In both 2016 and 2018, Justin Bonar raced YYZ to Bermuda and made videos of the adventure. On the Jeanneau 53’s second trip to the Onion Patch, the team won its class, and the skipper doubled down on video production. By John Burnham
Racing was not top of mind when Justin Bonar decided to buy a Jeanneau 53 in 2013, but the boat was fast and his friends encouraged him. “We made lots of mistakes at first,” he admits, “but we became competitive in 2015 and got the big idea to do the Newport Bermuda Race in 2016.”
None of Justin’s regular crew had done the race previously, but as momentum built, other experienced sailing friends filled out the crew. This included Ron Weiss, Dan Galyon, and Brian O’Farrell, who had close to 20 Bermuda races under their belts collectively. Justin found the step up to a longer bluewater race engaging, an intellectual and physical challenge that Brian describes “being on a five-dimension chess board.”
The 2016 race went well but YYZ’s finish was delayed when they fell into a calm zone, leaving some unfinished business for 2018. The video tells the story well.
Videos aboard YYZ were initially something Justin did as a memory for the crew, but he began to realize it was something a wider audience was enjoying. In response, he developed a YYZ Vimeo channel and a YYZ website as well. (Among other content on the website is Justin’s story about the derivation of the name of the boat.)
With one Newport Bermuda Race under their belts, the YYZ crew handled the calms and currents of the 2018 race much more successfully and brought the boat across the finish line atop the results sheet for Class 8 in the St. David’s Lighthouse Division. They won by more than 8 hours and earned the Performance Trophy in the process. After returning ashore, Justin quickly produced a 6-minute music video to celebrate the occasion.
Justin began working on a longer video to tell the story of the race aboard YYZ in detail as he had in 2016. But he was also contacted by a producer he knew from Jeanneau who wanted to feature Justin and YYZ in the new “Jeanneau Underway” series. The Jeanneau videos focus on the adventures of owners, and Justin gladly provided footage and did an on-camera interview, describing the resulting 10-minute video as “fantastic.”
Justin first met producer Paul Fenn when he was buying YYZ, and they’d kept in touch, sharing ideas on camera gear and techniques. Paul says that for this episode, Justin made his job a lot easier than most because “Justin likes to shoot a lot of video.”
Aside from the video, Paul was also impressed that Justin likes to constantly improve his boat to make it better for his type of sailing. “That includes meeting the safety requirements,” Paul says, “which are very strict for entering the Bermuda Race. Justin actually loved bringing his boat up to speed to meet the requirements.”
Paul also pointed to the way Justin put together his crew. “He built his crew from his existing sailing buddies. He didn’t have to go recruit rock stars to sail with him. Clearly, the crew are all friends.”
That’s not all that shows in the video. When asked by Paul Fenn about the appeal of sailing far offshore, Justin makes a comment with which most Bermuda Race sailors would agree: “It provides a unique form of disconnection from land-based life that very few people get to experience. You get to experience the world, the cosmos and the universe in a way that is almost indescribable.”
Justin admits there are some special challenges with sailboat racing video, especially balancing shooting with competing in the race, and asks, “How do you avoid having the equipment getting in the way yet also capture the moment?” Justin describes one moment during a sail change when he decided to steer with one hand and shoot with the other. At the time, he says, the crew were yelling at him to put away the camera, but later, they said, “We’re glad you ignored us.”
You can see the sail change in Justin’s 36-minute race video, along with a series of data overlays in which he integrates instrument readings extracted from his Expedition nav software—course, speed, course over ground, set, true wind, apparent wind, rudder angle, and heel. Also featured are inset views of the race tracker and various Gulf Stream displays.
YYZ 2018 Crew List: Watch 1 – Warren Willett, Mike Galaty, Mike Raynor, Scott Gertsen, Drew Lambert, Ron Weiss; Watch 2 – Dan Galyon, Joseph Spinella, Derek Joynt, Justin Bonar, Brian O’Farrell.
For Justin, the Newport Bermuda Race has been about far more than taking videos and collecting silverware. He dedicated his most recent video in memory of his friend and sailmaker at Z Sails, Chris Wentz, and shared this story about the last time he visited Chris in November, 2017:
When Chris was in palliative care in the hospital, I went to see him several times. The last time, he was pretty non-responsive. But I took his hand and told him that he couldn’t leave us yet, that there is still that 135 genoa that he always wanted me to have. He cracked a little grin. Then I told him that my wife Stacey won’t let me buy his competitor’s sails, at which he smiled broadly and exclaimed his last words to me: ‘I love Stacey.’ After Chris died, I ordered the sail from his partners, Chris Zalewski and Waldek Zalewski. We took delivery of the sail in the spring of 2018 and hoisted it on the final leg of the Bermuda Race. The sail carried us to victory. This winter, I will have Chris and Waldek sew a pocket into the sail to carry some of Chris’s ashes with us when we do Newport Bermuda in 2020.
Read other “Onboard to Bermuda” accounts.