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Marion Bermuda – Only East coast race with a Celestial Classification

by Talbot Wilson on 19 Mar
Ray Cullum's Bill Dixon designed 44' sloop “Frolic” will sail as a Celestial classification entry in the 2017 Marion Bermuda Race. © Brian Gaudet
The Marion Bermuda Race is the only US East coast offshore race which features a Celestial Navigation Classification with appropriate time credits. It is the only one that offers prizes for yachts that sail by the stars. The Beverly Yacht Club Polaris Trophy is offered for the first celestially navigated yacht and that yacht’s navigator is recognized with the Navigator’s Trophy.

So far for this 2017 Marion Bermuda Race, there are 11 Founders Division racers entered to sail under the Celestial Classification. These entries will get a 3% credit on their ORR rating handicap time on time. Completed entries must be in by May 27. The race starts in Buzzard’s Bay on June 9.

One of those celestial entries, Ray Cullum— a race trustee, past Beverly YC commodore and long-time race volunteer— is sailing his own Bill Dixon designed 44' sloop “Frolic”. This is his first time skippering his own boat, but his 6th Marion Bermuda Race in all. He has raced on boats ranging from 39 to 67 feet.

“I did my first MBR in 1999, and we went celestially.” Cullum said. “Going celestially adds an additional level of achievement to the race. You pay a lot more attention to your environment going celestially as your DR [dead reckoning] plot is the all important method and is something many of us no longer use with the advent of electronic GPS and chart plotters.”

“There is a certain excitement about navigating to an island 650 nautical miles away by the sun, moon and stars,” he added.

Ray has brought a winning navigator on board. Andy Howe, navigator of the 2015 winner “Ti” will be plotting “Frolic’s” course south across the Gulf Stream and through the 150 mile long ‘happy valley’ on the approach to Bermuda. Howe has done ten Bermuda races, six from Marion and four from Newport.

Howe talked about learning celestial navigation and then teaching the skill to others, “I learned Celestial back in the mid 70’s while doing a stint in the USCG. I got better at it running private yachts and delivering them back and forth to the Caribbean. Then for 12 years I worked for Ocean Navigator and taught a lot of navigation courses including celestial. I taught both in classroom sessions and on board “Ocean Star” their training vessel.”

“Celestial is a traditional skill/art,” Howe added. “It demands a lot of attention to detail and enough subjective analysis to bring more than number crunching to bear. Being able to take the hard info from sights, the boat dead reckoning information, and then getting it all onto the chart for interpretation is where the art really comes into play.”

“The reward from using celestial accurately across 650 miles of open ocean is tremendous,” he continued. “I have rarely been more than 5 miles off in my final position, so it can be done. Doing the 2015 race with a family crew and boat and having all the other variables in the race come together in our favor for multiple wins provided all of us with a lifetime of memories. I hope the “Frolic” adventure is a repeat of 2015.”



When “Frolic” reaches a point 50 miles from the finish off Bermuda’s St. David’s Lighthouse, the team can uncover the electronics for the final approach. This is a concession to safety since Bermuda’s northern shore is surrounded by reefs. If you were keeping score it would be something like Reefs 195, Ships and Yachts 0.

During the race, traditional star, sun, planet or moon sights must determine a yacht’s location. Navigators of yachts competing using celestial navigation must at a minimum maintain, and have ready for inspection in Bermuda, a paper-based log of each sight (including body, date, time, and Ha), paper or electronic plotting sheets, and a paper chart showing fixes resulting from sights used for navigation. Most important will be the fix used to determine that the yacht was, or was not, within 50 NM of Kitchen Shoal beacon.

Yachts may use modern onboard non GPS based instruments. Speedometer, distance log, compass, depth sounder and the thermometer use to indicate their location in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream are some of the allowances. Calculators and computers may be used for sight reductions and for computing courses.

Like many of the entries in this year’s race, Ray will be staying for the America’s Cup finals. The America’s Cup Match between the final challenger and Oracle Team USA, the defender will be sailed June 17-27 following the challengers qualifying and playoffs starting May 26.

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