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How to get out of Buzzards Bay, fast

by Marion Bermuda Race 12 Apr 2023 12:37 PDT
Marion Bermuda Race © Marion Bermuda Race

Buzzards Bay, where we place our start line, is notoriously tricky. In the last handful of years, we've seen everything from gale-force winds to dying breeze, flat or lumpy sea states, and — literally — everything in between (and sometimes all of it in one day).

We checked in with two experienced Buzzards Bay skippers to get their tips for getting out of the Bay fast.

Tips from Sam Vineyard

Having started a few events in Marion, there are some pointers to getting out of Buzzards Bay at the start of the Marion to Bermuda Race. Some of them even start before you even get out to the starting line. As any seasoned sailor knows, Buzzards Bay can be a windy, choppy piece of water with a strong SW prevailing wind. Here are a few tips for the standard exit of Buzzards Bay with a sou'west breeze.

  1. The standard Southwest breeze in Buzzards Bay is somewhere between 225 and 240 degrees. In June, the strength can vary, but generally, after the breeze comes in, around 1 PM, sometimes earlier, the strength is somewhere between 20 and 25 knots.

  2. Be fully prepared to sail upwind for 18 to 20 miles in a strong SW breeze. This means for most boats, a smaller headsail that can be sheeted inboard from the rail tracks, and a good reefing system for the mainsail. Have your crew very familiar with these systems, and how to use them effectively. In my opinion, a reefed headsail is not as efficient as a smaller headsail for true upwind performance. Know your boat's sail combinations in these sorts of conditions.

  3. Pay attention to the tides. An outgoing tide will fight the strong breeze and cause short, square waves. The bay is very shallow, especially outside of the main shipping channel for the CC Canal, and the waves can frustrating and slow. If you can, practice sailing in this sort of conditions with your crew.

  4. As you get up the bay, a few things will happen. The breeze will bend right, and you will get a lift on Starboard tack, and the strength will begin to lay down. Cleveland's Ledge is one of the windiest areas of the bay, and as you get off towards the Elizabeth Islands, it will drop by a few knots. Generally, you will see more right shifts on the right side of the bay. Padanaram is usually about 2 to 4 knots less-than-typical Marion SW conditions. As anyone who has raced in Marion knows, right usually pays up along the shore, but more tacking is required.

  5. There are a LOT of hard landings on either side of the bay, especially along the West Island, New Bedford, and Padanaram shore. Pay attention to the charts, especially playing the right-hand shore.

  6. Be prepared to make adjustments to your sail plan and set up as you exit the bay. Most boats exit the bay in the early evening, as the breeze is beginning to lay down, and headsail changes are necessary.

  7. Remember to eat, and drink plenty of water. The first night is often uncomfortable, and seasickness is most prevalent. Proper hydration is key the first afternoon and evening for a happy crew. Remember to start your watch system early, you still have 600+ miles to go.
Having started many Bermuda races in a huge range of conditions, these are just a few pointers to sailing out of Buzzards Bay. A fast exit can often set you up for a great race, and vice versa. Yes, it can be uncomfortable and choppy, but a well-sailed boat should be able to handle these conditions easily and without incident.

Tips from Tom Bowler

Achieving success racing out of the Bay likely requires an effective, well-informed strategy accompanied by a healthy dose of tactical nimbleness.

  1. An effective strategy is built primarily, but not exclusively, on the Bay's distinctive cyclical currents predictably flooding and ebbing. Such a strategy would incorporate the varying effects (velocity; direction) as they occur around the Bay. What's occurring off New Bedford isn't what's occurring off Quicks Hole and so forth. Incorporating these current variations are the table stakes in the Bay leg of this racecourse. Locations, where current and flow accelerate nearer to shore as compared to mid-Bay, could be considered and potentially incorporated into your strategy.

  2. The race day wind field needs to be tactically addressed, particularly during the building phase of the afternoon sea breeze, which can be stronger and puffier near shore....or not...Conversely, those still working out of the Bay as afternoon turns to evening are likely to see a drop in wind velocity...maybe.

  3. With 20+nm of rhumbline to manage, monitoring heading versus COG can pay dividends by the time you exit the Bay. A running dialog between the helm and trimmers is important in all races, and the Bay is no exception. Trimmers should be aware of what the helm is seeing and vice versa.

  4. Leading boats are likely anticipating their next leg while working to nail the leg they are on. Discussing "our next move" with sufficient lead time is key.

  5. Some, including me, will posit that winning boats tend to be collaborative affairs with lots of crew input and communications, particularly during the planning stages of the pre-race days and most certainly on race day morning before heading to the starting line. (and even if you don't win, everyone feels better and are still friends) After d'accord is achieved on the overall strategy it's on to show time and crew execute their respective well-understood roles out on the course.

  6. In a typical Buzzard's Bay smoky sou'wester beat out of the Bay boats are going to tack several times in often salty conditions. So, while the regular watch rotation likely has been turned on it may be prudent, depending on conditions, to have additional crew in place until some or all of the Bay is behind you.

  7. We all know from our various Round the Bay or similar races that these are demanding events in and of themselves. The Bay leg of the M2B Race is obviously just one element in a much longer 100+ hour event-so we need to treat this element with great care and respect.
The bottom line to leading out of Buzzards Bay: Plan, plan, plan! Communicate, communicate, communicate! Execute, and then adjust as needed.

And... Have Fun!!!

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