Article by Alison Kent, Live Sail Die
The Newport Bermuda Race is one of the iconic bucket list races for sailors worldwide. I have always wanted to compete in this challenging race, get to Bermuda, and sip an ice-cold Dark ‘n Stormy at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.
This year, I can put a check next to the Newport Bermuda. The entire race experience was greater than I could have imagined, mainly because of who I raced with – my dad. Better yet, that Sunday was Father’s Day! A Happy Father’s Day to all the dads that raced with their children, there were quite a few!
We raced double-handed on our Class40, which we’ve wanted to do for a while. Ideally, we would have started with a few shorter lead-up races before sailing halfway across an ocean, but if I’ve learned anything over the last few years, you’ve got to roll with the punches.
My family is lucky. We share the same passion for sailing, and it’s burning. Every single member of my family lives and breathes the sport. I grew up sailing with my older sister, dad, mom, and stepdad. Each of them has molded me into the person and sailor I am. It is a dream come true to continue to sail with them as an adult.
Double-handed sailing requires complete trust in your co-skipper. We didn’t have to worry about compatibility, confidence, level of knowledge, etc. We know a lot about each other – good and bad! We were one step ahead right from the get-go.
My dad has done his fair share of solo sailing (he’s one of those crazy people who race around the world by themselves) and competed in the Bermuda 1-2 last year with the boat. That race is solo from Newport to Bermuda and double-handed on the way back. So, he’s been to Bermuda alone on this thing….he didn’t even need me on board! Although I’d like to think I’m better company than no company.
The week leading up to the start, we did odd jobs around the boat, went out on the water to look at sails and systems, and ensured everything was ready. The boat is designed for shorthanded sailing, so all of the headsails and flying sails either furl or are in socks. It was my first look at the sails, one of which I built myself at the Doyle New Zealand loft – another special connection to the boat for me.
We were ready to go!
The forecast was looking a little spicy, and we decided on two reefs and our staysail for easy maneuvering at the start. The starting area was busy with eager competitors, patrol boats, and spectators. Our heads were on a swivel. We were hyped, nervous, and beyond excited!
At the gun, we were off with the other boats in Class 6. There were a few red buoys we needed to keep to port before pointing our bow directly at Bermuda. We quickly rolled out the J1 and shook a reef. Then, we shook the other one. Then, about an hour later…there was no wind. None. There were flies nibbling on my ankles. We weren’t expecting this so soon, and we tried everything to keep the boat rumbling. We learned later that several classes had postponed starts during this time as that weather rolled through.
We got up and going again on a jib reach for the first night. The nights were short and went by quickly. There is a lot to keep you busy when you’re solo on deck. Trim, drive, navigate, check who is around you, and ask yourself, “how can we get the boat to go faster?” It was the first night that I realized we were really doing this. No going back now!
The second day mainly consisted of running with our A2. It’s big, it’s yellow, and it’s fast! We were approaching the Gulf Stream with it, happily going anywhere from 12-15 knots of boat speed. The wind fluctuated enough that we would talk about bringing it down before inevitably leaving it up when it died off a little again. We wanted to keep our foot on the pedal.
But, what goes up must come down. Unfortunately for us, the decision wasn’t ours. The cloth simply failed, and the big yellow kite came down in about two or three pieces. The tack patches were still connected to the tack line off the prod, the clew and belly under the boat, and the head in the sock at the top of the rig. Oops. It took a little while, but we got everything back in the boat with minimal knife work. Did we leave it up for a click too long? Probably…we would be kicking ourselves for this decision in about a day’s time.
The wind built, and we worked our way to three reefs and an A5, sending it down massive rollers. It was fun sailing. The horizon was full of lightning that would briefly show the silhouettes of the clouds waiting for us, and they were tall and scary looking. It’s a funny realization that all these boats, including us, were boosting into what looked like nasty weather. Isn’t that something you usually turn away from?
One cloud, in particular, was a bright deep orange. I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at until the moon peeked out over the top – it was a beautiful orange I’d never seen before. A quick moment of appreciation for the uniqueness and beauty of sailing offshore.
The conditions stayed windy and wavy throughout the night, the driving was challenging, and we swapped often to ensure we were rested and our driving was safe and fast. Our autopilot only came on for maneuvers or other brief moments.
Our bed down below was Big Joe – the most comfortable bean bag around. Big Joe lived on the floor on the windward side, close to the stairs so you could pop up in a hurry if needed. He doesn’t have much sailing skill, but he is probably one of the most appreciated crew members on the boat. We love Big Joe.
The kitchen is a single jet boil; my dad was the main chef. I argued that he makes freeze-dried better than anyone, so he was in charge. Our favorite dinner was beef stroganoff. Although I know the typical reaction when we tell people we enjoy freeze-dried, I have to say…it’s damn good. I’d be happy with that any day. Must be the cook. On the other hand, I can make a fantastic peanut butter and jelly tortilla wrap.
The next evening came and went as conditions calmed, as forecasted. We swapped to our A3 (the biggest sail we had since we decided to blow up the A2). The small sail was only painful for about two hours when we were 80ish nm to the finish. Both of us felt the terror of sailing almost 600nm and parking in front of the finish line, looking at Bermuda, although we didn’t admit it then.
Just before our final sunset, we had spaghetti and chicken casserole for dinner, and we were ready for the finish. Being a downwind race, the finish line was busy. We had our eye on the AIS and the lights around us as the fleet started to compact around the reefs of Bermuda. The sportsmanship and focus on safety was top-notch. We were crossing gybes with a fully crewed boat, with which we continued to have radio communications regarding gybing onto port/starboard and everyone’s intentions.
We spotted the line, the lighthouse, gybed onto port (we were getting pretty good at this gybing thing!) to cross the line and just like that….we finished! It was 11:30 pm on Monday the 20th. We confirmed our finish with the Race Committee – we did it!
First thing first, we needed to get our sails down. We continued downwind, pulled the sock down over our A3, dropped the kite, then the main, and continued into the harbor. Getting into the harbor took a few hours, navigating the channels and avoiding the reefs – something the Race Organizers advise against doing at night. We were accompanied by multiple boats who took on the challenge to get to the marina.
Once we docked at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, I looked at my dad and said, “we just raced from Newport to Bermuda just the two of us…what!? That’s crazy!!!!” It’s still sinking in, even today.
In hindsight, the race had its gnarly moments in challenging conditions. In the moment, you’re so focused on the race, the state of the boat, how much sail you need in the current situation, and how your co-skipper is doing that the strong conditions do not phase you.
I will hold this memory close for the rest of my life. It wasn’t just a sailboat race; it was an adventure, a challenge, something to accomplish. My dad and I have done crewed Chicago – Mackinac races and round the buoy races together, he pushed my Opti, Laser, 420 off the dock countless times in his life. This is different – this was big for us! The cherry on top? We walked away with some silver! We were awarded the “Mixed Doubles” trophy, which is for the best-placed mixed-gendered double-handed crew. This year was the first year the trophy exists and we are so proud to have our names on it.
Hopefully, this is just the beginning of our double-handed adventures.
I’d like to take a moment to recognize the life lost in this year’s Newport Bermuda Race. Colin Golder, skipper of Morgan of Marietta, passed away after being swept overboard. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and the crew of Morgan of Marietta.
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