eSailing: Better coffee, Less salt spray

Published on April 8th, 2020

During the coronavirus shutdown, Sail Newport has launched a series of virtual races in partnership with Sailonline.org, a non-profit online platform which uses real-time weather and designs simulated courses for virtual racing.

While most sailors, and everyone else, are either stuck somewhere or self-imposed at home, the race was welcomed entertainment for the sailing-obsessed globally, but especially for sailors in Newport, RI.

The inaugural race, The Quahog Cup, was held March 22 and received a monumental response as over 600 sailors registered for the Newport-area race.

On April 4 at 1700 (2100 UTC), Sail Newport started the second in their racing series titled “The Captain Bartholomew Gosnold Memorial Race” from Castle Hill in Newport.

This overnighter attracted over 300 sailors from the U.S., Croatia, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Portugal, Brazil, Bulgaria, Togo, France, and other countries.

The course was sailed on virtual TP52s, with the course beginning at Castle Hill Light and took online sailors along a tricky course around NoMan’s Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, through Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds, in and out of the Elizabeth Islands, and then back to Newport for the finish.

Rufus Van Gruisen, avid sailor and owner of Cay Electronics, Inc (Portsmouth, RI) which equips sail and power boats with marine navigation and electronic systems, was one of the top US finisher of the 137.5 course. As a new online racer, he shares his view of the genre:

Rufus Van Gruisen

How did you get ready for the race?

I prepared by looking at the weather forecast and studied polars and sailing angles for the boat, but other than that I didn’t do very much.

Did you provision?

No, I forgot and had no food. I had a pot of coffee on in the middle of the night so I was well hyped up.

How did you manage “on your own” with no crew?

I’m a bit geeky. In my home office I had the race up on a 24” screen, used a laptop for a zoomed out view of the race and my IPad so that I could lie on the couch for a while and take the race with me. Maybe I was taking it too seriously.

How do you mean?

I stayed up all night, probably had 1.5 hours of sleep in 24 hours.

Did other family members participate?

No, they thought I was totally nuts and went to bed.

What were the conditions?

The first four hours were tedious. There was little opportunity to pass other boats because of the reach out to Nantucket as the wind was just east of north. We had about 15 knots at the start but early on day two it died down to nothing. Around 6 a.m. it came back up out of the south.

Are you familiar with those waters? Anything particularly challenging?

Yes, I have done a couple of races in those areas. It was a bit challenging through the Elizabeth Islands. Quicks Hole was tight and I remember sailing there before GPS, hoping you got all the flashing lights right on the buoys to get through. It felt a bit like doing the overnight Ida Lewis Distance Race – similar length but better coffee and less salt spray.

Without crew, participants admit they are crouched over monitors, using laptops and other devices to gather information usually fed to them by navigators and tacticians onboard. How did you find that factor?

I can see how singlehanded racing has become more popular. There’s no crew to contradict you.

Will you continue racing online?

Yes, I loved it. There are remarkable similarities with real racing, highly active, beating up wind, and some tedious sections on the run. It’s a lot of fun to race with so many boats, it doesn’t matter where you are in the race there’s always boats to compete with. It’s especially fun to race against people you know in your home waters. The chat rooms are quite active with comments – for example some entrant asked if I was “having a barbecue on the island” on a slow leg around Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

How was the last leg, any close maneuvering?

Yes, coming out of Woods Hole I was side by side with Brad Read; I came up so close to his boat I think he could smell the coffee I was having. I almost had to put out some virtual fenders. It was a cat-and-mouse race from Cuttyhunk all the way back to the Castle Hill finish.


MORE: Sail Newport’s Executive Director Brad Read, who designed the race with Sailonline, finished 4th in the race and was the top US finisher (though recused himself from the trophies).

Van Gruisen is a lifelong sailor and has most recently served as the navigator for Peter Noonan’s Swan 56, Defiance, for Bermuda Races. Also, he competes on Dr. Gordon McNabb’s Swan 44, Flying Cloud II, for New York Yacht Club regattas and on Quentin Thomas’ X-41, Pendragon, for Long Island Sound distance races.

He is also an active racer on Sail Newport’s J/22s for Newport Yacht Clubs Tuesday and Wednesday night racing summer series. In the winter, he frostbites on Newport Yacht Club’s Turnabouts (no navigation required).

As for the race name, Captain Bartholomew Gosnold was an English barrister, explorer, and privateer. He led the first recorded English expedition to the Elizabeth Islands. Gosnold named Cape Cod for the plentiful fish supply he found there and named Martha’s Vineyard for his daughter.

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