Friday, June 17, 2016

Newport Bermuda Race Preview

J/44 sailing Bermuda (Newport RI)– This year’s Newport Bermuda Race is the 50th running of the biennial offshore race, and the entry list is one of the largest the race has seen in its history. Included on the roster are internationally recognized syndicates, local favorites, historic offshore programs, neophytes, and imports from around the globe.

The action starts at 3:00PM EDT Friday, June 17 from Newport, Rhode Island. The 635-mile biennial Newport Bermuda Race is the oldest regularly scheduled ocean race, one of very few international distance races, and (with the Transpac Race) one of just two of the world’s regularly scheduled races held almost entirely out of sight of land. Founded in 1906, the Bermuda Race is held for the 50th time in 2016.

The purpose of the Bermuda Race was stated in 1923 by Cruising Club of America Commodore Herbert L. Stone: “In order to encourage the designing, building, and sailing of small seaworthy yachts, to make popular cruising upon deep water, and to develop in the amateur sailor a love of true seamanship, and to give opportunity to become proficient in the art of navigation”.

J/120s sailing Bermuda RaceThis year’s event is expected to be the third largest in the race’s history, with approximately 190 boats. The largest fleet, 265 boats, sailed in the centennial race in 2006. The second largest, 197 boats turned out in 2008.

The race attracts sailors from across North America and the globe, with recent entries from Russia, Britain, and China, and always a large turnout of Canadians. The 2016 fleet is extremely diverse. A total of 23 countries are represented among the sailors, and 55 of the boats have at least one sailor from outside the United States. In addition, 41 US States are represented in this fleet.

The average crew has ten men or women, many from the same family. Typically, 25-30 percent of captains are sailing their first Newport Bermuda Race in command, but this year the proportion is about 35 percent. The race starts off Newport, R.I., in front of many spectators, on the third Friday in June. It takes more than two hours to get the fleet started. Boats are rated and handicapped under the Offshore Racing Rule, except for the Super Yacht Division.

Depending on the weather and the currents in the Gulf Stream, and the boat’s size and speed, the race takes two to six days. The first boat arrives at the finish line off St. David’s Lighthouse on Sunday or Monday, and the smaller boats arrive between then and Wednesday or Thursday.

gale force weather conditions look like hurricane!The race is demanding. The rules say, “The Newport Bermuda Race is not a race for novices.” The course crosses the rough Gulf Stream and is mostly out of the range of rescue helicopters, and Bermuda is guarded by a dangerous reef. The race is nicknamed “the thrash to the Onion Patch” because most Bermuda Races include high winds and big waves (a combination sailors call “a hard thrash”), and because Bermuda is an agricultural island (notably in its old days for onions!).  In fact, the weather forecast for this year's race has induced several teams to withdraw prior to the start as there are indications in various weather models that gale-force winds from the North-Northeast and massive 15 ft seas (with much steeper, worse conditions in the Gulf Stream) should be hitting the fleet about the time they are crossing the Gulf Stream.

The race demands good seamanship, great care, and a boat that is both well-built and properly equipped. The boats must meet stringent equipment requirements and undergo inspection, and the sailors must also pass a review and undergo training in safety. The bonds formed by these sailors are strong. Numerous sailors have sailed more than 10 races, often with family and friends.

It is no wonder that over the past 30+ years that more and more Bermuda racers have put their faith and trust in high-quality, offshore performance sailboats produced by the J/Design team that are easy to sail in any weather conditions- from sybaritic to stormy as hell.  In virtually every major offshore race around the world, J/Teams have prevailed in some of the nastiest conditions imaginable, and sailed home to win class or overall trophies.  And, remarkably, many of them have repeated those winning performances over the course of time on their J/Boats.  In this year’s 50th Bermuda Race, there are thirty-two J/crews ready to take on the challenges of the Gulf Stream meanders and rocky approaches to Bermuda.  Not for the faint of heart, but the famous reception for all the crews at Royal Bermuda YC is well worth it!

