In 1925 Bernida skippered by Russ Pouliot beat 12 yachts to win the first race to Mackinac. Racing this year for the first time since the 1920s, the 32-foot Bernida, skippered by Al Declercq, beat 117 other yachts to win the Shore Course of the 2012 Bayview Mackinac Race.
Declercq, who has previously won 23 Mackinacs, bought the historic Bernida knowing her history and with the goal of having her win another Mackinac.
Bernida, with no motor, no seats, no berths, no galley and no head, had few creature comforts for the crew of six including three fathers and three sons. With light wind before the start, Bernida was towed to the starting area. There was only space for 2 at a time to sleep below atop sails. Freeze dried food kept the crew nourished.
Doyle Sailmaker’s Al Declercq designed the ideal sail inventory, leading Bernida to victory over her newer rivals. Key to Bernida’s success was her Doyle Code 0.
Al Declercq Explains Bernida’s Winning Code 0
“Bernida’s Code 0 was made out of CZ 5. As the sail was small enough to not need a furling unit to be easily deployed and furled, the Code 0 was not put on a furling unit, which allowed for maximum luff length. In the race, it was easy to get the Code 0 up and down in a conventional manor.
“As we went off the starting line, half of our class had genoas up sailing with the wind – too far aft to be effective, and the other boats had strapped in spinnakers – sailing below course. The apparent wind angle was 55 degrees. We used the Code 0 for the first three hours of the race. One hour into the race, we were almost a mile ahead.
“When the wind went aft to 65-70 apparent, we switched to an AIRX 600 A-3 with a larger foot and mid-girth. We continued to gain on the fleet with the A-3 up. Eventually, the wind went aft to 115 apparent, and we switched to an S-2 symmetrical spinnaker (a masthead AIRX 600 sail designed to sail in 7 to 18 tws). Although the S-2 is a great sail, we were only able to hold our own with the fleet using our conventional spinnaker.
“Several hours later the wind went forward again, and we switched back to the Code 0. Once again we devastated the fleet with the Code 0 up. We were able to sail a knot faster than the rest of the class for a couple more hours and added to our lead. We were able to fly the Code 0 several more times during the race and each time we enjoyed similar results. In my mind this race proved that you will not be able to win long distance races moving forward without a Code 0 in your quiver.
“It is amazing to me that although we have known for five years that you need A-sails to reach, on any size boat of any design, that so many sailors have been slow to add these sails to their inventory. In this particular race, had any other boat in our class had a similar Code 0, they most likely would have trimmed three hours off their time to the island.
“Our 93 year-old boat, with modern sail shapes and materials, had no problem keeping up with the fleet. So the lesson learned is – if you happen to own an old boat, that does not mean you should still be sailing with old ideas.”
– Al Declercq
Bernida was built in 1921 in Boston as an R class racing sloop. She was first owned by Russ Pouliot of Detroit and won the first Port Huron to Mackinac Race in 1925. Bernida won the Mackinac again in 1927, before bouncing from owner to owner and coming to rest in a barn in northern Michigan. Bernida had been under renovation since 2004.
The R Class Rule
In 1898, Nathaniel G. Herreshoff conceived a new racing rule that seven years later was adopted as the Universal Rule. The Universal Rule remained the official formula for the measuring and rating of yachts until 1927, when it was super-ceded by the International Rule. The Universal Rule was a formula-based rule that allowed for development of open classes rather than one-design classes.
The Rating Formula: .18L x √LA ÷ 3 x √D
Where L = Length, SA = Sail Area, and D = Displacement
R Class had a maximum allowable rating of 20.
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