Please select your home edition
Edition
Highfield Boats - SW - LEADERBOARD

An interview with Fletcher Boland about the 2019 Marblehead to Halifax Race

by David Schmidt 3 Jul 2019 08:00 PDT July7-10, 2019
Racecourse action during the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race © Images courtesy of Craig Davis

When I think of really impressive light-air driving, I often think back on the 2005 Marblehead to Halifax Race. Our crew of ten was aboard Southern Cross, my dad’s modified J/44, and things were looking grim: cat paws were registering on the water, but these same zephyrs were not doing much to tickle the anemometer, which was stubbornly parked at 5-6 knots. Worse still, our strong fleet position, which we earned thanks to some clever navigation at Brazil Rock (thanks, dad!) and some diligent crew work (thanks, boys!) was slowly getting whittled away by a well-sailed J/122, which was more optimized for a light-air upwind battle.

That’s when brothers Chris and John stepped up to the helm.

Chris settled into his starboard driving position, gripping the destroyer-style wheel with his hands and his toes (the latter being a new trick for me), while John assumed the tactician’s spot and lit a smoke. While this is almost always verboten aboard any of my dad’s boats, even he could see the desperation as John, who wasn’t even a smoker, started mouthing and exhaling puffs to create real-time tell tales.

Unorthodox, perhaps, however the knot meter soon began reporting its pleasure. Far more importantly, Chris began staving off the J/122’s advance as we clawed our way up Nova Scotia’s southeast coast.

Impressively, and almost against all probability and VPPs, we slid across the finishing line ahead of our rivals as evening faded into night, and as John’s supply of smokes started wearing precariously thin. Fortunately, following this much helm and crew concentration, there was no shortage of rum once we cleared customs in what can only be described as a gorgeous and historic Canadian maritime city.

I checked in with Fletcher Boland, the manager of communications for the 2019 Marblehead to Halifax Race (July 7, 2019), via email, to learn more about this classic New England and Canadian distance race.

How many boats are you expecting at this year’s Marblehead to Halifax Race (M2H)? Also, how does this compare to the numbers and the competition levels that you have seen in recent years?

We are expecting 70-75 yachts to compete in the MHOR this year and have constantly been updating our registration website with the latest changes to the entry list. This is in line with the same number of entries as the previous couple of races. One change we have noticed is a shift towards more versatile, family friendly yacht designs and not as many exotic entries. Although last year the race record was broken by the Mills 68 Prospector, first launched in 2008.

In your mind, what are the toughest parts of the M2H’s course? Do any spots give navigators typically pause for concern?

The most challenging spot is typically the rounding of Cape Sable as the boats turn a bit more North and start minding the Canadian coastline. There are very strong tidal currents in the three-plus knot range that run around the cape and are responsible for the 30-foot tidal range in the Bay of Fundy.

A competitor yacht approaching the cape in calm conditions on a flood tide, runs the risk of getting pulled toward Fundy and drifting many miles in the wrong direction. Race veterans worth their salt should have a good story of battling the current, which sometimes involves trying to get an anchor set on the rocky bottom to avoid going backward.

The final approach to the finish line inside Halifax Harbor is known for fickle breezes particularly as the sun sets. There is nothing more frustrating then getting slowed to a few knots of boat speed on the last few miles when you know every second counts in the scoring system after 360 miles of racing.

What are the best-case and worst-case scenarios in terms of weather? Also, what is it about these conditions (wind direction, wind speed, wave height, etc.) relative to the course that inspires your answers?

The best-case scenario is a solid prevailing SSW-SW breeze for two straight days that sets most competitors up for a top speed spinnaker reach from beginning to end. This is the condition that we had in the 2017 race when Prospector beat the record. That condition also implies good dry weather which keeps crew’s spirits and energy levels high. You get a fast and fun race.

The worst-case scenario would be based around easterly winds which mean an upwind slog, sometimes for 100s of miles. Cape Sable area will have rough seas which adds a challenging dimension to this already tricky spot. These conditions will also likely bring wet weather and fog which make for a cold damp trip. It is best to keep the crew going with good hot meals and a bonus would be a yacht with a cabin heating system.

Can you explain the race’s culture to the uninitiated?

This is a great race for those looking for those looking for an international challenge. A perfect entry point if you have aspirations for offshore sailing or for experienced competitors who are looking to improve or defend positions from the last race.

The Boston Yacht Club and Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron which have long history of partnership and camaraderie, work very hard to make this easy and fun for competitors. We walk you through every step from registration, inspection and preparations. We offer moorage for the competing yachts and good services to ensure everyone has a great race.

Both Marblehead and Halifax are great spots with plenty of yachting culture to soak in. This all comes together for a really good sailing event that has stood the test of time.

Is it just a happy coincidence that the M2H unfurls on odd-numbered years, while Newport Bermuda Races take place on even-numbered years? Or, is this an intentional move to ensure big fleets at both events?

It’s not an accident—ocean races of this nature take an enormous amount of planning and preparation, and for most people, every other year is more doable.

