Harken Derm

Preview of Newport Bermuda Race

Published on June 13th, 2016

Newport RI (June 13, 2016) – The action starts at 3:00PM EDT Friday, June 17 from Newport, Rhode Island. The 635-mile biennial Newport Bermuda Race is the oldest regularly scheduled ocean race, one of very few international distance races, and (with the Transpac Race) one of just two of the world’s regularly scheduled races held almost entirely out of sight of land. Founded in 1906, the Bermuda Race is held for the 50th time in 2016.

The purpose of the Bermuda Race was stated in 1923 by Cruising Club of America Commodore Herbert L. Stone: “In order to encourage the designing, building, and sailing of small seaworthy yachts, to make popular cruising upon deep water, and to develop in the amateur sailor a love of true seamanship, and to give opportunity to become proficient in the art of navigation”.

This year’s event is expected to be the third largest in the race’s history, with approximately 190 boats. The largest fleet, 265 boats, sailed in the centennial race in 2006. The second largest, 197 boats turned out in 2008.

The race attracts sailors from across North America and the globe, with recent entries from Russia, Britain, and China, and always a large turnout of Canadians. The 2016 fleet is extremely diverse. A total of 23 countries are represented among the sailors, and 55 of the boats have at least one sailor from outside the United States. In addition, 41 US States are represented in this fleet.

The average crew has ten men or women, many from the same family. Typically, 25-30 percent of captains are sailing their first Newport Bermuda Race in command, but this year the proportion is about 35 percent. The race starts off Newport, R.I., in front of many spectators, on the third Friday in June. It takes more than two hours to get the fleet started. Boats are rated and handicapped under the Offshore Racing Rule, except for the Super Yacht Division.

Depending on the weather and the currents in the Gulf Stream, and the boat’s size and speed, the race takes two to six days. The first boat arrives at the finish line off St. David’s Lighthouse on Sunday or Monday, and the smaller boats arrive between then and Wednesday or Thursday.

The race is demanding. The rules say, “The Newport Bermuda Race is not a race for novices.” The course crosses the rough Gulf Stream and is mostly out of the range of rescue helicopters, and Bermuda is guarded by a dangerous reef. The race is nicknamed “the thrash to the Onion Patch” because most Bermuda Races include high winds and big waves (a combination sailors call “a hard thrash”), and because Bermuda is an agricultural island.

The race demands good seamanship, great care, and a boat that is both well-built and properly equipped. The boats must meet stringent equipment requirements and undergo inspection, and the sailors must also pass a review and undergo training in safety. The bonds formed by these sailors are strong. Numerous sailors have sailed more than 10 races, often with family and friends.

Event Website

About the CCA/RBYC Newport Bermuda Race
Few tests of blue-water seamanship are as iconic as the 635-mile Newport Bermuda Race. The 2016 race (starting on June 17) is the 50th and also marks the 90th anniversary of the partnership of the organizers, the Cruising Club of America and Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.

Sailed almost entirely out of sight of land, the Bermuda Race was created in 1906 by Thomas Fleming Day, a yachting writer who believed in the then-radical idea that amateur sailors in small yachts could sail safely in blue water. The colorful Tom Day was a pioneer in the sport of long-distance racing. In the 1920’s the race inspired Britain’s Fastnet Race and the Royal Ocean Racing Club, and also the freshwater Bayview-Mackinac Race on Lake Huron.

An international fleet of some 190 boats will race in this biennial race. Many will also compete in the three event Onion Patch Series which includes the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta presented by Rolex in Newport and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Anniversary Regatta in Bermuda.

The 2016 Newport Bermuda Race has six divisions, each with its divisional and class awards. The race has no single winner and hands out well over 100 trophies and prizes, including:
St. David’s Lighthouse Division: cruiser-racers with amateur helmsmen.
Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division: racers with professional helmsmen permitted.
Cruiser Division: cruisers/passagemakers with amateur helmsmen.
Double-Handed Division: one crew may be a professional.
Open Division: cant-keel racers with professional helmsmen permitted.
Spirit of Tradition Division: replicas and other traditional boats.

Report by John Rousmaniere

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