Thirty-two hours into the 2008 Newport Bermuda Race, two entirely different strategies have emerged. The fastest boats have chosen to effectively ignore the characteristics of the Gulf Stream and concentrate on sailing the fastest angle, using Bermuda as the waypoint. Speedboat has gone well to the east—about 25 miles--and it appears that navigator Stan Honey is gambling on two things: a weakly-defined area of southward-flowing warm water south and east of the stream, and a potential windshift into the southeast as the boat approaches Bermuda tomorrow afternoon. Puma navigator Andrew Cape has been closely following in Speedboat’s wake, but the Volvo 70 can’t match the speed of the new Juan K 98-footer.
George David’s 90-foot Gibbs Hill scratch boat Rambler has sailed a more conservative course, and lines up about five mile east of the rhumbline some 25 miles behind Speedboat and eight miles closer to Bermuda than Puma’s Il Mostro at 2000 EDT Saturday.
In the amateur-helmed St. David’s Lighthouse Division, Andrew Short’s Shockwave 5 has a 10-mile lead over Hexe, her closest rival.
The best action, however, is further back in the field. The Double-Handed Division is tightly packed to the west of the rhumbline, with Bjorn Johnson’s Valkyrie dead even with Paladin, some 452 miles from Bermuda. Bruce and Dorsey Beard’s Sabre 386 is hanging close to her rivals, some 13 miles behind. Paladin, a J/35, appears to have the better of her rivals on corrected time at this point.
In Class 1 of the St. David’s Lighthouse Division, CCA Vice-Commodore Sheila McCurdy’s McCurdy & Rhodes 38 Selkie is dead even with Hiroshi Nakajima’s Swan 43 Hiro Maru on both rating and distance to go. The two boats are leading their Class 1 rivals at this point in distance to go. Selkie’s average speed over the last two hours suggests that she has found the heart of the warm eddy to the west, and is making more than 8.5 knots over the bottom.
Those chasing the warm eddy may have paid a high price to get there, with Paul McMahon’s Tartan 41 Family Affair reporting biting the bullet to take a hitch away from Bermuda to the west in order to catch the positive current. Now that she’s in it, the big question will be whether the big gamble of tacking away from the rhumbline will pay off.
Given the way that the bulk of the fleet is spread out to the west of the rhumbline behind the faster boats to the east, some are likely to be losers with this strategy, but a race winner may lurk among this group.
In the Cruiser Division, Erling Kristiansen’s Swan 56 Mensae—scratch boat in the division—has a 15-mile lead over the IMX 45 Temptress, her closest rival. Temptress won the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division in 2006, but her new owner has elected to compete in the Cruiser Division in 2008.
Late Saturday night and early Sunday morning is the time when the main portion of the fleet reaches the Gulf Stream, and the water quickly rises in temperature from the cooler slope waters to the 80-plus degree water of the main portion of the Stream. Before the days of through-hull temperature transducers, veteran sailors knew they had reached the Stream when the water hitting them in the face was warm rather than cool. Today, constant tracking of surface temperature allows navigators to fine-tune their course relative to the warm, fast current.
This year, the goal is just to get across the stream at right angles to the main axis as quickly as possible, as there is no benefit to be had from spending time in the northeasterly-flowing main body of the current.
For most of the fleet, it’s a clear night with a nearly-full moon, but local convection over the stream itself is always a threat.
For tonight, Ken Campbell of Commander’s Weather is predicting S to SW winds of 10 to 15 knots for most of the fleet. Tomorrow, winds should back more into the south and gradually build, with boats expected to have a bumpy ride late Sunday and on Monday. Today’s close fetch for westerly-placed boats may turn into a dead beat for the first part of the second half of the race. By that time, the biggest boats will already be tied up at the RBYC. Cold beers and a warm shower will be the reward for hitching a ride on a big, fast boat.