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

AC36: AI, RL, TLA, ETNZ, LRPP
There's a wee event happening across The Ditch (Tasman Sea) next week Now there's a wee event happening across 'The Ditch' (Tasman Sea) next week. So I certainly enjoyed writing from the armchair a little while ago, and whilst on that, thanks very much to all of you who read it all around the globe Posted on 5 Mar
Gladwell's Line: Rolling the America's Cup dice
A look at some of the issues that could determine the outcome of the 36th Match, and a score. Sail-World's NZ Editor Richard Gladwell who has been on the water, inside the race course, for every race and practice day of the America's Cup Regattas takes a look at some of the issues that could determine the outcome of the 36th Match, and a score. Posted on 4 Mar
Sara Zanobini on the 2021 Bacardi Cup Invitational
David Schmidt interviews Sara about the event While spring isn't far off, it's solidly winter in North America and competitive One Design sailing is still over the horizon for most sailors. Enter the Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta, which promises great racing for J/70, Melges 24 and Star sailors. Posted on 3 Mar
Are hybrid boat shows the way forwards?
Positive at the virtual RYA Dinghy Show, but a new portmanteau needed! I've talked to various people during and since the virtual RYA Dinghy Show and all so far are hailing it as a success. In the UK, the Dinghy Show is the start of the sailing season, and to simply not hold the event would have been a grave mistake. Posted on 2 Mar
Cup news, Vendee Globe finishers, GGR 2022 update
Latest newsletter from Sail-World's David Schmidt in the USA While the America's Cup World Series and the Prada Cup delivered a chance to see AC75s lock horns on the racecourse, it also gave the world a much-needed chance to see what life looks like at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. Posted on 2 Mar
Gladwell's Line: A Match of just five days?
A COVID positive 21 yr old going walkabout in South Auckland has had big implications for the Cup A COVID positive 21 yr old going walkabout in South Auckland has had big implications for the Cup - now threatened to be morphed to a four race day event, and sailed on courses on which there has never been a lead change - except for the Patriot capsize. Posted on 2 Mar
Playing the long game
As a Brit I'm of course sad that INEOS TEAM UK didn't progress to the America's Cup match As a Brit I'm of course sad that INEOS TEAM UK didn't progress to the America's Cup match. I'd have loved to see Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott square up against Pete Burling, Blair Tuke and the rest of Emirates Team New Zealand, but it wasn't to be. Posted on 23 Feb
Mark Pincus on the 2021 J/24 Midwinters
An interview with Mark Pincus on the 2021 J/24 Midwinters I checked in with Mark Pincus, regatta chair for the 2021 J/24 Midwinters, via email, to learn more about this competitive regatta. Posted on 23 Feb
Modes and Moods
Nothing beats that feeling when you know you're quicker There are many sailing phrases: high and fast, low and slow, tweak it up a bit, glamourous, in the groove, climbing off them, falling into the dirt. Nothing beats that feeling when you know you're quicker. Posted on 21 Feb
You must win the start!
It's a golden rule of Match Racing and much of your race can be defined by it It's a golden rule of Match Racing and much of your race can be defined by it. Win the start and you've a good chance of winning the race. Posted on 20 Feb
Rooster 2020 - Impact BA - FOOTERRS Sailing 2020 - RSSS - FOOTERSelden 2020 - FOOTER