Sprinting and Thrashing to Bermuda
By John Rousmaniere
When the 6-hour delay came off the Yellowbrick tracker on Saturday afternoon, it wasn't as though the doors to Sailing Reality were suddenly thrown open. There's been plenty of Reality to spare for the sailors over the last day and also for those of us who happen to be on shore this year, who have been in such conditions, and who can easily imagine the mixed pleasures and challenges and anxieties of sailing so close to the edge.
When Chris Museler tells us of the risks of racing in this weather in the Class 40 Dragon, and still assures us we are still racing, he reminds us at the other end of the Yellowbrick tracker road that we are not simply watching. We sailors who are temporarily land-bound are, spiritually, in these boats with those women and men who are having the time of their sailing lives. They are sailors, and they are racers, and we feel their anguish and their joys (as few of the latter as there may be)
A glance at the tracker brings this all even closer to home. Rambler (210 miles from the finish, on Saturday afternoon no less!) may have a slightly larger lead than she enjoyed 24 hours ago, but the back and forth between Bella Mente and Shockwave (less than a quarter mile apart) in the big boats wake means the Ramblers had better keep their foot on the pedal.
Work your way northwest along the trackers rhumbline toward Newport and you come upon what seems to be an immense school of dolphins of many colors running parallel, mile after mile, in their Technicolor glory. Ive been keeping up with a few boats back there and see that theyre doing a lot more than merely sprinting down the rhumbline.
The Newport Bermuda Race is usually a strategic race, with Lighthouse trophies going to the crews that take the biggest risks to one side of the Gulf Stream or another (the reason why tracking has time delays early in races is so these decisions arent copy-catted). But this year, the race has gone tactical. In the pack of 40-footers about halfway back, cagey Pete Rebovich and his Raritan gang in Sinn Fein have positioned themselves (Pete fashion) on the western edge of the pack, leaving themselves free to pounce to the west at the first sign that the easterly is fading. Larry Huntington may be thinking the same thing because Snow Lion, a little ahead of Sinn Fein, is also along the western wall, with her bow just ahead of Gracies.
This race is tactical, and its also the fabled Thrash to the Onion Patch. Its a very demanding, tough experience right up there with the fabled poundings of 1960, 1972, and 2002. What this means is that the biggest advantage probably lies with the crews who have the most experience, who are fittest, and who (especially) have most assiduously prepared their boats. I am reminded of the wisest words that Ive ever heard about preparation, straight from Larry Huntington: If the preparation is as good as you can get it, then your minds free to think about how you can sail the boat and where you can take the boat. When shortening sail is no longer a safety question, it becomes a boat speed question.
Think of it: a Lighthouse trophy may ride on taking in (or shaking out) a reef at precisely the right moment. With a good, strong boat in your favor, and a little cleverness in the bank, you might just win the toughest sprint in the history of the Newport Bermuda Race.