Making the offshore race bucket list

Published on November 21st, 2020

When making an offshore race bucket list, there’s something about 600 nm that makes for a good test:

• RORC Caribbean 600
• Newport Bermuda Race
• Rolex Fastnet Race
• Rolex Middle Sea Race
• Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

The distance paradigm began with the Bermuda Race in 1905, which happens to be the span between the start and finish line, but others followed. And unless you are on a modern rocketship which can cover the length in under two days, these historic courses present a significant test well beyond the fabric of windward-leeward racing.

Seamanship, judgement, and a watch system are required. While the Caribbean 600 is held in the trades, the other races all experience moving weather systems that challenge navigation. Also, the Bermuda and Hobart races involve strong and meandering currents for which there is often inconsistent predictions, adding to the puzzle for the navigator.

There is a debate brewing on whether the course change for the Fastnet Race, which has revised its finish port for 2021 from Plymouth, UK to Cherbourg, France, will lessen the greatness of the race. So what does make for a great course?

Bill Wheary, a member of the Newport Bermuda Race Gulf Stream Society, in which inclusion requires five or more course completions, considers the aspects of the three oldest courses – Bermuda (1905), Fastnet (1925), and Hobart (1945):

The Fastnet and Hobart run substantial distances along the land, thus removing the possibility for competitors to sail far and wide to both sides of the course where they would likely experience very different winds and currents from boats that were widely separated.

While they appear to be much more ‘follow the leader’ courses, the 635 mile Bermuda course, after about three miles from the start, is sailed in the open ocean.

In the minds of a great many sailors, the Gulf Stream makes the Bermuda course the most interesting and the most challenging. The Stream has many attributes that have to be contended with to have a successful race. The main body, the meanders, and the eddies are constantly changing in strength, direction, and location and all of them can be difficult to locate.

Serious skippers and navigators spend months before each race studying the Stream to try to develop a sense of how it is moving and changing. Their insights often prove more accurate than those of professional Gulf Stream experts.

Adding to the popularity and pleasure of the race is the anticipation of arriving in Bermuda, a beautiful island with many amenities, plus the two races of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Anniversary Regatta which are the final two events of the Onion Patch Series (if one wants to participate), parties, and the Awards Presentation at Government House, a unique event in itself.

Each of these three ocean races has its attractions, and each is worthy of being on your bucket list.

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