The Sweet Spot
It has been a year now and my memories of Bermuda are just as fresh as they were yesterday. For as long as I live, those two weeks will remain at the forefront as the best of better. The island is filled with such peacefulness and tranquility, except if you’re on a motorbike or moped which I avoided being on or getting run over by.
I have no planned trip back, as-of-yet. Though given my coverage of the Newport to Bermuda race in the following paragraphs, it will hopefully only be a matter of time. Many impossible things happened to get me there in the first place, partly my own stubbornness, determination or unrelenting drive to do this.
It was the America’s Cup finals after all and willingness is the mother of all inventions. It was be there or be square! I remember sitting in a restaurant in Mackinac City on my way down to fly out of Chicago the next day and watching the final race between Artemis and ETNZ to determine who would face off against OTUSA.
The race went into postponement, so given the lilacs were in full bloom on Mackinac Island, I decided to take a ferry over, rent a bike and keep my fingers crossed that the historic rematch with the Kiwis would take place after all.
I had pedaled to the backside of Mackinac to British Landing on a beautiful, glorious afternoon and turned up the hill into the interior of the enchanted island. About a third of the way up I reached the Tranquil Bluff Trail which was my favorite running path back in the day.
I couldn’t wait any longer and decided to check my phone to see if racing had resumed. It had and ETNZ got the job done. It set up a rematch with Jimmy Spithill and it provided a chance to get revenge against OTUSA who had orchestrated the greatest comeback in America’s Cup history. Any other matchup would have been a letdown.
I arrived in Bermuda the next day. The sweet smell of the island was overwhelming, and it wasn’t the Bermuda onions! It wasn’t the lilacs from the previous day on Mackinac Island either.
At the end of every day in Bermuda, whether I was on or off the water, I would hurry over to the ferry docks after the racing and interviews finished for the boat ride back to Hamilton. Unfortunately, from a time standpoint, America’s Cup Park at the Royal Navy Dock Yards was on the “hook” or the opposite end of the island from where I was staying. However, the ferry was always a great chance to wind down a bit and talk Cup politics with the other, mostly New Zealand, journalists.
Once in Hamilton, it was a short few blocks to the bus station and a scenic ride back to the bungalow at Harrington Hundreds. I was fortunate to have accommodations at all and the journalist discount rate at the Grotto Bay Beach Resort was a small fortune. Luckily, my friends landed a sweet deal from a nice elderly woman who ran a small guest cottage. Thank you, Steve and Ellen.
My routine quickly developed into a race to the nearby beach, my sweet spot where I could wind down, gather in all the ambience, go for a refreshing swim and relax. It was always a bit intense working my way back to my quarters given the fact that the Bermudians (British) drive on the wrong side of the road and I would have to tell myself; left side, left side.
In looking back at that amazing time and recounting the Kiwi’s retribution in clubbing the Americans, I was trying to find a way to bring myself back to Bermuda if only in spirit. When I received the media reports of the amazing race from Newport to Bermuda, it became complete for me. The amazing photos from my friend Nic Douglass and then going thru my own pictures slowly but surely brought me back to my sweet spot in Bermuda.
Newport To Bermuda 2018
First, thought to be insanely dangerous, the Newport Bermuda Race is now considered one the world’s most glamorous, difficult and addictive ocean races. Founded in 1906, the 635-mile biennial race is the oldest regularly scheduled ocean race, one of just two of the world’s races held almost entirely with no land in sight. Crews face hammering winds and encounter pods of whales as they sail between Newport, Rhode Island and St. David’s Lighthouse on Bermuda’s East End.
The division winners of the 2018 Newport Bermuda Race were finalized as 166 of the 169 boats that started in Newport completed the 635-mile race. After making very slow progress in the middle of the racecourse in light to non-existent winds, most of the fleet finished quickly on Tuesday evening and the Wednesday morning after the race start.
The awards were presented by the Governor of Bermuda, John Rankin and Commodores Brad Willauer, of the Cruising Club of America and Jonathan Corless, of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.
