the heart of Washington Square.
Sailors gather at the
Jane Pickens Theater for the Bermuda Race skippers meeting.
“Welcome to the most exclusive meeting
anywhere,” said Newport Bermuda Race chairman Bjorn Johnson as he
opened the meeting in front of a standing-room only crowd, referring
to the fact that each boat is only issued two tickets. He led a moment
of silence for John Bonds, a well-respected Cruising Club of America
member who passed away last week. A few hours earlier, Johnson and
many competitors were at New York Yacht Club’s Harbour Court for a
memorial service held for Bonds.
After Johnson’s introduction, CCA
Commodore Sheila McCurdy congratulated the competitors on the “great
achievement” of making it through the rigorous preparation process
the organizers require of each boat. “It’s like a triathlon,”
said McCurdy, who has sailed in the race 15 times and is sitting out
this year to oversee the event with Commodore Peter Shrubb of the Royal
Bermuda Yacht Club. “The preparation is the first leg. The race is
the second. Getting the boat home safely is the third.”
Looking out over the crowd of sailors
in the gradually warming air of the old theater, the sailors seemed
ready to get on with the meeting, ready to learn what to expect from
the weather and Gulf Stream experts. There was also the grumbling of
stomachs, ready for that sumptuous crew dinner at Scales & Shells
or some other eatery. But race committee chairman John Myles lightened
things up by announcing that the new committee boat, the 126-foot ketch
Axia, should be quite visible since the owner’s son will be having
his 10-year-old birthday party onboard. Images of balloons flying across
sails and marauding little children hitting those who start at the boat
with a Super Soaker popped into my head.
Being one of the 30% sailing the race
for the first time, my excitement at seeing all these sailors in one
place was piqued by something I overheard on the street. Big boat, small
boat, canting keel, full keel -- at that moment we were all tied for
one of the big trophies and all, hypothetically, with a chance for line
honors (though the stars really have to align for a Ranger 37 to beat
a Reichel/Pugh 75 to St. David’s Light house).
Having never sailed the race, I hear
that the camaraderie founded in the days leading up to the start is
usually galvanized in Hamilton by rum and sea stories.
I hope that’s true, since this has
been a lot of fun . . . and the race hasn’t even started yet.