For the second Newport Bermuda Race in a row, Mother Nature—in the form of her servant Aeolus-- is smiling on the small boats. The big winners of the St. David’s Lighthouse Division, the Cruiser Division, the Double-handed Division--and perhaps even the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division--are still somewhere over the horizon, close reaching for Bermuda in a light southwesterly breeze.
This is just reward for getting beat up for more than 24 hours, when the small boats were hard on the wind, beating their brains out.
It’s no fun going dead to windward in 25 knots on a 40-footer, but this year, the rewards may be big enough to make the pain vanish.
The larger, faster boats were plagued by light winds for the second half of the race. The smaller, slower boats have had a hatful of wind for the second half—more wind than a few boats have dealt with comfortably.
In many races, there is some sweet spot in the fleet to be, someplace where the winds, the Gulf Stream, and Lord knows what other factors combine to produce the perfect race for some lucky boat. In a year when heavy-air upwind or very tight reaching conditions prevail, the winner is likely to be a big, heavy traditional maxi, whose long sailing waterline, heavy displacement, and moderate sail area give her the chance to shine against lighter, more modern boats with too much rated sail area for the conditions.
In the mythical race which consists of even winds across the course, a mix of a lot of jib reaching, a bit of upwind, and a bit of downwind, the boat that sails the smartest and hardest is likely to win, whether she is big or small.
In a year when a cold front sweeps across the fleet at an angle that allows the modern, lightweight boats to show their off-wind potential, no one can touch them.
And then there are the heartbreaking years, when big boats park in sight of Bermuda, and small boats are swept down to the finish with a new breeze.
Such was the scenario in 2006, and the 2008 race is sounding a similar theme.
For the fast, modern boats, it was a soldier’s race: fast, easy sailing on day one, slow, easy sailing on day two. The smaller boats paid a heavy price on days two and three, with strong headwinds that gradually veered enough to allow them to lay the island from over 200 miles away.
A lot of them are still laying it.
In the Open Division, Puma Racing’s Il Mostro is the apparent winner on corrected time, just nipping the Farr-designed Cookson 50 Privateer. No other divisional winner is yet decided.
In the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division, the two smallest boats—Crescendo and Tenacious—are still on the course, and the tenacity of Tenacious may yet be rewarded with a beautiful silver lighthouse.
But the wind has the habit of dying at night around Bermuda, and woe betide the boat trapped just offshore when that happens. It’s as if Mother Nature has decided to turn off the fan for the night.
If you are already tied up at the RBYC, this is the scenario you pray for, and we have seen some odd incantations taking place at the bar this evening. That is, unless, we are just witnessing the incoherent babble of a tired sailor on his fourth Dark n’ Stormy after four days of abstinence.
All will become clear over the next twelve hours, when all but a few bruised and beaten small boats—and there are always a few of these—will be tied up at the club.
The race is almost over. Let the sea stories begin.