The yacht Grundoon, a Columbia 50 skippered by Jim Grundy of Doylestown, PA, received the St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy, the main prize awarded to the first finisher on handicap corrected time among the 85 entries in the St. David’s Lighthouse Division. Grundoon completed the course in 112:12:19. Grundy sailed with his daughter and two sons in the crew; his father purchased Grundoon as a new boat 50 years ago, in 1968, and first entered it in the Newport Bermuda Race in 1972. “This win,” said Grundy, “is for the family!”
Orca, an Island Packet 38 skippered by Harold Guidotti, of Westbrook, CT, won the Finisterre Division and Wizard, a Volvo Open 70 owned by brothers, Peter Askew of Riderwood, MD and David Askew, of Sandy, UT won the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division, for high-performance, professionally crewed boats.
Orca completed the course in just over five days, finishing in the early hours of Thursday morning with a time of 123:19:13. Wizard made the trip in 55:37:02, finishing on corrected time ahead of New Yorker George David’s Rambler 88, which was the first boat to cross the finish line, just before sunset on Sunday night, in a time of 50:31:51.
“A high-pressure area slowed most of the fleet significantly,” said Race Chairman Jonathan Brewin. “But it made for a very strategic race. We were delighted to see all the boats arrive in Bermuda safely, maybe not too swiftly, but ultimately all were successful in arriving. Hopefully everybody had maximum fun!”
“This race is typically a mid-sized boat race and rarely a big-boat race. But this time it was. It was almost like the ocean reached out and grabbed the smaller boats, one by one,” said George David on Rambler 88.
“It was a pretty benign race,” said tactician Brad Butterworth, while enjoying a Goslings Rum Dark ‘N’ Stormy after landing at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club dock. “There was no water on the deck, at least not back where we were. Stan Honey gave us the right direction to head,” he added, “and we pushed it hard.”
Jim Grundy’s Columbia 50 Grundoon, winner of the St. David’s Lighthouse Division (see results), has been in his family since she was commissioned in 1968. He has sailed in this race many times with his father, including the notorious 1972 race when a storm wreaked havoc on the fleet.
No one was more surprised at Orca’s Finisterre Division victory than the crew itself of the Island Packet 38.
“I can’t possibly understand how we won,” exclaimed watch captain Dave Gilmore when he was told Thursday that his team aboard the Island Packet 38 Orca won Class 11 and the Finisterre Division. “We were in a bad spot for 12 hours with no wind. Maybe it happened to the others, too.”
Gilmore’s disbelief washed away as his shipmates came back to the boat Thursday. Orca finished only 40 minutes in front of friend Chip Bradish’s Selkie on corrected time. But the two were more than five hours ahead of any other boats in their division, the second largest in the race.
It shouldn’t surprise observers that a cruiser racer, even an old one like Grundoon, can win the Bermuda Race. But Harry and Mary Guidotti’s Orca from Westbrook, CT is an all-out cruiser. She has high freeboard, a stately salon and biminis that aren’t always taken down when racing.
Even though the couple raced Orca in the 2016 race, their experience was still limited, and they had sights on cruising to faraway places. Preparing for the Bermuda Race has been their way of gaining experience before taking off cruising.
“This race is so professional,” said Harry Guidotti. “The way the whole thing is run with such high standards; we like that. The crew was new this year, so they decided to do the Off Soundings distance race just before the start.”
“We got dead last,” said Guidotti, “but even though we didn’t do well, we learned more about the boat and the people.”
Their strategy was to stay west of the rhumb line then the winds came in, and the boat close reached most of the way to Bermuda.
“It was rough water, 25 knots, and we were comfortable,” said Guidotti. “We were just making way. She was really in her element.”
Wizard, the ex-VOR Groupama found wind and a good shift on the west side of the course, providing a crucial edge as they entered the Gulf Stream on Saturday.
Watch captain Chris Larson said, “Navigator Matt Humphreys did a fantastic job of setting us up the first night on the west side of the fleet. We were expecting a west shift, and we got more pressure, too.” As the fleet entered the Gulf Stream, Larson said that Warrior, which is a modified Volvo 70, crossed astern of Wizard while Rambler 88 jibed, only a couple miles ahead of them. Rambler extended their lead, and the lighter Warrior passed Wizard closer to Bermuda, but the Askew brothers’ boat stayed close enough to gain the corrected-time lead.
