Still smiling from the experience
Published on August 13th, 2022
by Jesse Terry, Classic Yacht Owners Association
A SSW breeze was expected to build to 20 knots by the afternoon of the 2022 Newport Bermuda Race start, and neither gentlemen nor my 1956 Alden, plank-on-frame, 39’ wood ketch sail to weather. I was not looking forward to tacking ABIGAIL past Brenton Reef, fighting the chop only to face scattered squalls with winds above 30 knots that evening.
That was just the immediate forecast. What I had to worry about was where to enter a flattening Gulf Stream, the right number of blocks of ice for five days, getting the six-person crew through a 2-hour customs wait, and starting line tactics with approximately 190 boats of different speeds and maneuverability.
The adventure was beginning and it was nothing like what I anticipated. Years, months, and days of prep work were forgotten. We just wanted to make it through the evening of squalls and then the Gulf Stream safely/conservatively reminding ourselves that this trip was our vacation time.
The first night of serious wind never came, and we were able to race through to the Stream with a couple of starts and stops as the low-pressure system broke up. The Gulf Stream did have big wind and waves, but it was going our way.
A 25+ knot breeze pushing us wing and wing, combined with surfing down 10-15 foot waves produced 10 to 14 knot boat speeds on a 24,000lb full keel boat that usually sees 7 knots. A strategy of getting through it quickly changed to stay in the stream as long as possible. Anxiety turned to excitement, and after 10 hours, we shifted our attention to the “Happy Valley.”
Unfortunately, we gave the “Happy” part a little too much credit. While 100nm south of the Gulf Stream, and sailing in the middle of the night with a symmetrical spinnaker, main, mizzen staysail, and mizzen in 11 knots of breeze, we did not see the cell come overhead as 30 knots hit instantly and we broached. Tough to do on a heavy full keel and I had never even been close before.
The storm lasted ten minutes, and it took us that time to get the spinnaker and staysail down. It took us another 30 minutes or so regain to our courage and not until daybreak to see the extent of the damage (a large holiday appeared in the varnish on the boom where it had been on the lifelines in the water).
However, the rest of the Happy Valley lived up to its reputation, including the close-hauled approach to Bermuda and a 2:00 am finish added drama. But we were unbroken (boat and crew) and excited, and as long as we could beat three cruise ships through the Narrows at 6:00 am, we would be able to celebrate our achievements. It was exhilarating, but after three Dark’N Stormies at 9am, all I could do was sleep. A lot.
We spent the next several days in the Bermuda sun happily reflecting on our achievements. The prep work had paid off under a fairly dramatic test. Our team was elated with the adventure of the journey and now the top of the mountain was the warm welcome of Bermuda.
We exceeded our expectations with a fourth-place finish in our twelve-boat class (that included Stan and Sally Honey’s Illusion who won the whole race and two other Classic Yachts). I was overwhelmed with a sense of appreciation – appreciation for the experience, the support of my family and crew, the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee, my boat yard (Noank Marine Services), and my father for getting me to the finish line.
I had done the race four times prior on another boat, but nothing compares to the pride and satisfaction as Captain/owner, particularly after the work involved to get to the starting line.
Six of us came down and six of us went back. Our nine-person overlap on island time was fun. College and high school friends swapped out with college and high school friends. The return trip included less wind and more indulgences like fishing and cooking substantial meals (not the least of which were fresh Mahi Mahi tacos).
Over a month later writing this, the appreciation for the experience still brings a smile to my face. I am thankful.