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An interview with Roy Guay about the 2019 Bermuda One-Two

by David Schmidt 5 Jun 08:00 PDT June 8-29, 2019
Solo preperation work ahead of the 2017 Bermuda One-Two © Image courtesy for the Bermuda One-Two / Bill Shea

For most sailors, racing to Bermuda and then delivering the boat back home provides plenty of challenge. But, for those beautifully wild-eyed souls seeking a bit less beat-the-polars performance and a lot more adventure, the biennial Bermuda One-Two (June 8-29, 2019) provides a serious test of preparation, seamanship, preparation, navigation, preparation, meteorology and (drumroll please) preparation. As its name portends, the Bermuda One-Two starts in Newport, Rhode Island, with a single-handed race to the island nation of Bermuda, where skippers are joined by their co-skippers for the double-handed leg back to Newport (June 20).

En route to both finishing lines, sailors can expect full-on offshore conditions—including two Gulf Stream crossings—and weather, and they can expect to face these challenges with few (if any) extra hands to help change sails or contend with reefing work.

Impressively, the first Bermuda One-Two was first held in 1977, some 15 years before GPS became available on the recreational-boating market, and included 18 finishing yachts. And while navigation might be easier today, many 2019 entrants have raised their personal performance bars by choosing high-performance steeds such as Classe Minis and Class 40s, rather than the more comfortable and forgiving vessels that populated the race’s early scratch sheets.

I checked in with Roy Guay, who serves as the event chairman of the 2019 Bermuda One-Two, via email, to learn more about this adventurous single- and double-handed offshore contest.

Can you describe the race’s culture to an outsider? Are your entrants your typical buoy racers, or do they tend to be more singlehanded/transoceanic sailors?

The race is a family event, sometimes literally with siblings or parents and children racing, and always as a metaphor. There’s a core group of returning racers each edition and then typically about half the fleet are newcomers.

Between the active involvement of a skipper's rep, the bi-annual GAM sessions and active coaching by past participants, there’s a real effort to help everyone get first to the starting line and then to the finish line.

The entrants often are cruisers looking to sail beyond the horizons, or buoy racers looking to explore a new side of the sport and challenge themselves in a new and different way.

Roughly, what percentage of this year’s fleet are returning veterans and what percentage are newcomers?

We have 30 entrants (which has been our average) and 14 of the skippers are first-timers thus 16 are veteran skippers.

Based on what you’ve seen of the Bermuda 1-2, is this a race that typically rewards experience at the awards ceremony?

To succeed in offshore, short-handed distance racing, it requires a range of talents as well as preparation that begins months before the starting gun goes off.

Native sailing skills need to be complemented by navigational ability and the ability to make repairs underway. Smart management of sleep, nutrition and fitness provide the reserves and confidence to make the smart and tough decisions when they need to be made.

In all of these things, you simply get better with the more experience you have and it typically shows when the podium results are posted.

What’s the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the race in terms of weather?

The fleet has boats with different speed potential, and any leg can see both the best-case and worst-case scenario.

A best-case scenario is more probable the outbound leg, with prevailing southwesterlies providing a reach or run to a big meander in the Gulf Stream that boosts the boatspeed and leaves you on the other side of the Stream, set up slightly to the east of the rhumline to allow a tight reach in the Bermuda High into the Island.

As tantalizing (and rare) as that sounds, the worst-case scenario may cause you to wonder if you are on the same ocean. It's 2009, and after a 24-hour delay to allow one low to move across the course the fleet legs it out of Bermuda on the return leg into the teeth of a fierce front.

After taking a deep soaking, the temperatures drop leaving the wet skippers to shiver their way through two more smaller lows before fighting their way across the stream and into dying breeze that makes the last miles a slow and frustrating slog.

[The race] may be [in] June, but it’s still really Spring out there with all the variability that entails.

In your opinion, what’s the harder leg-the singlehanded work or the double handed leg?

The single-handed leg. It’s early season and many skippers still have some winter rust to shake off. The first leg out to the continental shelf sees countless fishing boats blindly circling across the course, pushing the skippers to fall behind in sleep just before they reach the challenges of the Gulf Stream.

And then endless wait to see the low mound of Bermuda appear on the horizon when you know it is only a few miles away.

Is one half of the race considered more competitive than the other? Or, in other words, do you think the sailors push harder when they are alone or in double-handed mode?

It may depend on the class and the competitor, but each is fierce competition in its own way.

In the singlehanded leg there may be some skippers who throttle back a bit to ensure they will have a boat available to race home on, but most are out there to win and will drive hard for that goal.

While we understand that the Bermuda 1-2 is an offshore contest, can you tell us about any steps that you and the other race organizers have taken in recent years to “green-up” the regatta or otherwise lower its environmental wake?

We don’t have any partnership with organizations like Sailors for the Sea. All we have is a NOR requirement: “12.12. Non-biodegradable materials will not be thrown overboard at anytime in the water. Save these materials and throw them out in appropriate trash containers in Bermuda or Newport.”

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

The Bermuda One-Two is a rare opportunity to get offshore solo miles. The fact that it happens within a fleet that’s as warm and welcoming as this one only makes it even more fun and special.

If you want to take your sailing to the next level, gain a unique experience with a group of supportive sailors who take pride in their race but without vainglorious bureaucracy, you owe it to yourself to try this race out.

The skippers need to know their boats well enough to fix/recover from all kinds of adversities. Due to the communications requirements amongst the boats during the race and the length of stay in Bermuda before the return leg the skippers develop quite the camaraderie, which is seen at the attendance at the Awards by most of the skippers and crew, even if they’re not receiving an award and in twice-a-year Gam sessions.

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