By Bill Wagner, CapitalGazette.com, July 10, 2014
It was no small feat for members of the Naval Academy Varsity Offshore Sailing Team to get Swift ready for the Newport-to-Bermuda Race.
Swift is one of Navy’s old McCurdy & Rhodes 44-foot sloops that were launched in the 1980s. She hadn’t been sailed in almost two years, having last competed in offshore events during the summer of 2012.
“We had a ton of prep work to do in order to make the boat whole again,” conceded skipper Nick Tucker, a rising senior at the academy. “It was a really long checklist and we’ve been working on the boat pretty much nonstop since we got assigned to her in the spring.”
Among the immediate problems that had to be addressed was installing a functional head since Swift did not have one. There was also some serious work required to get the manual bilge pump working. Tucker and his team had to take some parts off Flirt, the other McCurdy & Rhodes 44 the offshore sailing team still uses, in order to complete other repairs.
While performing a three-day circumnavigation of the Delmarva Peninsula for a thorough shakedown, Tucker and his crew of midshipmen experienced a severe exhaust leak that filled the cabin with smoke and fumes. A quick fix seemed to solve the problem, but it cropped up again during the delivery to Newport. A new exhaust manifold was quickly shipped to Newport and assistant coach Pete Carrico worked with helmsman James Reynolds to install the part.
Once all the proper maintenance was conducted, Swift performed like the successful old warhorse it is. Tucker directed a crew that worked extremely hard during a predominantly light air race and willed Swift to victory in Class 2 of the St. David’s Lighthouse Division for the Newport-to-Bermuda Race. With a corrected time of 82 hours, 83 minutes and 19 seconds, the Navy 44 wound up fourth in fleet.
Actaea, a modified Bermuda 40 owned by Michael Cone of Philadelphia, took first in Class 1 and captured the St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy with a corrected time of 80 hours, 25 minutes and 58 seconds. Orion, a J/122 owned by Annapolis Yacht Club member Paul Milo, placed second in Class 6 with a time of 90 hours, 4 minutes and 35 seconds.
“This win was all about the crew, which did an excellent job of keeping the boat moving in really difficult conditions,” said Tucker, a native of Advance, North Carolina. “We must have done at least 60 or 70 sail changes during the race. We went back-and-forth with different combinations.”
It was a frustrating race as the wind rarely topped single digits during the entire 635-nautical passage from Newport, Rhode Island to Hamilton, Bermuda. Alex Bledsoe served as executive officer and strategist while Ethan Doherty was navigator aboard Swift.
“We had weather forecasts and current reports and nothing we had on paper was matching up with the conditions we were actually seeing on the water,” Tucker said. “I’d say the breeze was out of the east-northeast for most of the race. We kept thinking it would shift around and it never did.”
Even more challenging was an adverse current that was constantly pushing Swift the wrong way at half a knot. Tucker and the rest of the afterguard decided to stick close to the rhumb line in order to minimize distance. Defiance, one of Navy’s newer Pedrick-designed 44-footers, ventured well off the rhumb line looking for favorable current and found none.
“We definitely didn’t want to take any extreme measures,” Tucker said. “Defiance banged some corners searching for eddies and wound up sailing a lot more mileage.”
In a race that saw large packs of boats becalmed for hours on end, Tucker believes Swift benefitted from studying the competition that was ahead.
“One of the keys to our success was constantly keeping an eye on the race tracker or simply looking forward,” he said. “Whenever we were coming up on boats that were parked, we’d try to figure out which ones were moving the most. If we saw the boats on the left making progress, we’d take the left lane around the outside. We tried really hard to stay on the edge of the wind line.”
Tucker thought a special “wind seeker” sail did excellent work and provided Swift with a half knot of additional boat speed. In a race that was largely a close reach, the crew was constantly switching from a spinnaker to a genoa, he said. “Looking back on the race as a whole, I really don’t think we could have done any better,” Tucker said. “I’m just really proud of the crew for pushing the boat as hard as we did. We squeezed out every ounce of speed that we could.”
Constellation, Navy’s donated TP52 that was skippered by Josh Forgacs, was fourth boat across the line behind three professionally crewed entries in Shockwave, Bella Mente and Caol Ira. Charlie Morris and Nick Woods were executive officer and navigator, respectively, aboard Constellation, which posted a corrected time of 66 hours, 31 minutes and 45 seconds and placed fourth on corrected time in the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division.
Jahn Tihanksy, head coach of the Navy Varsity Offshore Sailing Team, had high praise for the performance of Forgacs – an Ann Arbor, Michigan, native who entered the Naval Academy after previously serving as an enlisted man in the Marine Corps.
“Josh did a fantastic job of skippering a boat of that complexity and such a large crew,” said Tihansky in reference to the state-of-the-art, high-performance TP52. “I thought he really did a good job of organizing the crew, assigning responsibilities and getting the most out of everyone.”
Woods worked hard to master the electronic navigation system aboard the boat and was instrumental in preparing a sound strategy for the race. Constellation was able to latch into a cold eddy just south of the rhumb line that provided two knots of favorable current for 100 miles and “basically served as a conveyor belt toward Bermuda and carried us through several light air patches and into the next weather system,” according to Tihanksy.
In the 2012 edition of the Newport-to-Bermuda Race, Navy’s TP52 sailed in the St. David’s Lighthouse Division against the Swan 601 Stark Raving Mad and the Reichel-Pugh 66 Kodiak in a class within the St. David’s Lighthouse Division. This year, organizers felt a rocket ship such as a TP52 should sail in Class 1 of the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division against the maxi boats crewed entirely by pros.
“It’s really a shame that we got cut out of St. David’s Trophy competition because we would have won it this time around,” Tihansky said.
Shockwave, a Reichel-Pugh 72-footer owned by George Sakellaris, won Newport-Bermuda on both elapsed time (63:04:11) and corrected time (61:27:41). (Correction: on corrected time, Shockwave won the Gibbs Hill Division and was top boat under IRC ratings.)