Wednesday, June 29, 2016

J/Teams Lead Bermuda Race!

J/44 sailing to Bermuda J/Cruisers Sweep Class 5! J/46 Crushes Giants!
(Newport RI)– Despite the foreboding weather forecasts, virtually every J/Crew registered for the Newport Bermuda Race went sailing, confident their fast and seaworthy boats would make the most of whatever Mother Nature threw at them.  As it turned out, the forecasts were nowhere close to being accurate, with many boats reporting winds that never exceeded 25 kts, even in minor squalls crossing the notoriously fickle and monstrously choppy Gulf Stream.  In fact, because of an unusual high pressure ridge, the one that the superyacht COMANCHE blew through to establish a new race record of 35+ hours, the 130-odd teams that ventured forth into the unknown had a basic choice- breeze or current.  The divergent strategies meant the overall outcome quickly became a “two-track” race; those who stayed close to rhumbline and east of the fleet, or those who strayed way west and lost out on a lot of breeze.  You can see the results of those choices by re-running the race on Yellow Brick Tracker here-

Storm Trysail- AJ Evans on J/44 VampThe Storm Trysail Club Chair for the Bermuda Race, AJ Evans, was sailing aboard Len Sitar’s beautiful J/44 VAMP.  His commentary on Tuesday was, “we had a spectacular evening of sailing here on a gentle sea with a decent breeze under a full moon and stars. Nights like these sell the next race.  A most excellent sail so far, especially this year. Following last night, it’s been a typically beautiful morning with sun and those puffy soft yellow/purple/gray clouds dancing across the skies, breeze just a gentle 10-15kts from the WSW.  Sure glad we went for it!”

This year’s Newport Bermuda Race was the 50th running of the biennial offshore race and had one of the largest entry lists it had seen in history.  However, over 50 boats dropped out before the start, including all the “hot boats” in the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division- like Maxi 72s, TP 52s, Ker 47s, etc- in fact there was no award since nobody sailed- a first for the race!!  Imagine that, now that’s a serious footnote to consider, isn’t it?!  Presumably, the owners felt their boats may not be seaworthy enough to sail through a gale!??

The action started on-time at 3:00PM EDT Friday, June 17 from Newport, Rhode Island. The 635nm adventure “is not a race for novices,” that is certain.  The race demands good seamanship, great care, and a boat that is both well-built and properly equipped. To that end, most of the J/Teams sailed with confidence, sailed fast and were top contenders in many classes!

Most noteworthy was the complete sweep of SDL Class 5 by three J/Teams.  Winning was the J/37 CARINA skippered by Will Passano from Gibson Island Yacht Squadron; winning by just 5 minutes on corrected time over Eliot Merrill’s J/42 FINESSE.  Taking third was yet another J/42- Roger Gatewood’s SHAZAAM from Davis Island YC about an hour further back on corrected. While most of this class virtually all went due south, west of rhumb for the first 48 hours, it was CARINA and SHAZAAM that stayed much further east along the rhumbline, with SHAZAAM hanging furthest east.

The only “one-design” division in the entire event was the J/120s in SDL Class 6.  Needless to say, as a class, they all pushed each other quite hard and there were few “strays” on the race course.  Seemingly, all six boats that raced (out of the nine originally registered) were all strung out on a rope, virtually tied together, for the first half of the race.  At that point on Monday 1400 hrs, Stephen Besse’s APRES from Vineyard Haven YC was leading with Jim Chen’s CHAOTIC FLUX running neck-and-neck with them down the race course, Greg Leonard’s HERON just astern.  Sitting in the “cheap seats” were VAMOOSE, HERON and DEVIATION.  However, the next 24 hours must have produced a lot of drama and consternation for the various J/120 navigators.  Either no one believed their “grib” downloads, or they weren’t getting them. In either case, Richard Born’s WINDBORN from Annapolis YC and Canadian Stu McCrea’s DEVIATION from Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron made a significant gamble (“calculated risk”) and headed much further east, across rhumb relative to the rest of the fleet.  Ultimately, it was a brilliant move in their 635nm chess match.  Both boats closed rapidly on the race leader APRES, moving DEVIATION and WINDBORN into 2nd and 3rd, respectively just 50nm from the finish.  Then, it was “game-on” all over again Tuesday at 1530 hrs as the fleet experienced a big windshift from the SSE and all bets were off as the boats started beating to windward for several hours.  APRES anticipated the change nicely and became windward boat while HERON slid back into second place astern and to leeward. By Tuesday midnight the breeze had swung quickly into the SW, so it was a quick fetch into the finish for the westward boats.  APRES won her class, followed by HERON in second. However, behind them there was a wholesale re-ordering of positions again, with Bob Manchester’s VAMOOSE roaring in from the west on power beat/tight reach while others caught east of rhumb (DEVIATION, CHAOTIC FLUX, WINDBORN) got caught outside on the shift and having to tack to make the finish!

