Careful Preparation Wins Bermuda Silver
By Talbot Wilson
Newport Bermuda Race Historian John Rousmaniere notes in Newport Bermuda Race Facts and Firsts that only one skipper has won the Newport Bermuda Race three times. Carleton Mitchell won three in a row in 1956-58-60. And Mitchell won those three races all with Finisterre, the most famous of the Sparkman & Stephens centerboard yawls.
In 2010, Peter Rebovich was poised to repeat the feat in Sinn Fein, his classic 47-year-old Cal 40, but a sterling performance by Rives Potts and Carina swept away his chance for three St. David’s Lighthouse Trophies in a row. The first three boats in Class 1 were all Cal 40’s. Carina has won the Lighthouse twice, 1970 and 2010, but under different owners.
Sinn Fein has sailed six Newport Bermuda Races, winning her class in 2002 and 2004 and then taking the first place St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy in 2006 and in 2008. She took second in class and seventh in her division in 2010.
Rebovich still has a chance to match Mitchell with three wins in the same boat and with the same skipper, just not three in a row. He’ll be on the starting line June 15th in Newport, RI trying to do just that. He has been ocean racing on Sinn Fein almost forever and has honed his boat and regular crew into an efficient sailing machine.
In the early years Pete worked hard on crew selection to find a group that were all ‘captain quality’. Each person needed to be able to do more than one job. Actually they all needed to be able to drive in all conditions, understand strategy, be knowledgeable about navigation and currents, and be able to be part of making a race plan and following it down the course.
For years Rebovich was both skipper and navigator. He made an important change the Sinn Fein crew when he invited Kelley Robinson to navigate. This allowed Pete to concentrate on other essentials in boat preparation. The crew includes Pete’s two sons, Mark and Pete. Mark has sailed every race while Pete has missed only one. Henry Hennings, a holdover from Wednesday night racing, does everything, according to Pete, and Foster Tallman and Gary Gochal are both excellent helmsmen and sail trimmers. Joe Pasco filled out the crew that has been essentially the same since 2004.
No one aboard Sinn Fein is paid to sail. In the true sense of the word, they are all amateurs. They sail Newport Bermuda because they love to sail and sail well. All the crew live within 15 miles of the Raritan Yacht Club. All but one race their own boats in the club’s Wednesday night and weekend racing series. The sailors are competitors at home, but a unified offshore crew on Sinn Fein.
Boat preparation is another element that wins trophies. Before the 2006 race, the year he won the St. David’s Lighthouse Division for the first time, Rebovich decided to use a boat rating optimization program. “We were the only boat to take advantage of this technical program offered by US Sailing,” Pete said. “With the help of Jim Teeters from the Offshore Office, we analyzed the rating numbers and performance predictions with various configurations of bow sprits, poles and sail inventories, especially various types of symmetrical and a-symmetrical spinnakers.”
“We also made a historical ‘point of sail’ survey of past races,” he added. “We found that the majority of the races to Bermuda, from Marion as well as Newport, were sailed from points close on the wind… cracked off a little for speed… to a broad reach. There was very little running deep downwind at all. Finally, we made the choice to go with a-symmetrical spinnakers. That extra bit of research and preparation made a big difference in our performance to help us win in both the light air 2006 race and the 2008 upwind more traditional thrash to the Onion Patch.”
“Our most exciting time in a Newport Bermuda Race,” Pete said, “was actually in Bermuda after the 2006 race. My son woke me up on Wednesday in Bermuda and told me we had actually won the St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy for first on corrected time in our division. Princess Anne, The Princess Royal of the UK, presented the trophy to me and the crew of Sinn Fein. It was the highlight of the gala Centennial Race prize giving at Bermuda’s Government House.”
"Back on the water," Rebovich added, "the best time was in 2004. We were sailing southeast on a 175-mile meander. We had worked our way south and as we approached the southern tip of the meander our GPS indicated we were being swept east toward England. A 15-degree wind shift prompted a tack, pointing Sinn Fein toward Florida but with a course over ground toward Bermuda.
“We sailed southwest for about three hours, finally breaking out of the easterly current, then tacked back to starboard, pointing the boat at Bermuda. When the fleet called in position reports in the morning, we learned we had picked up 20 miles on our competition. That's exciting!"
Sinn Fein is one of the 169 boats in the entry process as of March 12th. The 2012 Newport Bermuda Race starts Friday afternoon June 15th just off of Castle Hill in Newport RI. Can Sinn Fein match Finisterre’s Bermuda Record? Time will tell.