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52nd Newport Bermuda Race eyes second largest fleet ever

by Sean McNeill 5 Apr 21:59 BST June 17, 2022
Starting the 2012 race at Castle Hill, Newport, in a fresh northerly, Rives Potts' McCurdy & Rhodes 48 Carina shows the form that led to her third St. David's Lighthouse Trophy win that year © Talbot Wilson / PPL

Boasting a fleet of 215 yachts, the Newport Bermuda Race is set to return for the 52nd "Thrash to the Onion Patch" on June 17.

The fleet size for the 635-nautical mile race, co-hosted by the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, is shaping up to be the second largest in the race's history, trailing only the 265 yachts that entered the centennial anniversary race in 2006.

The entry period closed on April 3, and as the provisional entry list stands, 72 entrants in this year's race also sailed the 2018 race. Although the 2020 race was postponed due to Covid, the pandemic only whetted ocean racers' enthusiasm for the classic yachting event that traverses the Gulf Stream, the northerly flowing ocean current off the U.S. eastern seaboard, and which has been a feature of the racing calendar since 1906.

"We're extremely pleased with the turnout for the 52nd Newport Bermuda Race," said Race Chairman Somers Kempe, a past commodore of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. "The Bermuda Race has been beset in the past by World Wars and now the pandemic, but it remains a proving ground for offshore sailors who wish to test their crew organization, navigational skills, and seamanship. Bermuda looks forward to welcoming all finishers in late June with a Dark 'n Stormy and hearty handshake."

This year's race features eight divisions: Double-Handed (22 entries), Finisterre for cruisers (38), Gibbs Hill Lighthouse (27), Multihull (3), Open (1), Spirit of Tradition (2), St. David's Lighthouse (121) and Super Yacht (1).

The fleet includes eight of 17 class winners from the 2018 race as well as two overall division winners. Jason Carroll (New Rochelle, New York) looks to go back-to-back in the Multihull Division while the Morris Justine 36 Yankee Girl goes after a three-peat in the Double-Handed Division but under new owner Thomas Vander Salm (Salem, Massachusetts), who purchased the Chuck Paine design from Zachary Lee in 2018.

"The previous owner was a much faster sailor; I may not live up to the boat's reputation," deadpanned the 81-year-old Vander Salm, who'll be sailing his seventh Bermuda Race and sixth in the Double-Handed Division.

A retired cardiac surgeon, Vander Salm won the Endurance Trophy in 2016 as cook aboard the last yacht to finish with his Hinckley 48 Yawl Whisper. But realizing that the 18-ton Hinckley would have difficulty sailing to its rating, he purchased the 8-ton Yankee Girl when Lee made it available to him.

"Yankee Girl is a much better handling boat, much better upwind boat. It sails to its handicap, whereas my other boat did not sail as fast as the handicap would indicate," Vander Salm said. "The biggest physical challenge of double-handed racing is trying to get enough sleep so you're prepared for problems and emergencies and bad weather. That's a huge challenge. I'm a surgeon by profession and I got used to existing on inadequate sleep and compensating for it. But you can't thwart physiology. You have to force yourself to sleep, which is especially difficult. But I like the solitude of the open ocean, and sailing double-handed, the boat isn't as much of a mess when you get to Bermuda."

The Multihull Division debuted in 2018 and this year counts three entries, led by Carroll's MOD70 Argo. Carroll won the division in '18 with his Gunboat 62 Elvis and looks to better his elapsed time mark of 63 hours. Considering that the hydrofoil-aided Argo completed February's Caribbean 600 in 29h:48m, that shouldn't be too difficult a task for the well-traveled crew that also sailed the RORC Transatlantic Race in January.

As typical, the St. David's Lighthouse Division features the most entries, 122, and includes two past trophy winners: Michael Cone's (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) classic Hinckley Bermuda 40 Actaea from 2014 and Rives Potts' (Essex, Connecticut) timeless McCurdy & Rhodes 48 Carina, which won back-to-back in 2010 and '12. In all, four class winners in the St. David's Lighthouse Division from 2018 are set to return this year.

The Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division for professional crews sees a number of maxi yachts entered as well as 2016 St. David's Lighthouse winner Christopher Sheehan (Larchmont, New York). Sheehan, however, has traded up his Warrior Won from an Xp44 to a Pac 52 and will be looking to add a third major ocean race victory in 12 months to his résumé. In July 2021, Warrior Won captured the Transpac Race and in February 2022, the Caribbean 600.

Warrior Won will face competition from 2012 and '14 Gibbs Hill winner George Sakellaris (Newport, R.I.) and his Maxi 72 Proteus, which placed second in 2018. Also, America's Cup sailor and circumnavigator Dawn Riley will be the "person in charge" of the Reichel/Pugh-designed maxi OC-86, now under the management of Oakcliff Sailing in Oyster Bay, New York, of which Riley is the Executive Director.

"There are going to be plenty of outstanding professionally sailed yachts coming out of the pandemic. The Maxi 72 will have a tremendous shot at overall honors in the Gibbs Hill if the weather is right," said the 56-year-old Sheehan, who'll be sailing his third Bermuda Race.

"The challenge of the race is crossing the Gulf Stream, not just crossing it but looking for a good meander and avoiding the worst of the eddies. And then approaching Bermuda can be a challenge, especially at night with all the reefs and shoals near the finish line. It's a great ocean race that I really enjoy," Sheehan said.

While many are hoping that Covid has been left in the fleet's collective wake, the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee continues to monitor the impact of Covid on race interests and in addition to proof of vaccination, has recently announced a testing protocol required by Bermuda Health authorities to obtain a pre-race Bermuda Mariner's Travel Authorization and complete race registration. The Committee will be communicating regularly with sailors to provide information before the race and expedite the process to the extent possible.

The 52nd Newport Bermuda Race is sponsored by Bermuda Tourism (Official Host), Gosling's Rum (Official Rum), Safe Harbor Marinas (Premier Sponsor), Bluenose Yacht Sales (Race Track Sponsor), Hammetts Hotel (Official Hospitality Sponsor), North Sails (Official Performance Partner), Safe Harbor Newport Shipyard (Official Shipyard), AkzoNobel Yacht Coatings (Official Sponsor), LRSE/Life Raft + Survival Equipment (Official Sponsor), Castle Hill Inn (Official Luxury Hospitality Sponsor), Sailing World (Official Media Sponsor), Barton & Gray Mariners Club (Official Sponsor), Cruising World (Official Media Sponsor), TeamOne Newport (Official Gear Supplier), Helly Hansen Newport (Official Gear Supplier), Bank Newport (Official Sponsor), KVH (Official Connectivity Sponsor), Discover Newport (Official Sponsor) and Sea Bags Maine (Official Sustainability Sponsor).

Note that the final entry list may be reduced somewhat by Covid impacts or any of the other standards and qualifications that must be met in preparation for a race across the open ocean. Visit the Newport Bermuda Race website for more information.

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