The Newport to Bermuda Race course is one of the most interesting and challenging ocean courses anywhere and depending on weather conditions the race can be won by big boats, small boats or boats in the middle of the fleet. The rhumbline course to Bermuda is approximately 162 degrees magnetic, the distance 635 nautical miles.
Please see the Notice of Race and related ammendments for more details.Starting off Castle Hill, Newport, Rhode Island, the first 15 miles of the race are in the confluence of conflicting tidal currents. The flooding tide generates easterly current west of Point Judith and westerly current east of Brenton Reef. The typical wind direction is south to southwest although easterlies are not uncommon, and there is often a sea breeze for the later starters. Government marks guarding the reefs must be observed.
After the start, the race is divided into three general parts, each with its own problems and strategies:
- Between Newport and the Gulf Stream
Sailing in cold water and often in fog, the navigator must select a route to the optimal position on the northern edge of the Gulf Stream, avoiding the bad side of warm eddys north of the stream, or taking advantage of the favorable side of the clockwise rotating warm eddys. Current in the eddys may reach 3 knots and the warm eddys can be 60 to 100 miles in diameter. Satellite photos and their interpretation are available so these days the navigator has a pretty good idea of the location of the stream and its major eddys. It is often difficult to stay near the rhumb line and navigators often worry about falling off to the east, however recent strategies have maximized VMG to the island in the early phases of the race wherever it leads.
- Crossing the Stream
Depending on the configuration of the Gulf Stream (there is no typical configuration) the navigator must choose to cross the generally east flowing current up the 4 knots in the most efficient manner. Due to the extreme temperature difference between the stream and the slope water to the north, it is not unusual to have thunder squall activity in the stream. The racers often find light winds punctuated by powerful, fast moving cells of wind and lightning. The stream itself is often quite lumpy as the current and the wind interact. There are many theories about how to cross the stream (probably 145 in the '96 race). Often the strategy is to cross the stream as quickly as possible to avoid its vageries.
- Happy Valley!
The 300 or so miles from the bottom of the stream to Bermuda are generally most pleasant. The racers are in warm water, the winds are warmer and generally southwesterly if the Bermuda High is established and fetching the island is often possible. Bets are made on when the island will be sighted and there is anticipation of the aroma of Oleander. Calms can sometimes be maddening. Occasional cold eddys south of the stream provide for some strategic advantage. This is a time of maximum VMG and boat speed.
Bermuda is guarded on its north and northeast sides by a barrier reef that cannot be ignored. In the old days, the landfall was more dramatic because of these reefs and the fact that yachts may have been sailing a DR track without a celestial sight for several days. GPS and LORAN have made the task easier for the navigator, and skirting the reef the yachts round the Northeast Breaker Buoy, Kitchen Shoals and the Spit on the way to the finish line at St. David's Head.
Attention must be paid to marks of the course in here. In 1996 several yachts missed a buoy and were penalized 2 hours, a dissapointing way to finish after 635 miles of hard sailing where minutes separate winning from "We had a nice sail." The navigator must be alert for the finish, especially at night.