The rules say that the Newport Bermuda Race “is not a race for novices.” Depending on weather, Gulf Stream currents and the boat’s size and speed, the race takes two to six days to complete.
The race is nicknamed the thrash to the Onion Patch. That’s because most Newport Bermuda races include high winds and big waves (a combination sailors call a hard thrash). It’s also because Bermuda was once an agricultural island where large onions thrived.
Since 1923, the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club have run the race. The race is managed by the volunteer Bermuda Race Organizing Committee, made up of members of the two clubs.
To quote Gary Jobson, “It’s a feather in every sailor’s cap to have done the race, and many consider the Lighthouse Trophy the most coveted trophy in distance racing.”
In a typical race, a cold first night brings the fleet out into the Atlantic. As the sailors enter the realm of their new lord and master, the Gulf Stream, the race often makes good on its aforementioned nickname. Once through the rough Gulf Stream, the sailors press on to the finish off St. David’s Lighthouse.
Inhaling the sweet smell of oleander, they motor up the winding channel to Hamilton, where the Dark’n Stormy’s await. They flow at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club until the prize ceremony on Government House’s spectacular hilltop, where handsome and historic trophies are presented by Bermuda’s Governor.
The very first Bermuda Race was an act of rebellion. In 1906, the Establishment believed that it would be insane for amateur sailors to race offshore in boats under 80-feet. Thomas Fleming Day, the feisty editor of The Rudder magazine, vehemently disagreed, insisting; “the danger of the sea for generations has been preached by the ignorant.”
The Brooklyn Yacht Club started the race in New York Harbor. Critics predicted disaster. It was rumored that funeral wreaths were delivered to the three boats (all under 40-feet) so the sailors would be prepared to make a decent burial at sea. The smallest entry then (and in Bermuda Race history) was the 28-foot sloop Gauntlet. She was notorious for her size; and, for her crew because it included a woman, 20-year-old Thora Lund Robinson. Having outpaced Gauntlet and another boat which dropped out, and the winner was the 38-foot yawl Tamerlane.
Cruising Club of America Commodore Herbert L. Stone said; “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.”
Dongfeng Race Team Win The Volvo Ocean Race
Just when you thought only miracles happened on ice and not in a 45,000 mile around the world race, the near impossible happens. A team that didn’t capture one leg of the 11, captured the last an only one that counted in a daring maneuver that forced them to split from the other leaders and roll the dice down the northern European coast.
The Chinese-flagged Dongfeng Race Team has won the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 with a daring race maneuver on the last day, in the closest finish in race history. After many tries Skipper Charles Caudrelier led his team to victory on the final leg of the race, a 970-mile sprint from Gothenburg, Sweden to The Hague.
Incredibly, it marked the first leg win for the team and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Three teams started the penultimate Leg 11 of the race in a dead heat on the overall leaderboard.
The finishing order between MAPFRE, Team Brunel and Dongfeng Race Team at The Hague would determine their place on the overall race podium. Each of those three teams led at various points on the leg and had their opportunities to grab the prize. But it was Caudrelier and his crew who made a bold call on Saturday evening to take a coastal route to the finish, which squeezed them tight against the shoreline and separated from the other leaders by a series of Exclusion Zones.
“We were not in such a good position, but we trusted our choice and we pushed,” Caudrelier said. “The others didn’t follow us, but we believed, and we won…”
The decision hurt the team in the short term as they tumbled down the leaderboard, but with less than 100 miles left to race, weather routing projections had the top boats finishing within minutes of each other. None had been able to break away overnight, despite the significant splits on the race course.
“We knew that we would fall behind initially and that if it came good it would only be at the end,” said Caudrelier. “The last position report (1300 UTC on Sunday) we were 27-miles from the finish and they were 20-miles and we thought it was over. But then I did a small weather routing and it showed we could end up one-mile ahead, so I woke everyone up and said, let’s push!”
As the teams finally converged again on Sunday afternoon, just a few miles from the finish, it was Dongfeng Race Team, flying down the coast from the north sliding in front of the offshore group, to earn their first leg win, propelling Caudrelier’s team to overall victory.
