The Road to Bermuda: A Different Kind of Sailing

June 22, 2016.  Today, as Chris Museler was approaching St. David’s Light in the Swan 44 Aura, he asked himself this question: “As we near the finish of the 50th Bermuda Race (and my fifth), will I ever do  another one in another smaller slower boat?” Here’s how Chris answered his question:

Chris Museler

Chris Museler

In my first Bermuda Race, when our fast grand prix boat reached Bermuda on Monday morning, there were just fourth boats in Royal Bermuda Yacht Club’s marina. Yes, we received a tray full of Dark ’n Stormies but it was sorta anti-climactic. As the week went on and I reported on the later finishers, and the harbor became filled with colorful code flags hung from every mast, it dawned on me that I had been shortchanged.

Not only was my race brief, but I missed sailing into such a spectacle, like a world’s fair! Each crew I interviewed was filled with stories of fouled halyards, funky meals, and practical jokes. I had none of these.

So it is pretty sweet that this year’s experience of driving safely in sailing’s right hand lane in the equivalent of an old Cadillac was forced upon me. When the two giant speedsters I tried to sail in both pulled out, along with 45 others who were wary of sailing in a very angry Gulf Stream, I hopped onto the Swan 44 Aura at the Newport Yachting Center gas dock only minutes before the start. I had no clue what to expect of this big old cruising boat and her crew.

Aura.Bow.visiblefromhelmFive days later, at the RBYC marina, everything feels good. Code flags, parties, tall tales—it’s all here. There was no shortage of drama.  On VHF we heard that slower boats were finishing before us. Then we ripped two jibs on the last beat of the race.  Sailing into aqua marine water, we finished with the majestic schooner America passing us off St. David’s Head.

Owner Bill Kardash has a philosophical view of sailing.  He’s done 12 races, and still, he said, this race was like “reacquainting myself with the process.” He normally sails with friends who are 50 or 60. This year a 40-something friend offered to crew with his 16-year-old son, then there arrived 29-year-old Allan Campbell— new to Bill’s sphere but always on time, a quiet guy happy to be away from his desk job. Rob Floyd took a break from his law practice and Etchells sailing for the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta, this race, and the Onion Patch racing. Rob was the size of an America’s Cup winch-grinder, but he put up with the small companionway with a smile.

Frank Bohlen,78. Gray Benson,16. Bill Kardash, 73.

Frank Bohlen,78. Gray Benson,16. Bill Kardash, 73. (Museler photos)

When Bill met Andrew Parish, he knew only that the Delaware Bay pilot was “impulsive.” Soon after the start, Andrew was assigned watch captain duties. Navigating, weather predicting. careful sail handling, and enthusiasm are all skills that settle a crew. The discovery of Gray Benson, at 16, surprised Bill and brought home how much people look up to this race and its rewards. “He’s really a credit to his family,” said Bill o Gray as he unfurled the Bermuda and quarantine flags this afternoon. “I never would have taken him for a 16-year-old. But he was smart, did the right things—a really great kid. And it means a lot to share this experience with someone like him.”

I hope, for the sake of my writing and our position in the fleet, that I have more of these stories to write about this week. For now, Aura is nearing Hamilton, some rum has been shared, and the skimpy remains of our food have been devoured wholesale.

So will I do another Bermuda Race on a smaller slower boat? I don’t think I can top the company.

So that’s a maybe.

Musler.Aura.Gray Benson.Watch

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