The June 20th start of the Newport Bermuda Race takes place this Friday, the 49th edition of this 635nm sprint across the Gulf Stream to the fable island of Bermuda- famous for its 'Bermuda shorts' and the extensive celebrations with 'dark and stormies' at the Royal Bermuda YC. The start takes place at the opening of Narragansett Bay off Castle Hill Lighthouse and finishes off the eastern end of Bermuda at St David’s Head (the entry into the treacherous reefs that ring the northern part of this ancient volcanic island).
Organized by the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, the race is sailed almost entirely out of sight of land and across the Gulf Stream. Amongst the fleet of 165 boats, twenty-one states from Maine to California are represented in the fleet, with especially strong turnouts from New England (67 boats) and the Chesapeake Bay area (20). The 16 entries from outside the United States include one boat each from Austria, Germany, Russia, and Spain; three from Bermuda; four boats from the UK; and five boats from Canada. Again, by far the largest brand participating in the event are the 33 J/Boats (20% of the fleet), followed by 24 Nautor-Swan’s and seven Hinckley’s.
The fleet is assigned by type and crew to five divisions. The largest is the St. David’s Lighthouse Division (100 boats), for multi-purpose cruising/racing boats. This is one of the race’s three divisions that have seen an increase in entries this year, with four more boats than in 2012. Twenty-three of them (nearly 25% of the division) are J/Boats owners.
Leading the charge as the largest single one-design fleet in the history of the race are the eight (Eight!) J/44s, including Dr Phil Gutin’s Beagle, Dr Norm Schulman’s Charlie V, the US Coast Guard Academy’s Glory, Jim Bishop’s Gold Digger, Harry DeVore’s Honahlee, Chris Lewis’s Kenai, Len Sitar’s Vamp and Bermuda 'newbies' Joerg Esdorn and Duncan Hennes on Kincsem.
The next biggest class going happens to be the J/120’s, now almost seen as a 'cult Bermuda classic boat' for its amazing reaching abilities— having won more than it’s fair share of silver in this race. Amongst those seeking that SDL Trophy are Rick Oricchio’s Rocket Science, Robert Kits van Heyningen’s Secondhand Lions, Jim Praley’s Shinnecock, Richard Born’s Windborn. Ken Comerford’s (and sons) Moneypenny and Dmitry Kondratyev’s Sunset Child.
Next up is the trio of J/122’s racing, all having excellent pedigree and, most recently, one having won last year’s Marion-Bermuda Race by a country furlong and another having succeeded admirably in the Annapolis-Newport Race. Those teams include Jamey Shachoy’s black-hulled beauty August West sailing with several very experienced Bermuda veterans aboard and Paul Milo’s Orion. Joining them for their first Bermuda adventure on a J/122 is John Pearson on Red Sky.
In the cruiser-racer J category that has seen amazing success offshore are a range of J/37 to J/42s. John Gorski and Andy Schell will be sailing their J/37 Sleijride, Fred Allardyce is skippering his J/40 Misty and two J/42s are entered- Newton Merrill’s Finesse and Bob Fox’s Schematic.
Finally, two of the larger offshore racer-cruisers are participating, including Dale and Michael McIvor’s J/133 Matador and Jonathan Bamberger’s J/145 Spitfire from Canada.
The Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division (only eight boats), for all-out racing boats, is smaller than usual, but is sure to be watched carefully for the expected duel between two 72-foot 'mini-maxis'. In a classic 'David and Goliath' scenario, watch for Brian Hillier’s J/125 Crossfire to upset that storied match-up given a broad range of conditions— it could easily be a 'little boat' race and the Mini-maxi’s wouldn’t stand a chance against the J/125 on a handicap basis.
The Cruiser Division (36 boats) is 20-percent larger than it was in 2012, when 30 boats that competed for the Carleton Mitchell Finisterre Trophy. Five of that race’s top eight boats are back including Howie Hodgson’s J/160 True and Brad Willauer’s J/46 Breezing Up.
Finally, the fleet that always seems to produce rather remarkable performances is the Doublehanded Division. This time back again bigger and better than ever with 20 boats, it will be more than intriguing to see how the 'domino’s fall' in this year’s light to medium air race. Coming back are the 2012 race’s top four boats: that includes Hewitt Gaynor’s J/120 Mirielle, Gardner Grant’s J/120 Alibi, and Jason Richter’s J/35 Paladin. Two spoilers to that party, based on ORR performances seen on the Chicago-Mackinac Race (also a mostly reaching race) may be Mike Piper’s J/111 Eagles Dare and Scott Miller’s J/122 Resolute (last year’s Bermuda One-Two overall winner).
Not to be outdone by their thoroughbred sisterships will be the twin J/42’s, Steve Berlack’s Arrowhead and Joe Murli’s Sirena Bella- as mentioned above, with the weather favoring the lower-rated boats, these two could be in the hunt before anyone can do anything about it! For more Newport Bermuda Race sailing information, click here