“We always trusted each other. Nobody thought we were going to win this last leg, but I had a good feeling,” an emotional Caudrelier said, after thanking his supporters and team. He added, “I said ‘we can’t lose, we can’t lose, we can’t lose and, we won!”
The overall results make this the closest finish in the 45-year history of the race and marks the first win for a Chinese-flagged team. Even more remarkable was the fact this was the first VOR win by women crewmembers as Carolijn Brouwer of the Netherlands and France’s Marie Riou along with Switzerland’s Justine Mettraux rightfully shared the spotlight aboard Dongfeng.
“It’s crazy. It has been an insane race; it has been an insane leg,” said Brouwer, who also represented Belgium during her Olympic Tornado career and lives with her partner Darren Bundock (former OTUSA sailing coach) and their son, Kyle.
“We always said that we were going to win a leg and there’s no better leg to win than the last one and here we are, and we have won the race,” said Brouwer. “I can’t describe how I feel. My goal was to win the race and to be the first woman to do it is great, but I would really like to thank the team, they were behind us all the way, the shore team and the logistics team while our sailors on the boat pulled it off together.”
Both Brouwer and MAPFRE sailor, Sophie Ciszek, sailed aboard the all-female yacht Team SCA in the last VOR go-around.
Xabi Fernández’s MAPFRE was third on the leg, which put the team into second overall.
“It has been tough,” Fernández admitted. “We sailed very well the whole way around the world and on this leg as well, so naturally we’re a bit disappointed. We were very, very close this time, but it was not quite enough. So, we have to say congratulations to Dongfeng who sailed a little bit better than us.”
Team Brunel skipper, Bouwe Bekking, would have liked nothing more than to win the race for the first time in eight tries with a home finish in The Netherlands. But it wasn’t to be. His fourth-place leg finish left the team in third place overall.
“Third place, still on the podium, I think we can be pretty proud of that as a team,” he said. “We thought we had made the right choice (to go further offshore) and we expected a wind shift. It came 90-minutes too late and that was the race. But that’s yacht racing. And, of course, we have to congratulate Dongfeng and MAPFRE for their results.”
Second place on the final leg into The Hague was Dutch skipper Simeon Tienpont and his team AkzoNobel, who had previously secured fourth place on the overall leaderboard.
“It’s incredible to finish on the podium in our hometown,” Tienpont said. “We would have loved to have been fighting into The Hague for the final podium but to have set the 24-hour speed record and to get six podium finishes in the race is a testament to the job everyone on our team, on the boat and on shore have done.”
Vestas 11th Hour Racing had already been locked into fifth place on the scoreboard and after a promising start to Leg 11, had a disappointing seventh place finish on the leg.
“We have a great group of folks on this team,” skipper Charlie Enright said. “We’ve been through a lot and I’m not sure any other group could have dealt with the challenges we have faced the way we did. It’s something special and we’re going to continue to work together moving forward.”
For David Witt, the finish was bittersweet as the loss of John Fisher overboard in the Southern Ocean was top of mind.
“I have very mixed emotions right now,” Witt said dockside immediately after finishing. “I’m incredibly proud of our team both on and off the water. We’re very tight and we have gone through a lot. But I’m also sad of course. I didn’t finish it with my best mate (John Fisher) who we started with. So very mixed emotions, but I’m glad we finished it.”
Leading up to the last critical call of the race it was a sleepless night for sailors and fans alike. The racing has never been closer, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. By late that evening a split developed among the top three boats. That was when Caudrelier and his team made a bold call to hug the coast, taking the eastern option.
“We’ve chosen the path inshore,” said watch captain Stu Bannytyne. “So, there is a lot of very tricky navigation. There are a lot of sandbanks, Traffic Separation Schemes, maybe some windfarms and very changeable weather.”
With the wind forecast to ease significantly offshore, the dividends of the coastal route may come on the approach to the finish, where the inshore boats hold the breeze and their speed for longer.
Team Brunel, along with the current leg leader, team AkzoNobel, committed to the offshore route early. “We just need to find some good speed and get to Holland,” said Team Brunel helmsman Peter Burling. His team had to overcome a small breakage on an outrigger last night, which cost them a bit of distance.
