A survey of the competitors in the 2016 Newport Bermuda Race that is now available here indicates strengthening interest in the race by first-time ocean racers as well as a range of concerns about boat and crew preparation and many sailors’ decisions not to start the 2016 race. Responses to the survey came from 456 sailors who were registered for the 2016 Newport Bermuda Race and from many spectators who followed the race on the race satellite tracker and the Bermuda Race website.
The final report of the survey commissioned by the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee is available on the race website (BermudaRace.com) at this link. The Bermuda Race Organizing Committee consists of members of the two clubs that organize the race, the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.
“We are publishing the survey results as a community service,” said A.J. Evans, Chairman of the 2016 race. “We hope that sailors and race organizers everywhere will find this information helpful when they prepare for and sail offshore. Because the survey questions concerned all the many challenges that an offshore sailor faces, from weather forecasting to crew selection and boat preparation to safety and navigation issues, the survey will be of interest not only to entries in the Newport Bermuda Race but to participants in other races –and also to cruising sailors.”
Many survey questions and replies concern numerous sailors’ decisions not to start the race. Of the 185 entries in the 50th Bermuda Race, just 133 were on the line for the start on Friday, June 17. Weather and seas then were calm to moderate, but weather forecasters anticipated near-gale or gale-force conditions at about the time the majority of the fleet would be crossing the Gulf Stream on Saturday or Sunday. Such forecasts were cited as the main reason for not sailing by a large majority of respondents, with others citing recommendations by other sailors off and on their boats.
“I of course regret that so many sailors decided not to sail,” Evans said. “But as the race rules make clear, the decision to race or not race, to race and withdraw, or to carry on through challenging conditions lies solely with each boat’s person in charge. We missed their company on the course and after the finish at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.”
The predicted conditions were not extraordinary for the race, whose well-known nickname, “The Thrash to the Onion Patch,” indicates how demanding conditions can be, especially in the Gulf Steam, which cuts across the race course about 200 miles along the 635-nautical mile route from Newport to Bermuda. This is one of the world’s few ocean races that is sailed almost entirely out of sight of land. Recent renewals of the biennial race have seen periods of light conditions, and also heavy squalls. Rough weather sometimes prevails for most of the boats over most of the course, for example in 2002, 2008, and 2012. Return deliveries have also been demanding.
In the survey for the 2016 race, 88 % of the respondents who started reported that the race’s weather was about average or calmer than average. As for the return voyage, 94 percent of the responders to the survey reported no trouble.
“Many of the survey comments raised questions about why the race was not postponed,” Race Chairman Evans said. “Several rumors were not true. For instance, no official source advised us not to start the race. While a few competitors suggested we postpone for a day, the forecasters were indicating that the weather would have been worse following a Saturday start. Some forecasters said we might not have another opportunity to start until Monday. By that time, we would have been forced to cancel the race because many necessary facilities, including berths and hotel rooms, would not have been available in Bermuda when the boats reached the island several days later than scheduled.”
Among the 456 sailors who responded to the survey, 21% did not start the race. Among amateur sailors in this segment, nearly 20% did not start, and among professional sailors in the segment, 43% did not start. Among sailors who did not start, nearly 68% said the primary reason was the weather forecast, with some reporting that they were influenced by other sailors.
Many other crews, however, decided that, because benign conditions would govern for a day or more, they would observe a 24-hour rule: start the race and, if the weather deteriorated, sail back to North America. Most of those boats kept on racing after 24 hours. While the conditions in the Gulf Stream and afterwards were at times sporty, with some reporting winds over 30 knots, the boats were well prepared because they and their crews had passed rigorous inspections and reviews in order to be accepted for entry in this invitational race.
“Not surprisingly,” said Evans, “the survey results indicate that sailors feel they should have more command over weather forecasting.” The majority of the respondents would have spent more time studying methods of forecasting weather on their own, unassisted, had there been time.
“I hope the 2016 Newport Bermuda Race and this survey about it will encourage sailors to think critically about their yachts and crews in preparation for an offshore voyage,” Evans said.
Sailors who withdrew will be reassured by Jonathan Brewin, the 2018 Race Chairman who said “the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee respects their decisions to withdraw in 2016, and such decisions will not be held against them upon application to participate in future Newport Bermuda Races.” Cruising Club of America Vice Commodore Brad Willauer and other race veterans have advised that the Newport Bermuda Race is categorized (in the words of US Sailing) as a race “of long distance, well offshore . . . where large waves, strong currents, or conditions leading to rapid onset of hypothermia are possible, where yachts must be completely self-sufficient for extended periods of time, capable of withstanding heavy storms and prepared to meet serious emergencies without the expectation of outside assistance.”
The 51st Newport Bermuda Race is scheduled to start on Friday, June 15, 2018.Entries will be accepted beginning in early January of that year. For more information about the race, visit BermudaRace.com.