In by far the largest division of the race, the St David’s Lighthouse Division, there are 109 entries of which 26 are J/Boats- nearly one-quarter of the entire field and easily the largest brand represented by a factor of 2.5!  The smallest of the group is Doug Evan’s J/109 TIME OUT from Milwaukee YC and Dan Kitchens’ J/111 SKULL CRACKER from Chicago YC- both Midwest teams.  One of the largest “one-design” classes to ever sail the Bermuda Race may be the NINE(!) J/120s doing the race; amongst them are past class winners as well such as Greg Leonard’s HERON, Jim Praley’s SHINNECOCK, and Richard Born’s WINDBORN.  A trio of J/122s are participating that share previous Bermuda experience, like Jim Shachoy’s AUGUST WEST, Dan Heun’s MOXIEE and John Gregg’s TARAHUMARA.  Brian Prinz’s J/125 SPECTRE is hoping to carry the torch for this legendary offshore racer and take home a prize.  Two J/133s will be in the mix, such as Ray & Andrea Rhinelander’s BELLA J and Mike and Dale McIvor’s MATADOR.

Four “cruiser-racers” of the J/vintage that seem to have CCA pedigree are in the SDLD, including Will Passano’s J/37 CARINA, Fred Allardyce’s J/40 MISTY and two J/42s- Eliot Merrill’s FINESSE and Roger Gatewood’s SHAZAAM.

J/44 Spirit of NOAHS from ChinaFinally, the famous J/44 one-design division will have a half-dozen boats on the starting line, including for the first time in the Bermuda Race’s hallowed history, a Chinese-flagged entry- the SPIRIT OF NOAHS. The Noahs Sailing Club in Shanghai, China has chartered the J/44 SPIRIT from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Noahs Sailing Club built this team as the first racing crew with all Chinese members, from skipper and crew to sponsors. In addition to competing in the international fleet of top-level regattas, Noahs Sailing Club also stands as the messenger to promote world awareness of the Chinese spirit and sailing culture.  They are based in the Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone, Shanghai.

Mr. Dong Qing is the captain for the SPIRIT OF NOAHS. He’s very experienced and started sailing in 2003. Mr. Chen Fulin will be the Navigator. He has been racing since 2014 and has years of offshore sailing experience. Both of them raced the team’s TP52 in the 2015 Sydney Hobart Race.

Qing said, “It will be a great honor for our young Noahs team to have this chance to sail in this large fleet with famous and respected sailors and their teams. In addition, we are sure that Noahs sailing team can also bring to the Bermuda Race the values of branding and promotion to our Chinese audiences.”

J/44 Spirit of Noahs Chinese sailing team on Bermuda RaceIn the photo here is the entire Noahs Sailing Team from the left to the right are Dong Qing, Xu Chenpeng, Ma Cong, Shao Fenghai, Wang Xinjie, Lin Songmin, Lin Zhiwei, Zhang Minhang, Chen Fulin, Yi Xiaobin, Cao Zhongqiu, Yang Longshen, Zhu Bao, Xu Xiao, Yuan Shuai, Gao Kunpeng, Chang Yage.

Skipper Qing and the SPIRIT OF NOAHS crew will have their work cutout for themselves.  With some training and input from fellow J/44 sailors, they will hopefully have gotten far enough up the learning curve to be competitive against some of the most experienced offshore Storm Trysail Club members that anyone can imagine.  They will be facing the US Coast Guard Academy’s GLORY for starters, a very well-sailed boat by experienced USCGA cadets.  Then, they have Jim Bishop’s GOLD DIGGER and Lenny Sitar’s VAMP that will have their collective feet on the gas pedal the entire time!

In the Cruiser Division, Howie Hodgson’s graceful J/160 TRUE will be kicking up her heels on any “power beat” or “power reach” scenario against her erstwhile competitors.  Similarly, Brad Willauer’s J/46 BREEZING UP will be chasing them hard and also reveling in those conditions.

Perhaps the most extraordinary performances found in the Bermuda Race are those that sail the Double-handed Division.  Back for one more time, at least, is Hewitt Gaynor’s J/120 MIREILLE.  A past podium trophy gatherer and, hopefully, winner in his division this time around!  He’ll be facing Sharon Winkler & Noel Sterrett on their J/130 SOLARUS as well as Steve Berlack’s J/42 ARROWHEAD.  For more Storm Trysail Club Newport to Bermuda Race sailing information