The Nyes Swing for the Fences

June 6, 2012

By John Rousmaniere


Carina, once owned by Nye family, now owned by Rives Potts. Credit: PPL Media
Carina, once owned by Nye family, now owned by Rives Potts. Credit: PPL Media

Only one other Bermuda Race boat has done as well as three-time winner Carina (1980, 2010, 2012) and that’s the famous Finisterre of Carleton Mitchell, winner of three straight races (1956-60).  Today Carina is owned by Rives Potts, but her first owners were the father-son teams of Dick and Richard Nye.

At Richard’s memorial service at Indian Harbor Yacht Club in the spring of 2013, there was plenty of lively talk about his and his Dad’s approach to ocean racing. Risk adverse they definitely were not.

In 1982, for instance, the 48-foot Class C, McCurdy & Rhodes-designed sloop was on starboard tack, aimed almost at Bermuda, and the on-watch was settling down for a long leg to the finish. Richard Nye poked his head up through the companionway, rubbing sleep from his eyes, and took a look around. Way up to windward, a lightning bolt flashed down to the water.

“Tack,” Nye ordered.

The crew looked at him incredulously. Someone told him they were only 10 degrees off the layline to the finish

“Tack!  There’s lightning to windward. The Gulf Stream’s up there.” Carina tacked away from the layline and sailed away from Bermuda for a couple of hours until she was well into hot water and a three-knot current bound southeast. Nye then tacked back and won the IOR division by a comfortable 34 minutes, and almost won the race, too. Over 18 races, the Nye’s three Carinas finished in the top five in their class nine times, and in the top three – winning trophies – seven times. A .388 batting average for taking home silver over such an extended career is an astonishing record in an event in which most sailors dream of winning even win one cup.

The Nyes were accidental sailors. When Dick Nye acquired a company in 1945, along with it came a 40-foot Rhodes cutter. He decided to take a chance on sailing. After two years of cruising, he and his young son decided that racing might be fun and bought their first Carina, a Rhodes-designed 46-foot yawl.  A year later, 1948, they entered their first Bermuda Race with a young crew. “One of the secrets of our success was that my father didn’t have friends who were yachtsmen, so we sailed with my contemporaries. We sailed harder than the boats with older crews, especially at night.” One of the most famous anecdotes in the history of ocean racing concerns the second Carina, a 53-foot Rhodes centerboard yawl. As she staggered across the finish line at the end of the rough 1957 Fastnet Race with three broken frames, a deck that was threatening to part company from the hull, and most of the crew manning the pumps, Dick Nye shouted, “Okay, boys, you can let her sink.” They won that race for their second-straight Fastnet Race victory, and it came on the heels of winning the 1957 transatlantic race to Spain.

The Nyes discovered that while some of the common wisdom worked, much of it was too cautious. Many crews used an upwind strategy known as “the Illingworth ladder” (one of its proponents was the great English sailor John Illingworth) that called for tacking up the middle of the course on ever shorter legs as the finish line neared. Richard Nye looked with disdain on the Illingworth ladder. “It’s very safe – and it’s sure to end you up in the middle of the fleet. We used to swing for the fences quite a bit.”

In 1972 Carina was drifting along in a race to Spain when Richard heard a radio report indicating more wind to the north. Instead of slowly easing up there he abruptly turned 90 degrees to port, violating the fundamental rule in sailboat racing, which is to sail the most direct course to the next turning mark. “When the other watch came on deck, they were so mad they wouldn’t talk to me.” Nye sailed north for 23 1/2 hours, found better wind, turned east, and won the race.

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