Meet a 10-time competitor in the first of an occasional series on sailors who have joined the Newport Bermuda Race’s society for those completing the race at least five times.
By Channing Reis
If you ask any Newport Bermuda Race veteran, there is a good chance they will recall their first race like it happened last weekend. Both the challenge and the stature of the 635-mile “Thrash to the Onion Patch” ensure most participants a storehouse of lasting and often life-changing memories. This assumes of course that one’s resume does not also include an ascent of Mount Everest or a ride on the Space Shuttle.
For Ted von Rosenvinge, a 66-year-old engineer who grew up sailing Turnabouts and Rhodes 19s in the waters near Gloucester, Mass. (including Ipswich Bay and the Annisquam River), the perennial challenge of a berth to Bermuda is a thrill undiminished after more than 15 passages, 10 of them Newport Bermuda races spanning a quarter century. Ted has been crew, watch captain and navigator on a Swan 40 (Rainmaker), a J/133 (Matador), an Alden 54 ketch (Dove), a J/46 (Tabasco) and a Hinckley Bermuda 50 (Jambi). He easily earns a place in the newly constituted Gulf Stream Society for sailors who have completed five or more Newport Bermuda races.
As the 2020 Bermuda Race draws near, Ted has gone back to work preparing for his job as navigator aboard the J/133, Matador – a position he has held on three earlier thrashes—2012, 2014 and again in 2018, when Matador earned a third-place class finish. “The challenge was a large cold eddy ring, south of the Gulf Stream,” Ted says. “We were lucky to hit it right by staying on the favorable west side of it.”
Ted’s offshore racing experience began in 1995 when he eagerly signed on for the odd-year Marion to Bermuda Race. His late father was a sailor whose experience included a Marblehead to Halifax race, and Ted’s cousin singlehanded a Hinckley 41 to Bermuda in the 1980s. Together, father and son shared an 11-day delivery from Fort Lauderdale to Gloucester in 1991 on a 46-foot ketch.
Ted recalls nostalgically, “I was hooked.” His racing in the years that followed often had him at sea during Father’s Day, so Ted a made it practice to call his dad from the SATphone.
From 1996 onward, Ted sailed in nearly every Newport to Bermuda Race, up until 2016, when as navigator aboard the new Hinckley Bermuda 50 Jambi, he and his afterguard confronted the grim weather forecast, and made the decision to withdraw before the start. There was consensus among the vessel’s brain trust that the relatively new boat was untested. Ted recalls the factual basis of the decision-making this way: “We had an experienced, capable and well-prepared crew, the first hull of new design and a weather forecast that caused a large fraction of the fleet to withdraw—15-foot square waves with 40-plus knot winds, in the ocean ‘wilderness.’“
While acknowledging it was only a forecast, and actual conditions could be better or worse, Ted says the boat had not been tested under anything nearing the forecasted conditions. “We decided that 200 miles out to sea was not the place to run the test.”
Ted quotes renowned high-altitude mountain climber Ed Viesturs, who famously said “Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory." To race or not to race—a call that ultimately resides with the skipper—invokes reasonable and prudent decision-making among most ocean racing veterans. It may explain in part why the Newport Bermuda Race has an enviable safety record.
In 2016, the worst-case weather never materialized, but neither were there any regrets among Jambi’s crew. “The decision was a thoughtful one endorsed by the entire crew and based on the information we had,” Ted explains. “No regrets. This is supposed to be fun. There will be other races.”
One year later, Jambi’s skipper and crew had a redemption tale to tell, taking line honors in the 2017 Marion to Bermuda Race. Preparation and patience had paid off.
“We had a great race,” Ted says, “and were greeted by television cameras and a press interview at the dock of the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club. It sure felt great after missing 2016.”
It was fitting that the skipper, John Levinson, jumped into the water for the camera, as did a few of the crew, including Ted. Champagne and a platter of Dark ‘N Stormy’s elevated the euphoria. A member of the Gosling family, which has seen their share of exhausted, yet sated sailors, served up the libations to the crew.
Flash-bulb memories of nearly a decade earlier, the 2008 race on Tabasco, a J/46, also owned and skippered by John Levinson, take a prominent place in Ted’s Bermuda Race memories.
“We punched through the Gulf Stream and put up a No. 3 jib and fetched Kitchen Shoals in one tack,” he says. He recounts that watch captain Dave Curtis made a call to use the smaller jib, a key decision to keep Tabasco on her feet while punching through moderate seas. To their delight, “When we pulled into Hamilton Harbor only a small fraction of the fleet was in and their masts were well taller than ours,” Ted says. “We knew we had done something.” Indeed, Tabasco earned a solid first in class, winning the perpetual Argentine Trophy awarded to the corrected time winner in Class 6 in the St. David’s Lighthouse Division.
Ted says getting there fast and safely will remain mandatory in 2020. This, along with the honor and excitement of racing, coalesce with elements that are harder to explain: “It is a privilege to be able to participate in one of the greatest and storied ocean races in the world. It is a complete escape from the usual ‘terra firma’ activities.”
Whether a class winner or last to arrive in Hamilton Harbor, Ted says, “The challenge and the camaraderie are key, and there is perhaps something more primal I can't explain that will remain a mystery.”
Channing Reis of Hampton Falls, N.H., is a member of the Cruising Club of America and has nine Newport Bermuda races to his credit.