Preparing a Classic for Bermuda Race

Published on April 27th, 2022

Jesse Terry, owner of the 1956 auxiliary ketch Abigail, shares his journey to prepare for the 52nd Newport Bermuda Race on June 17, 2022.

I believe my work to prepare Abigail for this year’s Newport-Bermuda Race is a tribute to John Alden, a founding father of offshore racing. Alden won the Bermuda race three times on one of his Malabars. I can see their lines on Abigail.

Although she is a ketch, her hull is derived from the fishing schooner and her heritage is from offshore cruising. Alden last won the Bermuda Race in 1932 (a race that also included Olin Stephens on Dorade). It seems like 90 years later is a good time to try it again.

How long does it take to get my 65-year-old John Alden wood ketch ready to meet the requirements of one of the premier offshore racing events? Years. My journey started seven years ago by preparing the boat for offshore cruising.

Over the first winter, three men replaced 4,000 old screws fastening the hull together. Then it was a focus on the rigging, both standing and running. By the spring, we had new sails that optimized the two-masted rig. We tested all that stuff sailing back and forth the Gulf of Maine from Southern New England to Maine and Nova Scotia.

The next winter, many more hours were spent working on the teak decks and replacing thru-hulls and plumbing. We then added some modern gear like electronics, new winches, and better blocks. We tested the new gear by participating in Classic Yacht races up and down the New England Coast.

When COVID hit, there seemed to be more winter hours available. I looked at the Marion to Bermuda inspection list with my crew and we thought there was a chance. I sailed on a wood S&S yawl in the Newport-Bermuda four times prior.

It was an incredible experience every time, including winning our class in 2012 and making the program cover in 2014, but I was unaware of the work that went into the inspection.

That boat was actually built for the race (although in 1938). The Captain’s guidance was that the rules continue to develop and there is always more to do, but at least they got started over a decade ago. I was going to make a winter run (sprint) of it. The safety gear requirements are eye-opening, but I was at least ahead of the supply chain issues and wave of new West Marine boaters in the market.

Then there was the minutia like securing floorboards and drawers or installing gaskets in lazarettes or a harness point in the companionway. It was a pretty long list that always took more time than expected. Springtime arrived and COVID took out that (2020) race.

With a new winter and a new year to prepare for sailing to Bermuda, I looked at the Newport to Bermuda inspection list and was surprised there was even more to do. I then took advantage of every helping hand of the race organizers including a “pre-inspection” and the assignment of a mentor through their Race Ambassador program.

Now the Race is less than two months away and I think I am on schedule. It only took seven years, but now I can focus on a May 1st launch date and the developing patterns of the Gulf Stream.

There are nine other Classic Yacht Owners Association classic yachts in this year’s Bermuda race and hopefully, we all tune-up together at the NYYC Annual Regatta chasing the Tiedemann trophy the weekend before to get ready for that starting line on June 17th and the 635 miles to the Onion Patch.

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