Friday, December 2, 2016

Dark’n’Stormy J/105 Bacardi Bermuda Invite

J/105s sailing Bermuda (Hamilton, Bermuda)- The prognosticators who sail Bermuda’s Great Sound (e.g. local knowledge) were convinced the weather forecast was perfect for this year’s Bacardi XL Catlin Bermuda Keelboat Invitational.  From November 17 to 19, Bermuda Weather Service, as well as the European Community Model Weather Forecast service (ECMWF), were in agreement that winds would be near gale force from the westerly quadrants for most of the weekend.  A “nice breeze” for locals, by the way, is 15-25 knots in this beautiful little island community about 635nm offshore southeast of Newport, RI.  For J/105 sailors, especially for those familiar with San Francisco Bay conditions, such breezes are just a “walk in the park” on a Sunday afternoon.  It really only begins to get a bit challenging when puffs start to peak into the 30-35 kts range, like that experienced in the recent J/105 North Americans in Larchmont, NY.

As the teams wandered down Thursday morning for the 0930 hrs skipper’s briefing at the Royal Bermuda YC regatta HQ, it was abundantly clear that weather conditions were bordering on the extreme end of the range.  The Bermuda Weather Service has four AWOS (automated weather observation systems) spread across their island nation from the west (little Pearl Island in the Great Sound) to the east (Bermuda Airport in St David’s).  Both locations were reporting steady 15-25 kt winds, gusting to 32 kts by 0930 hrs.  The forecast was for the breezes to increase to 20-30 kts, gusting to 40 kts by midday and abating back to 15-25 kts, gusting 30 by mid-afternoon.  After a harbor postponement was posted for the J/105, IOD and Etchells 22 classes, it became abundantly clear it was (a) a good decision to postpone and (b) the weather forecasts were, as usual, wrong.  By 11am, gusts at Pearl Island were in excess of 45 kts with intermittent rain squalls flooding the streets and there was no indication the “micro-low” positioned just north of Bermuda was slowing down anytime soon. So, by noon, the RBYC PRO canceled racing for the day.  Most teams made the most of their newfound “tourist pass” and went exploring all over the island, with many headed over to the famous Dockyards to take a tour of some America’s Cup bases- ORACLE Racing Team and Team SOFTBANK JAPAN. 

The regatta is a unique format.  It’s invitation-only.  Local Bermuda J/105 teams “invite” a non-Bermuda team to join them, so three “foreigners” join three “locals” to form a team of six crew.  Then, the skippers of each group (Bermuda/ foreigner) take turns skippering each race.  Awards are given for the top three Bermuda skippers, the top three foreign skippers, and for the overall team leaders.  It is a fun regatta format that produces copious amounts of camaraderie between the crews, particularly since the event sponsors include Bacardi.  In fact, the welcoming Captain’s Reception on Wednesday evening is truly a bacchanalian festival of feasts at Bacardi’s World Headquarters on the front street next to Royal Bermuda YC.

After Thursday’s race-day cancellation, the crews were anxious to get in some good racing since the forecasts had actually taken a turn for the worst.  There was a distinct possibility that a three-day event might turn into one-day’s racing only!  Friday dawned partly cloudy and sunny with a 10-12 kts westerly breeze caressing the Great Sound.  As the teams took off to get some early practice, it was evident it was going to be a difficult day to get in 4 to 5 races (the race day’s schedule).  The weather radar showed large cumulous formations with rainy, squally conditions beneath them marching across the horizon towards Bermuda, a by-product of two fronts colliding as they moved east.  Over the course of the day, the wind direction changed 70 degrees at least twice, and during the racing there was little rhyme or reason to the wind shifts as the cloud lines passed by, often producing 30-45 degree shifts per leg and at least twice per race!  Needless to say, it was a dilemma for most teams as the fleet kept splitting into “wolf packs” heading into corners of the race course upwind and downwind.

After four races on Friday, local Star World Champion, Peter Bromby’s team on AIRFORCE from the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club posted a very consistent 1-2-3-1 to take the lead with 7 pts total.  Just behind them was Jon Corless’s MAYHEM from Royal Bermuda YC posting a 4-3-2-3 for 12 pts and James McDonald’s PASSION from RBYC in third with a 3-7-1-2 for 13 pts.

Saturday dawned with one rain squall after another sweeping the Great Sound, truly another “dark’n’stormy” morning.  It was a rather foreboding weather forecast for even the most jaded offshore sailors.  Again, BWS and the ECMWF showed a Low depression 100nm to the north deepening and heading south (!) towards Bermuda over the course of the day before it took its “hockey stick” course off to the east by early evening.  Forecasted was a rapid increase of breeze from 10-20 kts to 20-35 kts, accompanied by massive rain squalls.  The RBYC PRO took no chances and simply postponed for one hour.  As expected, the weather did not improve at all and simply got dramatically worse, again.  At that point, the gig was up and it was time to put the boats away and celebrate the coronation of the winners of Friday’s racing by early afternoon.    For more Bacardi Keelboat Invitational sailing information