MAPFRE appeared to make a late call to join them and it cost the Spanish crew. Needing to sail a slower angle to get further west, last night’s race leader slid back in the rankings behind the Dutch boats.
“We were lining up to go on the inside, down Germany and the top of Holland, and made a late call to go west and as a result we lost quite a lot on Brunel and team AkzoNobel who decided to go this way earlier,” said MAPFRE’s Blair Tuke.
“It’s a tricky one but we have to do what we think is right to get us there the fastest. Both boats we have to [sic] beat are going different ways. We’re going to have to fight to the end. There’s going to be a compression as we come into the finish, so plenty still to play for. Glad we’re still here and in the fight.”
IMOCA 60’s Will Race In The Next VOR Race
IMOCA 60 boats have been invited to participate in the next VOR in the fall of 2021. A partnership agreement has been made with the International Monohull Open Class Association (IMOCA), which provides the exclusivity to use the IMOCA 60 for crewed round the world yacht races.
The class usually is manned by mano a mano or singlehanded as in the Vendee Globe race. If converted to VOR expect a crew of at least 8 to 10.
“This is a first step of many in preparing for the next edition of the race in 2021,” said Johan Salen, co-President of the race. “There is an ongoing co-operation process to put in place the elements we need to make the next race a success from a sporting and business point of view. This is a complex matter with many perspectives, and we are respectfully welcoming continuous input from all key stakeholders, from World Sailing to individual sailors, teams and partners. We are confident that this is the right way forward. Moving the race into foiling monohulls under the IMOCA class will motivate more sailors, teams and the wider marine industry to prepare for the next edition. Partnering with the existing IMOCA infrastructure means the professional offshore sailing calendar becomes more unified and efficient, this helps the sport as a whole and helps to build a sustainable business model for teams and sailors.”
“This agreement provides IMOCA owners and sailors with access to the premiere fully crewed offshore race in the world, which is also a great storytelling platform,” said Antoine Mermod, President of IMOCA.
“As we work together to bring the most important offshore races in the world, short-handed and fully crewed, to the IMOCA class boats, it will allow us to grow the class internationally and offer more value to our stakeholders.”
The move to include IMOCA boats will ensure the race continues to be at the forefront of yacht design and technology while challenging the best sailors in the world in a fully-crewed, offshore environment.
“This change is very exciting,” Caudrelier said after receiving a briefing on the changes. “The Open 60s are just amazing boats. I really enjoy sailing on these boats and I think when people see it, they will enjoy it. If the two best offshore races in the world are going to join the same class, to me it’s good news.”
“I think as a sailor, this is very exciting,” said Bekking, a veteran of eight Volvo Ocean and Whitbread Round the World races. “For the younger generation of sailors, they’re all about foiling and surfing and going fast and you have to get the best sailors involved in the race. With the Open 60s, they’ve nailed it, because this is what the sailors want.”
“Of course, there are some hurdles to negotiate,” said Torben Grael, Olympic champion and a VOR winning skipper as well as a Vice-President of World Sailing. “But if we manage to join the two worlds together then it will be positive as it opens the race to many new sailors to join and creates a much bigger calendar of events for the teams racing in Open 60s.”
“We’re trying to make a boat for the future that is capable of doing both short-handed and fully-crewed races,” said Guillaume Verdier, among of the busiest of the current IMOCA class and America’s Cup designers. “My opinion is that it is doable with a bit of compromise from both worlds to meet in the middle.”
The partnership with IMOCA will also ensure that the boats will allow for the production of cutting-edge media, as was the case on the current edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Live access to the boats while they were racing in some of the most remote oceans of the world, as well as drone footage and media produced by on-board reporters made for ground-breaking coverage that produced record fan engagement. This remains an important priority for the next race.
As does crew diversity. The 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race featured 23 female sailors as well as 30 sailors under the age of 30. Both were records for the race. This is a trend to be encouraged for the future.
The future of the VO65 class of boats, used in the last two editions of the race, will be revealed in the coming weeks.
See ya next month and send your letters to mark@yachts manmagazine.com H