The three J/122s had strikingly diverse strategies for the race in SDL Class 7.  For the first 24 hours into Saturday evening, John Gregg’s TARAHUMARA from Corinthian YC inn Boston, MA simply took off from the start and doggedly headed south and west from the rhumb.  Dan Heun’s MOXIEE took a left turn instead and held east of rhumb until late Saturday.  Then, Jim Shachoy’s AUGUST WEST started just left of rhumb then slowly meandered back just west of rhumb, leading the entire class boat-for-boat at that point.  From Saturday night to Sunday midday, the “wheels fell off that shopping trolley” fast, like lightning quick!  TARAHUMARA persevered on staying west.  After moments of indecision, MOXIEE made a radical move back west and surely regretted that move from that point forward.  AUGUST WEST was flipping and flopping just west of rhumb but never made the winning move back east that so many other boats had done in other classes.  As a result, both the F40 ZOE and the F44.7 VALKYRIE headed much further east of the J/122s, and flew down rhumbline to beat their class.  Consequently, Shachoy’s AUGUST WEST settled for 4th in class and MOXIEE 8th and TARAHUMARA 9th.

Again, it was a tale of two cities in SDL Class 8 for the one-design fleet of J/44s and the lone J/111.  However, in this case it turned into group suicide by most everyone in the class; virtually every boat except, that is, for Chris Lewis’ J/44 KENAI from Lakewood YC in Seabrook, TX.  After taking a southerly routing after the start, just about the entire class was well west of rhumb.  The first boat to make a break for it to the east was the F395 OLD SCHOOL, around 24 hours into the race on Saturday evening.  At the time, KENAI was leading the class boat-for-boat.  However, 24 hours later the OLD SCHOOL crew had sailed much farther east but were still around 30nm west of rhumb, but steering directly at Bermuda at 145 deg and built an unassailable 90nm lead over the class!  Meanwhile, KENAI made a prophetic move east themselves, first 30nm, then 50nm, further east than their colleagues.  For this class, virtually everyone that stayed west of rhumb got hammered overall.  However, relative to one another, you could just about assign your place in class based on how far west you were of rhumbline between 24-48 hours into the race.  Lewis’ KENIA took second followed by Len Sitar’s VAMP in 4th, Dan Kitchens’ J/111 SKULL CRACKER from Chicago YC in 8th and the Noahs (Shanghai) Sailing Club on SPIRIT OF NOAHS in 9th place.

The J/133s acquitted themselves in SDL Class 9 after starting off on the wrong foot, like the stories above- headed more south and west than their class.  Both Mike & Dale Mcivor’s MATADOR from Pequot YC and the Nova Scotians, Ray & Andrea Rhinelander’s BELLA J, clawed there way back into contention for their class and it took until late Tuesday afternoon where they were able to play the new southwesterly correctly to take 3rd and 5th in class, respectively.  Like a bad movie for those navigators caught on the wrong side of the coin flip, the class winner, the XP44 WARRIOR WON, split from their class on Saturday morning and from 8:30am to 11:30am sailed at right angles, literally, to the rhumbline course to Bermuda.  Prior to that tactical move, the two J/133s were neck-and-neck for the class lead on elapsed time!  However, the move paid off big time for WARRIOR WON, sailing down rhumbline for 75% of the race and finishing 17 hours earlier than either J/133, winning the coveted St Davids Lighthouse Trophy overall. 

For Brian Prinz’s J/125 SPECTRE, the same scenario played out as it had for many other J/Teams.  The class winner HIGH NOON, sailed by the American YC Young American Junior Big Boat Sailing Team, started out on the eastern side of their class, stayed there and split further east towards rhumbline late Saturday evening and simply aimed their boat at 145 deg towards Bermuda— not deviating much at all from rhumb all the way into the finish line off St David’s Light.  Meanwhile, the J/125 SPECTRE sailed off to the south and west of rhumb and not until Monday night did they make their way into better breeze just on the west side of rhumb on Monday afternoon.  Despite that self-imposed handicap, SPECTRE still took 4th in class.

In Double-handed I Class, the class winner KIVA sailed east of the rhumbline for two/thirds of the race and hardly deviated, other than going a bit westabout in the first 48 hours in the race, crossing east over the rhumb Sunday noontime.  Taking 2nd and 3rd, respectively, were Steve Berlack’s J/42 ARROWHEAD and Hewitt Gaynor’s J/120 MIREILLE; both stayed west, sometimes way west of rhumb and paid the price.  Conversely, Sharon Winkler & Noel Sterrett’s J/130 SOLARUS sailed 15-20nm west of rhumb until halfway through the race and was leading the entire division boat-for-boat until late Monday afternoon; at that point KIVA overtook them in the stronger breezes to the east.  Unfortunately, SOLARUS got too far east coming into the finish and had to tack back to the finish line in the new sou’wester breeze to take 5th in class.

In the Cruiser Division, Brad Willauer’s J/46 BREEZING UP from Prouts Neck YC simply crushed it!  They had the winning formula right from the start, were east-most boat of their class when it mattered most in the first 24-36 hours of the race.  From there on end, it was a game of chase by giant 55 to 84 footers trying to catch the “little” J/46 leading their class boat-for-boat by a substantial margin for the first 72 hours.  The big Frers 84 finally caught them on Monday evening, then the Alden 63 by Tuesday morning.  As the smallest boat in a class of giants, it was an impressive race for the Willauer family- very experienced long-distance sailors in their own right!    For more Storm Trysail Club Newport to Bermuda Race sailing information