Saturday, June 16, 2018

Newport to Bermuda Race Preview

(Newport, RI)- This year’s Newport Bermuda Race is the 51st running of the biennial offshore race.  The action starts at 1300 hrs EDT Friday, June 15 from Newport, Rhode Island, just beneath the famous Castle Hill Inn & Lighthouse at the port end of the starting line. Beginning in 1906, it is the oldest regularly scheduled ocean race, and one of very few international distance races.

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”.

This year’s event is expected to be the fourth largest in the race’s history, with approximately 170 boats. The race attracts sailors from across North America and the globe; the fleet is extremely diverse, a total of 23 countries are represented in the crews.

DJ/160 True sailing to Bermudaepending 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.

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!).

Bermuda Race rhumb and Gulf Stream meandersThe 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 safely 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 51st Bermuda Race, there are 29 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!

SDL Class 5 includes two J/42s (Roger Gatewood’s SHAZAAM & Eliot Merrill’s FINESSE), Bill Passano’s J/37 CARINA, and Fred Allardyce’s J/40 MISTY.

The sole J/crew in SDL Class 6 is the brand new J/121 JACKHAMMER sailed by the United Kingdom’s Andrew Hall.  See the “Bermuda Spotlight” on Andrew’s program below.

The fourteen-boat SDL Class 7 might as well have been labeled the Fast 40’s J/Boat Division.  Four J/122s are sailing, including the 2016 Annapolis Newport winner- Paul Milo’s ORION. Other 122s include Dan Heun’s MOXIEE, Chris Stanmore-Major’s SUMMER GRACE, and Dave Cielusniak’s J-CURVE.  In addition, there are five J/120s, including past Bermuda winner- Richard Born’s WINDBORN. Other 120s include John Harvey & Rick Titsworth’s SLEEPING TIGER, Stu McCrea’s DEVIATION, Rick Oricchio’s ROCKET SCIENCE, Bob Manchester’s VAMOOSE and Brian Spears’ MADISON.

SDL Class 8 has Dale & Mike McIvor’s J/133 MATADOR and twin J/44s only this year (Chris Lewis’ KENAI & Len Sitar’s VAMP).

SDL Class 9 has two of the new J/121 offshore speedsters- Joe & Mike Brito’s INCOGNITO and David Southwell’s ALCHEMY.  In addition, there will be Brian Prinz’s offshore machine, the J/125 SPECTRE and Jon Burt’s J/130 LOLA.

J/42 sailing to BermudaFINISTERRE DIVISION- the “cruising division”- only one main, one jib, one spinnaker fixed on centerline permitted and only Class I helmsmen.

Sailing in the Finisterre Class 12 division is Joe Murli’s J/44 SIRENA BELLA and Charles Willauer and family on board their J/46 BREEZING UP. Class 13 division has Howie Hodgson’s lovely J/160 TRUE.

GIBBS HILL DIVISION- water ballast, canting keels permitted, helmsmen either Class I or III.
In the Gibbs Hill Class 14 division is Leonid Vasiliev’s J/120 DESPERADO and another new J/121- Don Nicholson’s APOLLO.

Finally, sailing in the Doublehanded Class 3 division will be Gardner Grant’s Bermuda Race-winning J/120 ALIBI and Steve Berlack’s J/42 ARROWHEAD (another past Bermuda Race winner).

J/121 sailing to BermudaNewport Bermuda Spotlight
Andrew Hall’s hot new J/121 JACKHAMMER has been preparing the entire spring for the NBR.  Chris Museler, New York Times sailing columnist, had a chance to catch up to him recently.  Here is that interview:

It seems odd that Andrew Hall decided not to install the water-ballast tanks offered in his brand new J/121 JACKHAMMER. This turbo-boost feature will be used by two of the four 121’s competing in this year’s Newport Bermuda Race. They are the latest offshore 40 footers, with furling, carbon reaching sails, plumb bows and a sleek cabin that mimics today’s high performance Superyacht.

JACKHAMMER will join ALCHEMY (also not using water ballast), in the St. David’s Lighthouse Division, while the other two J/121s, APOLLO and INCOGNITO, will be racing in the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division where water ballast is allowed, along with canting keel boats and no limits on professional crews.

“It’s mainly because we’re penalized under the handicap so much for the water ballast,” explains Hall, who has been training with his mostly British crew throughout April out of his summer home in Jamestown, Rhode Island. “We also couldn’t race in the amateur division with ballast. And without the tanks, it makes the boat more roomy down below, and can sleep more people.”

The sail profiles between all the J/121s are identical, says Hall, who has sailed four Bermuda Races, some on his last boat, the J/133 JACKKNIFE. He races a J/125 in the RORC summer offshore series in the UK and he’s looking forward to testing out the new boat on an ocean course.

“The J/125 goes like a bat out of hell, but has a poor handicap,” says Hall. “Hopefully the 121 will be competitive and a lot more comfortable. The 125 is decidedly not comfortable and decidedly wet.”

J/121 sailing to BermudaThe water-ballasted J/121s rate faster than JACKHAMMER, and though the ballast adds righting moment and power, there are times when it’s not needed. Hall says that he hasn’t lined up against another 121 to discover if, under handicap, one will win over the other. He does say there are benefits to using water ballast besides strict performance.

“They’re [ballast tanks] there for sailing with less people,” says Hall. “That’s quite nice, particularly for sailing doublehanded.”

The J/121 has a sailplan well-suited to close reaching angles, often a Newport Bermuda Race point of sail.

Hall, a Brit, will be sailing with his son and a mixture of Americans and fellow countrymen. The crew was bending on storm sails in the sub-freezing mornings of April, with numb fingers pushing dog bones through the loops of the storm jib’s soft hanks. JACKHAMMER was soon seen ripping across Narragansett Bay in fresh northwesterlies testing sail combinations and tweaking electronics.

Though the Bermuda Race will be a great test of this new, high performance design, Hall and his crew consider it just a stop on a regular calendar of fantastic ocean races.

After Bermuda, JACKHAMMER will be shipped to Italy and then brought down to Malta for the Middle Sea Race. In 2019, it’s the RORC offshore series and, possibly, the Fastnet Race. Then another crack at Bermuda in 2020.

“I look forward to this race,” says Hall. “We will have covered a few miles by the time we get back here in two year’s time.”  Thanks for this contribution from New York Times reporter- Chris Museler.  For more Newport to Bermuda Race sailing information Add to Flipboard Magazine.