What’s the standing course record, and-looking at this year’s scratch sheet-are you seeing any potential history-book disruptors?

During the last race in 2017, Prospector broke the race record by two hours, and given the phenomenal conditions we had last edition, the odds don’t favor another record run. Though there are registered yachts that will be capable, such as the Volvo 70 Warrior.

Do you have any advice that you’d like to share with first-time racers? What about returning racecourse veterans?

For first time racers: Preparation is key, bring proper gear for extended periods in cold damp weather. Thermal layers, winter hats, cold weather sailing gloves, leak-free foul weather gear and good pair insulated sea boots will make you feel like a pro on this race.

For navigation make sure to get and current charts for Cape Sable / Nova Scotia and pre-index them for the hours you are expected to be on the race course. Fumbling around in the dark for current information at 0300 as you approach Cape Sable does not make the Navigator look good.

For Veterans: You know what you are in for. If 2017 was your first race, then I will tell you to expect tougher conditions. Spring is off to a very slow start here in New England this year and I am expecting a cold race with a good dose of fog.

Can you tell us about any steps that you and the other event organizers have taken in the last couple years to help green-up the regatta or otherwise lower its environmental wake?

This year we are working with Sailors for the Sea towards their clean regatta bronze level. This will mean more environmentally friendly changes for the race such the BYC's new compost program, adding more water bottle fill stations and implementing a 1:1 ratio of recycle bins to trash bins. We’re also setting up a bike share for racers to get around Marblehead in the days leading up to the start.

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

Organizing an international offshore event like this is a herculean volunteer effort but well worth it to support this classic event. We’re excited to see many new faces and the usual biennial contenders coming to the race.

Special thanks to Peter Fein, Past Commodore of The Boston Yacht Club, for his contributions to the weather and strategy questions.

Related Articles

The John Westell Centenary pt.5
FiveOs, fast multi-hulls and faster cars! This fifth and final programme in the series celebrating the centenary of John Westell kicks off with the 5o5, but now with John not so much as the designer but as the first volume builder of GRP FiveOs in the UK. Posted on 9 Apr
Randall Reeves on his successful Figure 8 Voyage
Solo and non-stop around the Americas (to port) and Antarctica (to starboard) For most singlehanded blue-water cruising sailors, crossing the Altantic or sailing alone to Hawaii would be an adventure of a lifetime. Not so for Randall Reeves. Posted on 8 Apr
Explore. Dream. Discover.
The Easter weekend was a time to get on the water around the globe for many The Easter weekend was a time to get on the water around the globe for many. Lockdown restrictions in the UK have eased somewhat, allowing the return of grassroots sports, and the fine weather resulted in sailors heading to their local clubs. Posted on 6 Apr
Randy Draftz on the 2021 Charleston Race Week
Celebrating the 25th anniversary edition event It's not too often in life that a storied event gets a second crack at celebrating its silver anniversary, but that's what happened with Charleston Race Week as a result of last year's outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Posted on 6 Apr
Leandro Spina on the new US Open Sailing Series
An interview with Leandro Spina on the West Marine US Open Sailing Series US Sailing has been working hard to prepare their athletes for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, as well as for the upcoming 2024 and 2028 Games, and part of this involves the recently announced West Marine US Open Sailing Series. Posted on 1 Apr
AI AC36.5 v1.0
Natural evolution from displacement to foiling to virtual The America's Cup is taking the next logical step in its evolution, with the move from the physical to the virtual world. For continuity, the AC75 rule will be retained, with a few modifications, for what will be known as the 'AI AC36.5 v1.0'. Posted on 31 Mar
Spring's (eventual) arrival and Olympic news
Latest newsletter from Sail-World's David Schmidt in the USA One of the best pieces of spring renewal that I've heard about in a while came courtesy of US Sailing, which last week named Paul Cayard as their Executive Director of U.S. Olympic Sailing. Posted on 30 Mar
America's Cup: Two feet
A unit of measurement, avatar and a couple more often helpful in sailboat racing It can be a unit of measurement. Also the very extremities you use for balance when standing up. Then on March 5 this year, we saw that they can even belong to an avatar assisting you and your cause via reinforcement learning. Posted on 28 Mar
A game for billionaires
The Simpsons and the America's Cup have nothing and everything in common One of my favourite Simpsons episodes, from 1992, is where Homer creates a 'Wonder Bat' from a fallen tree branch, leading to a revival of the Springfield nuclear plant softball team's team fortunes. Posted on 23 Mar
An interview with Dave Franzel on the 2021 STIR
Bathtub-warm waters at the 2021 St. Thomas International Regatta As winter drones on and on in North America and Europe, it's beyond tempting to daydream about sailing on bathtub-warm waters under sunny skies, wearing a t-shirt and a pair of sailing shorts. Posted on 23 Mar
Savvy Navvy 2021 SW FOOTER v2Henri-Lloyd 2021 M-PRO PURE BLACK - FOOTERDoyle Sails 2020 - Built for Adventure 728x90 BOTTOM