Short-handed race back from Bermuda
Published on July 4th, 2022
Indiana Jones once said, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” While the context is completely different, Sara Stone would agree. As an aspiring around-the-world sailor, Stone knows offshore mileage is the most important number on her resume.
So, when she was offered the opportunity to take the hard road back from Bermuda, doublehanded on a 33-foot Sunfast 3300, rather than sitting in coach at 40,000 feet, Stone didn’t hesitate.
“Glenn Walters and Bluenose Yachts, they raced Alchemist down and they wanted the boat to be raced back to Newport,” said Stone. “They ideally wanted to have an all-female team. My name got thrown into the mix. It feels to me now like a little bit of luck that they were willing to back us and give us their boat. It was an amazing opportunity. We’re on Cloud 9 right now and really exhausted. It’s pretty awesome.”
The missing piece of information is that Stone, along with co-skipper Catherine “Cat” Hunt, sailed Alchemist to an overall win in the inaugural edition of Bermuda Short-Handed Return, which was envisioned by the New York Yacht Club’s Seamanship Committee and co-sponsored by the New York Yacht Club, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and the Cruising Club of America.
The race, from Bermuda to Newport, started on June 26 – nine days after the start of the 2022 Newport Bermuda Race – attracting 19 entries with 16 doublehanded and three singlehanded boats.
Peter Becker was both one of the spark plugs for the event and a competitor. He sailed the Bermuda Short-Handed Return (BSHR) on the Young American J/105, doublehanded with 18-year-old Adrien Blanc. While the majority of the boats participating in the BSHR raced to the island fully crewed, Becker and Blanc sailed south doublehanded—finishing second in Class 6—and then did the return journey, finishing fourth in Class 2.
“I think the mission of the race is multifaceted and really clear,” said Becker. “It’s to add a strong safety overlay to the return, a coordination that isn’t normally there. All the race support and the tracking monitoring, that was really valuable. And then there’s competition. I think people really rose to that occasion. It was hotly contested. We had people really pushing hard.”
Becker, a lifelong sailor, is a recent convert to shorthanded racing. But he’s completely hooked.
“I did the Bermuda 1-2 last year, first time sailing solo, and I’ll argue all day long that the safest sailing I do is singlehanded because you take ownership and self-care and there’s no room for mistake,” says Becker.
“With doublehanded sailing, it’s the same kind of ethos. All these sailors who came back took care of themselves. Doublehanding, you’re short so you have to be serious, but you’ve got a co-skipper to fall back on. I think we achieved that, and everybody was enthusiastic. From what I hear the next edition, two years from now, there will be even more. People are excited.”
No one more so than Stone who, after completing the course in 05:06:18:45, is still buzzing form the experience.
“Racing doublehanded offshore, there’s nothing like it in the world,” says Stone. “To be able to do that and do it on a boat that’s purpose built for that, it’s so challenging and so rewarding.”
The Sunfast 3300 is designed for short-handed racing. Walters and his team sailed with just four people down to Bermuda, finishing second in Class 18. Stone and Hunt pushed the boat, and themselves, hard for the better part of five days to win the Short-Handed Return.
“You can race it really hard, which is definitely what we did,” says Stone. “We knew that every boat was different, so you have to sail your own boat to your own capacity. We made our own race plan with the weather info we had. We went out to the starting line knowing what our plan was and going for it.
“We did a very good job of checking each other. We questioned every decision in a time-efficient manner. We made sure we were making decisions we felt were sound.”
The result was a convincing win amongst all the doublehanded boats, just shy of 90 minutes ahead of Jim Hammett’s Reveille (Sigma 41), which won Class 2, and more than four hours ahead of Vlad Shabinsky’s Group 5 (Figaro 2), which finished second to Alchemist in Class 3.
The three-boat singlehanded class was won by Scott Miller’s Resolute (J/46), which finished with the third-fastest corrected time across the fleet.
Becker expects that the second edition of the race, in 2024, will attract more interest. He will continue to advocate for the value of the experience, even for those sailors who always race fully crewed yachts.
“Short-handed, you have to take responsibility for everything on the boat,” says Becker. “And therefore you become better at it. Navigating, tactics, sail handling, all of that stuff becomes a strong emphasis on the individual, and you just do it better, you get more experience faster and you get more satisfaction and enjoyment.
“Sailing is one of those things, when you know what you’re doing, the confidence is high, and when the confidence is high, your enjoyment goes through the roof. And then you can be offshore and go, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen clouds like that.’ It’s so gorgeous out there, no matter the weather.”