Time to sail his own boat to Bermuda

Published on January 5th, 2022

by Barbara Mack
Paul Jennings has crewed in seven Bermuda Races over the years and is gearing up to put his own boat on the starting line for the 52nd running of the 635 nm race when it gets underway June 17, 2022.

As a child, Paul started sailing with his father on the family’s s Cape Cod Marlin 23-footer. One of the first fiberglass boats in production in the late 1950s, Altair was built by Cape Cod Shipbuilding and is still in the family, with four generations aboard. He learned to race through the Off Soundings Club of southeastern New England.

In recent years, Paul spent time getting the boat back into shape after it had been out of the water for about 20 years.

During that period, he owned En Charette a custom 27-footer built by Ron Noe in 1974 (below). He sailed her competitively on eastern Long Island Sound, making regular appearances at Block Island, Key West, Charleston Race Week, and Off Soundings events; his racing results include two overall season victories in the Eastern Connecticut Sailing Association.

In addition to sailing around the buoys, Paul got involved in distance racing. He sailed six Bermuda Races aboard a Carter 39 named Light Fantastic owned by Sylvain (“Sy”) Schemitz and a seventh race aboard Fearless, a Farr 395.

After this range of experiences, Paul developed a serious interest in racing as an owner. “It was on my bucket list and it was just a matter of choosing a boat and assembling a crew,” he says. In the fall of 2016, Paul bought a Cal 40 and began preparing her for the Bermuda Race.

“I chose this boat because of its history; it is an established production boat with a great racing pedigree,” he reports. “I bought my boat, Towhee, from Drew Lyman at Lyman Morse Boatyard in Camden, Maine. She is hull number 92 and was built in 1967.” When Paul purchased her, the Boatyard had already completed much of the major work to ready Towhee for offshore racing.

“I was fortunate when I purchased her in that they had spent a considerable amount of time and effort on the things that are typical problems for Cal 40s, but I did have to optimize her further. I added handrails down below and had to beef up and replace all the standing and running rigging, and the storm trysail track on the mast. In addition, I updated all of the electronics and the sail inventory to be ready for racing.”

His intention was to do Bermuda in 2020, but the race was cancelled due to the pandemic. As part of the preparation, Paul and his team had competed in a number of offshore races together, including the 2019 Halifax Race. Since then, they have appeared in the Annapolis to Newport Race, the Vineyard Race, and the Block Island Race.

“My philosophy,” Paul states, “is that I’m not going offshore with anyone who has not been sailing with us for more than one race.”

Now he has seven crewmembers, including his two sons and five others, with whom he has sailed frequently in the past. One of the key figures in his racing history is Edgar Smith, a friend and competitor who grew up sailing on a Cal 40.

“When I told Edgar that I was going on this adventure and getting Towhee ready for distance racing, he was all in,” notes Paul. The other crew members understand the Cal 40 and the racing prep work well too. “We have worked hard on a watch-standing system, safety measures, and different drills over time,” he adds. “We knew that we were not going to go unless everyone was committed to learning and could participate.”

In terms of local knowledge, Paul’s Ambassador for the Bermuda Race, Hiro Nakajima, has extensive experience with the route from the Northeast.

“When I first did the first race in 2003, there were so many basic logistical questions,” admitted Hiro. “Where is the best place to get fuel? Where do you reprovision the boat? Things like that. I wish that there had been an Ambassador program then, so when I was invited to help the Newport race in this way, I was more than willing to do so.”

Turning to his current Ambassador relationship, Hiro offered a warm endorsement: “For many years, Paul has competed in numerous distance races including Bermuda Races and he’s finally decided to campaign his own boat. He is very organized and had it pretty much down from the beginning.”

When asked about offering a word to the wise, Paul was emphatic about timing. “Start early and you can never be too prepared; that goes for the boat and crew alike,” he said. “Hiro’s been a great help too. I contacted him prior to 2020 and he has offered great insights on what he has done to get his boats ready for the Bermuda race.”

One issue with Paul’s Cal 40 was its age. For boats of this vintage, specifications of build standards are often unavailable. “This impacts the race application process, as the prospective entrant may not be able to fill out some sections of the mandatory safety documentation,” notes Hiro.

However, in the case of the Cal 40s, since there have been numerous prior entries in the Bermuda Race, the specs are well established. In this situation, the Race’s Technical Committee can typically issue a separate letter of compliance to meet the race requirement.

“I had the same problem with my 1971 custom S&S 49,” says Hiro, “and I had a sense of how to address it so that Paul would be in compliance.”

Paul also notes the value of their conversations on equipment, strategy, and crew. “Hiro was able to give me advice on sails and how to do well in this race. He also connected me with Bob Langstine, a friend and classmate I hadn’t seen in years, who had sailed with Hiro in a bunch of offshore races. It was great to have that reintroduction and renew that friendship,” he adds.

Turning to the path ahead, Paul is optimistic. “If you look at the 50-plus year history of the design, the Cal 40 has done well in every major ocean race across the board.” Clearly, there has been a major effort to ensure that Towhee can give her best performance. “No matter whether it is your first race or your tenth, it’s a process,” says Paul.

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