Innovative approach for offshore classic

Published on June 7th, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has not been kind to the competition calendar, and particularly harsh for the longer races that require significant preparation and create lasting memories.

The Chicago Mackinac Race is a recent casualty, the Bayview Mackinac Race is hanging on by a thread, but the biennial Newport Bermuda Race was a crushing blow. However, an innovative concept may keep the dream of alive for those still hoping to ‘Thrash to the Patch’:

The Bermuda Sloop Foundation (BSF), East End Mini Yacht Club (EEMYC), and the Sailing Yacht Research Foundation (SYRF) are organizing the 2020 Spirit of Bermuda Charity Rally, a rally race to Bermuda and back for the benefit of BSF’s programs for youth on the sail training vessel Spirit of Bermuda.

The rally will start on July 6 from two locations in international waters off the US East Coast using an innovative format that brings ocean racing back to this year’s season in a manner that is competitive yet flexible, and fun yet also COVID-safe for both organizers and participants.

“This is like a breath of fresh air, thank you for putting together this rally,” said Laurent Givry of Annapolis, MD, and owner of the Figaro III La Défonce, who was first to enter the event. “After the lockdown, I am now excited like a 13-year old boy again!”

The Rally introduces a new and innovative format that will have two starting lines set up on lines of latitude and longitude located in the Atlantic Ocean 12 miles south of the coast of Newport, Rhode Island and 20 miles east of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay at Chesapeake Light.

Entries can participate in the Rally to Bermuda (RTB) starting from either location, and finish at Mills Buoy close to the mouth of Town Cut in St George’s, Bermuda.

Participants are then welcome to continue sailing around the island and back to either the North or West Start/Finish Lines in the Rally From Bermuda (RFB) or they are welcome to stop in St George’s Harbour and enjoy Bermuda’s famous hospitality.

The government of Bermuda is expecting to be open to COVID Phase 4 (open with social distancing measures) by mid-July – before departing in the race back to either Newport or the Chesapeake.

The Rally re-start time and destination is up to each participant and will be recorded using YB tracking and will be shown on the website. The Rally Around Bermuda (RAB) will be the combined scores of the two legs.

So how can we race on different courses, at different times, in different weather and score together as a single race?

SYRF has synthesized many practices in offshore racing to develop the SYRF Offshore Scoring system, which uses the predicted speed of each yacht (their polars) together with the actual wind observed by global weather models.

Every six hours, the weather services provide a NOWcast of wind conditions worldwide, and these are used to compute the best route (at 100% polar performance efficiency) and the optimum sailing time of each yacht. This optimum time is then divided into the yacht’s recorded sailing time, and the ratio is the yacht’s score.

With this approach, it doesn’t matter what course, what start time, or what weather you race in, SYRF Offshore Scoring measures how efficiently you sail your yacht compared to the optimum route.

“In this way, boats are actually racing against their own potential to perform well in the actual weather available across their race course,” explained Larry Rosenfeld, a noted offshore navigator, the Technical Director on the Board of SYRF and a principal organizer of the Spirit of Bermuda Charity Rally.

“We hope this innovation will open the way to other new formats for offshore racing where yachts may sail different course, times and weather and be scored together. Starting and finishing in offshore locations will also help with the accuracy of this method because it minimizes any land-based weather effects encountered closer inshore.”

“Like many aspects of life in COVID times, it is innovative thinking like this that can help fulfill the excitement and passion that offshore sailors have for going to sea,” said Stan Honey, Chairman of SYRF and world-renowned offshore navigator. “We’re really pleased to have this support from Bermuda to put this bold idea to the test in these challenging times.”

In addition to performance prizes, the yacht and crew that raise the most funds for the Spirit of Bermuda Charity will receive special recognition.

“If all goes according to plan, the Spirit of Bermuda Rally will be the first sports tourism event as Bermuda reopens its tourism economy,” said Glenn Jones, Interim CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority. “It’s fitting because sailing has always held a special place in the island’s history and is proving again to be an integral part of our future as well.

“Our organization is grateful to the planners of this rally and the Bermuda government for the quick thinking necessary to bring this nautical tourism event to the island this summer. Sailors returning to our harbours after a short trip from the US East Coast will be a familiar and welcome sight.”


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