Who would have thought that spinnakers would be flown at the starts of two Newport Bermuda Races in a row? The race did not gain its well-known nickname, “The Thrash to the Onion Patch,” because it’s usually a downwind sleigh ride, like the Transpac. The 2012 start was a fast run before a fresh northerly for every one of the 165 boats in every class.
This year was a little more complicated for the 164 starters. As the five divisions in 15 classes got going over a period of two and one-half hours, the first half of the fleet in seven starts got away in the leftover northerly breeze under spinnaker. Not so the last seven. Like a typical summer day on Long Island Sound, the mouth of Narragansett Bay was full of confusion. If it was more fun for the spectators than the sailors, the reason was the sea breeze that inched toward the starting line until it finally dominated the northerly.
The afternoon's winners, at the start, appear to be the boats that started early— Classes 1, 2, and 3–the smaller and medium-size boats in the St. David's Lighthouse Division. In the light to moderate northerly on their stern, they tacked downwind to the buoy marking the outer reaches of Brenton Reef, and carried their chutes around the mark and onto the southeasterly course to Bermuda. When the southwester filled in like a light summer blanket, all they had to do was raise the jib, douse the spinnaker, and tack onto starboard, while holding the same course.
One of the biggest of those winners may be Sinn Fein, the Cal 40 that’s always sailed well by Peter S Rebovich, Sr., and his crew of family and friends from Raritan Yacht Club, in New Jersey. The two-time winners of the St. David’s Lighthouse Division (in 2006 and 2008), they’ve been preoccupied by other concerns since the 2012 race: rebuilding their boat after she was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Today they set the spinnaker promptly and effectively, found the right apparent wind angle, and pulled away. When last seen, Sinn Fein was on the far horizon, closehauled in the seabreeze and racing to Bermuda in a clump of at least 50 other smaller boats. The Pantaenius tracker positions at 2 p.m. (about an hour after the Class 1 starts) shows Sinn Fein slightly behind William Klein’s CC 40, Glim. We’ll know when we see later tracker readings (being sure to remember the 4-hour time delay for the first 48 hours) and a get a sense of the wind and wave conditions as the big fleet gets out into the Atlantic.
The boats that started an hour or so later had any number of troubles as the seabreeze slowly pushed away the northerly. At one moment a Class 6 (medium-size St. David’s Lighthouse boat) with a red spinnaker up and pulling well on port tack was less than 25 yards abeam of another Class 6 boat with a green and yellow chute pulling well on starboard tack. A few minutes later, the seabreeze reached the starting line in the mouth of Narragansett Bay just as Class 8 (large St. David's boats) was making its final approach—some running in the dying northerly, others beating in the slowly building southerly.
But at least everybody’s racing and headed toward the Gulf Stream, where (the forecasters are telling us) they may find more to worry about than a shifty wind—such as squalls and big seas that could turn this race into a real thrash.
Twenty-nine of the two Newport Bermuda Lighthouse Divisions’ entries are also sailing the 25th Onion Patch Series, a tough triathlon of offshore racing. These Onion Patch racers have just sailed the NYYC 160th Annual Regatta presented by Rolex in Newport and will form the core of the June 27nd RBYC Anniversary Regatta which now has 32 entries. The RBYC Anniversary Regatta is open to all IRC or ORR rated yachts over 25 feet in Bermuda. Anniversary Regatta entries close at noon on June 25th. -- John Rousmaniere