Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Newport Bermuda Race 2010

Racing to Bermuda on even-numbered years can be many things; a rite of passage the realization of a dream or the continuation of a legacy. Forty-six times before sailors have set course and braved the open ocean on a quest to reach St. David's Light. First sailed in 1906, The Newport Bermuda Race was the first ocean race for amateur sailors and has maintained that spirit throughout the years, with 185 boats competing in 2010.

At Sparkman & Stephens, as has always been the case, emphasis is placed on on-the-water experience to supplement the theoretical knowledge we use every day in the office. The 2010 edition of the Bermuda Race saw four members of the team participate on a wide range of boats. Three brokers, A. J. Evans (six previous races, starting at 1998 at the tender age of seventeen), Kevin Daily (seven previous races, starting in 1996), and Rex Herbert (eighteen previous races, starting in 1976), and one yacht designer, myself, Jason Black (one previous race, 2008) sailed the 635 miles from Newport, Rhode Island through the Gulf Stream to St. David's Light, Bermuda.

Sailing on different boats in different classes, each had their own experience. Based on elapsed time alone Kevin was the first to finish about the 66'
Aurora in 71 hours and 7 minutes, A.J. second in 93 hours and 58 minutes about the J-44 Vamp, Rex third sailing on the 63' Sceptre d'Isle after 99 hours and 27 minutes and last in the S&S inter-company competition, I finished aboard the 57' S&S classic, Zwerver, after 106 hours and 25 minutes. On corrected time as scored under ORR, Aurora scored 2nd in class and Vamp tallied a 3rd in class. And while it took us about Zwerver until the wee hours of Wednesday morning to arrive, being greeted by family and friends at the docks of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club made the experience on to remember.

Not to curtail the idea of victory, which I was blessed enough to experience in my first Bermuda race in 2008, I am able to take away much more than the simple concept of the number of boats we beat or the number of boats that beat us.
Zwerver was designed by Sparkman & Stephens in 1954 as an offshore racing yacht of the highest standard. Built to Lloyd's scantling rule, her construction of mahogany planking over steel frames was supervised closely by Rod Stephens. As a testament to her capabilities, she has had numerous offshore victories including the 1961 Fastnet Race as well as thousands of hard offshore racing miles having participated in such notable events as The Brittania Cup (1958), the North Sea Race (1960), the Admiral's Cup (1965), and more recently following an extensive restoration in 1999, The Channel Race (2001), The Fastnet (2001 and 2003), Middle Sea Race (2002), The Daimler-Chrysler Transatlantic Race (2003), and The Around Ireland Race (2004).

The skipper, Frans van Schaik, assembled a crew of twelve veteran sailors from all across the world who assembled in Newport a week before the start for final preparation on the boat. It was this time together, working hard on numerous tasks, that gelled the crew that came from Rotterdam, Chamonix, Hamburg, London, Newport and New York. Some knew the boat and some knew the course but all loved to sail.

It was this ethos and the early performance of the boat on Friday afternoon and evening that kept our spirits up as we sailed into the center of a high just to the east of the rhumb line late on Saturday. Sailing with paper charts and limited weather updates, we all knew eventually we would sail out of it... it was just a matter of when. Sunday brought us consistent breeze in the low teens and before we knew it the Gulf Stream appeared on Monday. In typical fashion, it greeted us; first as a brown haze in the distance on the water. Next appeared a wall of water, rain, just as my watch was coming up from below. The rain lasted about about a half an hour, washed us and the decks clean, and before we knew it we were leaving the confused seas and warm water of the stream, Zwerver shouldering all intent on reaching our destination. It was during this brief time of adverse weather that I felt lucky to be about her with her kindly motion and near-dry docks and not hanging off the rail of some sled.

The rest of the trip was much like an afternoon cruise, with fair breeze in the mid-teens and calm seas; we clicked off miles at nine knots and registered a 200-mile 24-hour period. A day lost to lack of wind we were blessed with the sight of a swallow on Tuesday morning and got sight of land Tuesday evening. After seeing everything between 0.0 and 10.0 register on the B&G speed gauge, we crossed the line just after 1:30 am local time Wednesday and navigated through the channel to raft up at Royal Bermuda Yacht Club to watch the sun rise while sipping champagne brought by our greeting committee.

For me, this year's Bermuda Race was the continuation of a legacy - a legacy of the classic S&S ocean racing yacht.

1 comment:

  1. Well put - you are not only a great sailor, but also quite a poet! I might add that if we had not gambled on the east side of the line, we probably would have done very well. I believe this a race in which Zwerver can perform very well. Thank you for joining us - it was a pleasure sailing with you.

    see you soon,