Every boat sailing in the Newport Bermuda Race must be inspected. That’s a race rule, and the person who knows the most about it is Chief Inspector Ian McCurdy. An experienced ocean sailor—ten Bermuda races, 13 return deliveries—he’s been a Bermuda Race inspector for 14 years. McCurdy, lives in Oyster Bay, N.Y. (he’s a former Commodore of the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club) and is a yacht designer and a naval architecture instructor at the New York State Maritime College at Fort Schuyler, N.Y. He co-owns the 38-footer Selkie with his sister, Cruising Club of America Vice Commodore Sheila McCurdy and their brother Charles. Second overall in two Newport Bermuda Races, Selkie was designed by their father, the late James A. McCurdy of McCurdy & Rhodes and a former CCA Commodore.
Inspection of Bermuda Race boats dates back to race number 1, in 1906. By any standard it has succeeded. In 46 Bermuda Races with a total of 4,677 entries, just two boats have been lost. One was in a 1932 ship’s fire from which ten men were saved (alas, another drowned, the race’s only fatality). The other boat ran up on Bermuda’s reef in 1956.
Though some sailors may consider inspection a bit of a burden, many more regard it as a crucial service that helps skippers and crews prepare their boats and themselves for a rugged two-legged, 1,500-mile ocean adventure across the Gulf Stream—the first leg being the race down to Bermuda, and the second the return voyage.
“I think inspection is a grand thing,” says 1994 overall winner Kaighn Smith. “It really forces you to prepare to go to sea.” That’s how Chief Inspector McCurdy looks at it, too. “I volunteer as a Bermuda Race inspector for the love of the sport of distance racing.”
He says that a typical problem with an inspection is that the boat is not prepared. “The cotter pins may be falling out, or the pump handle’s lost in the bottom of the hanging locker, or the jacklines can’t be set up. Maybe the storm sails don’t fit. Once I inspected a boat whose storm trysail was longer on the foot than it was on the luff. Sometimes the crew doesn’t have equipment that will help them clear away the rigging after a dismasting—a drift pin and hammer to drive out a clevis pin, or hydraulic jaws to cut a shroud. Many people don’t know that flares have to be SOLAS approved, and even people who do know that may forget to check the expiration date, which is now three years. I was at a safety seminar where the flares they tried to demonstrate were expired and none of them worked. So no demo.”
It’s not all about enforcing rules. “The inspector’s other job is to help competitors and offer an outsider’s view of safety—to be a second pair of eyes. Inspectors can’t certify that the boat will be safe, but they can help the crew understand what can go wrong. I always like it when the owner welcomes me like a long-lost friend. One owner told me, ‘When you come on board, you always improve the boat.’”
McCurdy believes that one of the danger areas that’s most ignored is the galley. “In the galley, propane canisters instead of real propane tanks are a big worry. Fire extinguishers have to be located very carefully. Never put an extinguisher in a place where to get it you have to reach though a fire or flame.” He’s especially attentive to galley straps. “Most of them are good at keeping the cook near the stove when it’s to windward, but they’re no good at keeping the cook away from the stove when it’s to leeward. A good heavy-duty galley strap can do both, with the help of a sturdy bar on the stove. And I tell people that when they’re cooking in rough weather they should wear their foul weather pants and also their sea boots. You don’t want to be spilling hot soup on your bare feet.”
The Newport Bermuda race is sailed under Category 1 of the ISAF Offshore Special Regulations, the OSR (sometimes called the Special Regs). The next race will be sailed under the OSR that will appear during the winter. Until then, McCurdy advises, crews should study the current OSR at www.sailing.org/specialregulations.php. Of course, be sure to check the revised OSR next year.
For more information about Bermuda Race inspection (including a helpful FAQ) and to get in touch with Chief Inspector McCurdy, click on the Entry Process tab on the home page, www.BermudaRace.com.