Although the biggest, fastest boats have now either finished the race or are rapidly approaching the finish line, the bulk of the fleet is still stretched out over 300 miles of North Atlantic water. It may be the big boys who get all the early press, but the smaller boats may have their day when the finish times are adjusted by the rating system to determine the corrected time winners.
It’s no real surprise that Speedboat, followed by Rambler, followed by Puma Racing’s Il Mostro, finished early, and got the early press. These are the showiest, fastest boats in the race, and the ones the photographers love.
And there are great stories here, even among the big, glamorous boats. Take Shockwave, The Reichel-Pugh 80-footer that was formerly Bon Bon, formerly Carrera, formerly….. You get the picture. This is a boat that in her seven years of life has had more owners than Elizabeth Taylor has had husbands.
Her newest owner of less than a month is Australian Andrew Short of Brindabella fame. His intention was to put his new boat, just purchased in Newport, on a ship back to Australia. Instead, he put together a last-minute crash program to commission the boat, assemble a largely-amateur Australian crew, and sail in what was to be a first Newport to Bermuda Race for almost everyone aboard.
The crew arrived at Newport check-in bleary-eyed after the long flight, and the next day they took off on their new ride for a place few had ever been on a boat none had really sailed. The result: first to finish in the St. David’s Lighthouse Division—a fine introduction to North American ocean racing.
But back in the trenches, there is still a lot of work to do. Winds are increasing in strength up the course, and a strong southerly component is putting most of the boats hard on the wind. This will bring the bulk of the fleet in wet and tired during the next 24 to 36 hours.
Some 230 miles up the course, Paul McMahon’s Tartan 41 Family Affair reports she has been sailing under two or three reefs, hard on the wind in 30 plus knots, for the last 24 hours. Some of the smaller Cruiser Division boats are much further behind, and slow progress over the last 24 hours shows they have been catching the brunt of some pretty tough weather.
It seems unfair somehow. The big, fast boats cruise home in light breezes that allow them to strut their stuff for the photographers. The little guys have to tough it out in conditions that make for great sea stories, but sometimes miserable sailing.
There is a silver lining. Family Affair reported greatly reduced sail, new deck leaks, slight damage to the main, a broken jib tack shackle, and a boat with a rail constantly awash. Worst of all, it was too rough to cook dinner for the second night in a row. But as they told us by email: “we’re all having a blast.”
For the guys on Family Affair—and the other boats like that are taking a beating and coming up smiling--the drinks are on us when you pull into Bermuda tired, wet, and happy.