Winner’s debrief: Newport Bermuda Race
Published on July 1st, 2018
Don Nicholson’s new J/121 APOLLO got its first taste of offshore competition in the 635nm Newport Bermuda Race, and blessed with good fortune, solid navigation and well-executed strategy, they managed to win their Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division class and finish 6th overall.
The Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division is for high(er)-tech, faster boats and with no limitation on the number of pros aboard. Kerry Klingler, the J/Boats Team Leader at Quantum Sails, provided the J/Newsletter with the details on how they managed to get their first big offshore win:
Great team, great boat, great sails combined for a super finish. When racing programs emerge, it is rare that the individual elements align in a way that makes the whole program perform at a high level. In this year’s Bermuda race, the APOLLO team realized this rare alignment.
The program started with Don Nicholson searching for a new boat for his racing program with the help of team organizer Denise Bienvenu and Annapolis yacht broker David Malkin. They narrowed their focused to the new J/121, liking the idea of a water-ballasted performance boat, with well laid-out sail handling features that could be distance-raced and be very competitive.
At that point, I became part of the program for Quantum Sails. I looked at the proposed sail inventory set by J/Boats and made smart adjustments to suit our racing needs better.
The first adjustment was a twin-groove headstay, with full hoist sails that were battened. It was my feeling that we needed a full complement of jibs, with a J1, J2, J3 set on the forestay, and a J4 set on the inner forestay. These jibs were all designed with horizontal battens for maximum efficiency. With twin grooves, we could change headsails and keep the boat moving at top performance.
For the spinnaker inventory, we sought to make the most out of the boat’s inherent performance capabilities. With that in mind, we made the A2 larger than the proposed one-design size and added an A3.5 asymmetrical. This sail was an in-between step, between the A2 and the Code 0. It would double as heavy air runner, but would also be able to reach well. Overall, the goal was to have a complete racing inventory, without having too many sails on board.
We entered the boat in the GHL pro division to be able to make the most out of Al Johnstone’s water-ballasted design.
In the last day and a half, the design made a huge difference in boat speed. We were power-reaching at 8 to 10 knots. When racing J/122’s, we had never been able to hit that kind of speed. Also, for most of the race, we had only four people on deck; the ballast made up the difference.
In addition, the inner forestay for the J4 Jib worked great. We were able to slot the J4 under the Code 0 and add considerable additional speed to the boat. For distance racing, this set up makes a lot of sense.
First, you have to handle the boat well, so the bow and sail handlers come into play.
Second, ideal trim is needed to keep the boat fast at all times. Everyone has to be vigilant, so that you’re trimmed fast all the time.
Third, you need good helms, people who can push the boat to its fullest potential. The APOLLO team had that fine mesh of talent to make the most of the boat’s capabilities and the race’s challenges. We formed two efficient watches that married the best of the talent. The first watch consisted of Don Nicholson, Kerry Klingler, Mike Levy, and David Malkin. The second watch consisted of Denise Bienvenu, Paul White, William Pritz, and Jack McGuire.
Fourth, you gotta have a good navigator that knows the weather, GRIB files, and routing software like Expedition. To fill the role of navigator, we had Scott Adler.
Fifth, any distance race requires sound tactical & strategic decisions. Most top programs knew the target for entering and exiting the Gulf Stream. The difference was what happened south of the stream. For us, the idea was simple: keep the boat moving as fast as possible towards Bermuda. Given how surprisingly big the wind shifts were, keeping the boat moving towards the goal was the best solution. I remembered sailing with John Kolius. He always sailed the boat as fast as possible, never put the boat hard on the wind, but speed was the key and let the wind do what it wants to do– there will always be future wind shifts!! For the last two and a half days, that is exactly what we did. We didn’t chase shifts or wind predictions, but sailed with what we had. We pointed the boat as close as possible headed towards Bermuda; in other words, we took the closest tack or gybe to the mark!
In the end, the two watches did a great job. Within the groups, we switched roles, having different people steering and trimming, who kept the crew fresh, and kept the boat moving. The bond created working with such a fine group of sailors made the trip and the experience unforgettable. It reminds me of why we do this unique and great sport!