Nearly 50 years ago three Bermuda sailors were in Cowes, England sailing in the Fastnet Race, the finale of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Admiral’s Cup Series. They liked the event and wanted to bring it home.
The Admiral’s Cup was a hard fought series of races that included racing in the powerful tidal currents of the Solent, racing in adjacent bays, racing around the Isle of Wight, racing in the Channel Race and trekking off on the famous Fastnet. Shorty and Jerry Trimingham and Warren Brown hatched the idea of bringing the Admiral’s Cup to North America and calling it the Onion Patch Series.
The Onion Patch Series was born in 1962 when the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club backed the concept and deeded the Onion Patch Trophy to be competed for by national teams of yachts entered in the Newport Bermuda Race. Racing in 1964 was scheduled to include a 25-mile race off the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, the Newport Bermuda Race and a 25-mile race off Bermuda’s South shore. The first Onion Patch attracted teams from Bermuda, the United States and Argentina.
Since 1994, this diverse five-race series has begun with windward-leeward racing in the Rhode Island Sound’s often brisk winds and tricky currents, it’s been centered by the daunting challenge of the classic 635-mile Newport Bermuda Race® with its exciting Gulf Stream crossing in the Thrash to the Onion Patch and it concluded with a windward-leeward race and a scenic flexi-course in flat water with shifty breezes on Bermuda’s Great Sound, Granaway Deep and Hamilton Harbour.
Warren Brown who sailed that first series recalls, “Having sailed with Fenton (Jerry) Trimingham, as crew on Shorty`s boat in the Fastnet, I was well aware of what they wished to do with the Onion Patch Series. The concept was discussed extensively in England when we participated in the Admiral’s Cup. The formula was to use the Admiral’s Cup as a guide.”
The Onion Patch Series initially was purely team-oriented, like the Admiral’s Cup. But it has evolved into a tough triathlon of offshore yacht racing for teams going for the Onion Patch Trophy and for individual yachts racing for the Henry B. du Pont Trophy.
Over 48 years, the format has changed from racing in three venues— New England, the Bermuda race and a concluding race in Bermuda— to racing in multiple New England events and concluding with the Bermuda Race. The Series is back to being close to the original format… two races of the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta are in Newport, Rhode Island, then the Cruising Club of America–Royal Bermuda Yacht Club’s Newport Bermuda Race and concluding with the two-race RBYC Anniversary Regatta.
In the early days, when the Onion Patch was purely for international three-boat teams, the numbers were naturally small. Boats would have to sail or be shipped to New York or Newport, and competing was expensive. In 1990 and 1992 more emphasis was placed on individual entries. Teams representing yacht clubs and sailing associations or other organizations were allowed entry in addition to national teams. In 1994, the year of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club’s 150th anniversary, entries reached 45 individual yachts with 21 of them forming 7 teams.
The Onion Patch continues to attract about 35-45 boats because of the exciting challenges it offers to professional and amateur sailors alike. In 2010, there were 38 individual entries and five three-boat teams. In 2006, the Bermuda Race Centennial year, there were 48 individual entries and seven teams, while 2008 had 30 entries and four teams.
“The Onion Patch is a tough series to win as an individual entry,” said Rives Potts owner of Carina, winner of the St David’s Lighthouse Trophy in the 2010 Newport Bermuda Race. He came in fifth overall in the 2010 Onion Patch and has yet to win the series.
“You have to be very good in all conditions and on all types of race courses,” he added. “Not many boats or crews excel at both. The guys that do well in the Onion Patch have a lot to be proud of. They prepare their boats right, are able to shift gears from long-legged races to short-legged races, and have very good sailors on board.”
“To win as a team,” Potts concluded, “is even more difficult. All three boats on the team have to do very well in all three phases of the series. The winning team is usually the team that makes the fewest mistakes and is consistent throughout.”
In 2008, Randall Baldwin (Ridgefield Connecticut), sailing his Taylor 42 Cabady, took home the Henry B. du Pont Trophy for first place in the 2008 Onion Patch Series. Of Onion Patch boats, he finished second in the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta, first in the Newport Bermuda Race and ninth in the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Anniversary Regatta for 2, 1.25, 9 and a total of 12.25 points. His boat and crew gave an all-round winning performance.
Following the Anniversary Regatta in Bermuda, Rich Long, Cabady’s tactician said, “We had no idea how we did against the J122 Flying Jenny. We are used to windward-leeward courses, but the Bermuda ‘island tour’ course took us from the Great Sound into unfamiliar waters. It was a navigator’s course.”
When told about his series win, Baldwin exclaimed, “Isn’t that wonderful!” Flying Jenny came second in the series by only 6.25 points.
When you plan your 2012 racing schedule, be sure to include all three events in this triathlon of sailboat racing. This is a tough series sailed over a scant three consecutive weeks in June. It is a challenge to yacht, skipper and crew to prevail in these three spectacular events and venues. The Onion Patch is one tough series to win.
How to Enter the Onion Patch Series
Entry for the series and the NYYC and RBYC events may be made on the New York Yacht Club website: http://www.nyyc.org/158th-annual-reggatta-jun8-10/ and application for entry for the Newport Bermuda Race is made through http://www.bermudarace.com/.
The Onion Patch Series Notice of Series, results, photos, and news will be posted at: www.onionpatchseries.com/
Entries for the Onion Patch Series close on Thursday, June 7.