New Initiatives Announced for Youth Sailors in Bermuda Race

February 22, 2016

By John Rousmaniere

During the 2014 RBYC Anniversary Regatta, the youthful sailors in the Naval Academy's Constellation trim sheets while Skipper Josh Forgacs advises the helmsman, Bermuda Governor George Fergusson. (Talbot Wilson.PPL) PHOTO CREDIT: Talbot Wilson/PPL Tel: +44(0)1243 555561 E.mail: web: ***2014 Royal Bermuda YC Anniversary Regatta: CONSTELLATION skippered by Joshua Forgacs. His Excellency the Governor of Bermuda Mr. George Fergusson sailed in the spectacular racing in the 2014 Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Anniversary Regatta, the final stage of the Onion Patch Series and the new Navigators Race Series. The series also included the New York YC Annual Regatta presented by Rolex and the Newport Bermuda Race. Mr. Fergusson was at the helm of the US Naval Academy 's Constellation for the final leg in Hamilton Harbour.Skipper Midshipman Josh Forgacs points the way to the finish.
The young Naval Academy crew trims sheets at the RBYC Anniversary Regatta as skipper Josh Forgacs advises the helmsman, Bermuda Governor George Fergusson. (Talbot Wilson/PPL)

The Newport Bermuda Race is well known as a long-distance ocean adventure with a special appeal for ambitious young sailors.  Many of today’s skippers, navigators, and watch captains first went to sea as teenage deck hands in a “Thrash to the Onion Patch,” or in a return delivery from Bermuda.

Today, those Bermuda Race veterans — and the race itself — are helping young men and women prepare for and sail ocean races.

This outreach, and the training it provides, occurs at yacht clubs and also at service academies, which have been sending boats and young crews on the Bermuda Race since 1938. The youngest winning skipper in the Bermuda Race’s history, age 22, is U.S. Naval Academy graduate Kyle Weaver in 1992.

To further encourage offshore youth sailor participation, the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee announced on February 22, 2016, that it has established two new awards for young sailors, the Stephens Brothers Society and the Youth Trophy. They parallel similar projects by the Marion Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race and other races.

Sailors between the ages of 14 and 23 who participate in the upcoming 50th Bermuda Race will be inducted into the Stephens Brothers Society, named for the legendary sailors and yacht designers Olin J. Stephens and Roderick S. Stephens, Jr. The brothers were just 22 and 21 when, with their father and a group of friends their age, they won a trophy in their yawl Dorade in the 1930 Bermuda Race. The next year Dorade’s youthful crew won the Transatlantic Race to England by two days.

The Stephens brothers went on to long, successful careers in the yacht design firm Sparkman & Stephens. In their lives, in the boats they designed and sailed, in their writings, and in their personal influence, Olin and Rod Stephens have inspired countless sailors of all ages to discover and enjoy the rewards of offshore sailing.

Olin Stephens (second from left) and his brother Rod (third from right) and their crew relax before Dorade starts the 1931 Transatlantic Race. With the exception of their father (far let), the whole crew's average age was 22. (Rosenfeld Collection, Mystic Seaport)
Olin Stephens (second from left) and his brother Rod (third from right) and their crew relax before Dorade starts the 1931 Transatlantic Race. With the exception of their father (far left), the crew’s average age was 22. They won the race by two days. (Rosenfeld Collection, Mystic Seaport)

Sailing Offshore with Passion

The second new Newport Bermuda Race award for young sailors is the Youth Trophy. Crews are eligible for this prize if at least one-half the sailors (plus one person) are between 14 and 23 years old, with an average age of at least 17.  The winner is the boat in the St. David’s Lighthouse and Cruiser divisions that has the best performance based on cross-divisional results. (The trophy’s rules are at the end of this article.)

One of the boats that will compete for the Youth Trophy in the 2016 Newport Bermuda Race is High Noon, a Tripp 41 that has been loaned by her owners, Steve and Heidi Benjamin, to the Young American Junior Big Boat Sailing Team, at American Yacht Club (Rye, NY). “This Bermuda Race will be the culmination of at least three years of work by these juniors,” said Peter Becker, one of the project’s leaders. “First they did overnight distance races, then weekend races, and then they looked for opportunities to sail offshore.”

The young sailors undergo thorough hands-on safety training and work closely with the navigator, skipper, and watch captains to gain experience in leadership roles. Some of the Big Boat Sailing Team’s sailors have helped deliver boats home from Bermuda and Hawaii. They are committed to the project, and so are their mentors. “I’ve sailed 16 Bermuda Races,” Becker said. “My first race was when I was 15 or 16. I was the kid on the boat, up on the bow changing sails. I’m trying to give these kids the same passion and experience I was exposed to when I was young and sailing with older sailors. Every junior on the boat is there because they’re competitive and they want to win the race.”

But it’s not all about winning: “The kids are resonating with this. They love big boats. It’s challenging, it’s social, and it’s really inspiring. You get out there and you see the stars overhead and you think, ‘the land is really far away.’”

Newport Bermuda Race Youth Trophy Rules

  • At least 50% of the yacht’s crew + 1 person shall be between the ages of 14 and 23 years, inclusive, on June 17, 2016 (the yacht’s “Youth Crew”).
  • The average age of the Youth Crew shall be at least 17 years.
  • All yachts applying to enter this competition shall be subject to review by the Qualifications Committee and may be required to submit records of the crew’s sailing experience.
  • Winner(s) will be determined in the manner used for other Cross-Divisional prizes, i.e., based on the yacht’s corrected place rank within her division.  For example, a yacht whose corrected time is ranked 10th place in a 50 yacht division, will have a 0.2 score (10 / 50 = 0.2).
  • In addition to the standard safety training requirements established for all competing yachts, 100% of the Youth Crew (14-23 years old) must have completed either a safety at sea seminar satisfying NBRSR 5.2 or a Storm Trysail Foundation Junior Safety at Sea Seminar within five years of June 17, 2016.  Youth Crew may count toward the yacht’s obligations under both the NBRSR and this trophy.
  • Yachts eligible for this competition will receive a 50% discount on the yacht’s entry fee ($1,250).  The crew fee will remain as stated in the Notice of Race.

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