Arriving in Bermuda

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Most of the 263 Bermuda Race entries have arrived now in Hamilton Harbour. Only a handful are still at sea, and Dr. Richard Shulman of Barrington, Rhode Island, has the signature St. David's Lighthouse division sewed up with his IMX 45, Temptress.

SAIL's West Coast editor, Kimball Livingston, sailed in the Demonstration Division aboard the Open 50, Gryphon Solo,, which beat its only competitor, the 98-foot Maximus, on corrected time. Gryphon Solo finished at about 0350 Wednesday morning. Here is a story filed as the boat approached Bermuda . . .

ASSEMBLE A HIGH TECH FLEET of raceboats and the go-fast types who can sail them to their potential and send them out to race the biggest distance race of the year and switch off the wind machine and what do you get? A race fraught with challenges, many of them personal —By Kimball Livingston

Having spent the better part of a week now, looking over the shoulders of Joe Harris and Hugh Piggin as they download GRIB files and compare them to forecasted currents and backeddies, I’m thinking that the old comparison of sailboat racing to chess does not hold up. There was that moment, for example, when Joe weighed our realities and asked, “If the GRIB doesn’t know that we have this wind right here, right now, how does it know that the wind we’re aiming for is there?”

It was a moment of tactical reevaluation. Or maybe revelation.

So I’m thinking that sailboat racing is more like a board game where, before you start, you make a bet on which game board you’re going to be playing on, then live with it.

And at the moment, it’s a slooow board we’ve drawn.

There’s at least one guy who could get a good laugh out of this. Hasso Plattner. He decided not to sail the centennial Newport-Bermuda Race. When the organizers placed Plattner’s cant-keeled Morning Glory in the Demonstration Division for the second time (he raced two years ago), the software big guy (SAP) bailed at the last minute and the boat never left the dock except to prepare for shipping to the Med for new games there.

“Hasso laughing” is a thought that occurred to me quite a while back, on Sunday morning, when I came on watch and saw something I had never expected to see again until Bermuda. Maximus. The 98-foot, all-carbon, cant-keel maxi from Down Under is our only competition in the Demonstration Division, and since we are, by comparison, a mere Open 50, I had watched them romp away from us after the start and thought, adios.

They must have had one heck of a park-up to find themselves two days out of the start in the company of a pack of merely “ordinary” maxis including Samuel Byrnes’s custom Langan, Captivity (with the designer aboard, and sailmaker Robbie Doyle, and one Richard L. Bouzaid, who had opted out of the final legs of the Volvo for this), and the ILC maxi Hercules, and a couple more large but not-comparably high-tech boats that we could not identify, along with a mystery Transpac 52. And us, or course, Ian Buckley and Charles Brown, owners of Fastnet first-finisher Maximus, could not have been happy to see us.

I’m crewing aboard the ex-Tommy Hilfiger, Brad Van Liew’s Around Alone winner, now owned by Joe Harris of South Hamilton, Massachusetts and renamed Gryphon Solo. It’s a max-beam boat, built for power reaching, not the light-air beating of this otherwise-beautiful day. We had expected to finish on Monday, then on Tuesday . . .

The truth is, it’s been a great boat ride. We spent the first day and night close reaching at 10-13 knots on a smooth sea, and I’ve never traveled so far on an ocean so flat. First there was the phosphorescence in the wake, then the moontrack lighting our way. Whatever park-up had befuddled Maximus to allow us to catch up was a phenomenon that did not affect us. At dawn we bounced off three knots and were soon on our way again and building speed. Not until the wee hours of Tuesday did the forecast catch up to us, the one where the official race weatherman had declared, “There aren’t a lot of isobars out there.”

We came out of the Gulf Stream with the breeze coming at us straight out of Bermuda. Again, not per forecast until the forecast caught up to events. In a way, if it has to be light, that’s the good news, because headwinds maximize the apparent wind (though, second to a roaring breeze over the quarter, I could wish for a close reach, on rhumb line). Also, the swells are on the nose, so they don’t rock the wind out of the sails when we’re inching along on a speed-build from 1.3 knots to 1.7. Jamie Haynes, Hugh Piggin, and Brian Harris round out the crew of Gryphon Solo, and we have made full use of our carbon machine’s twin daggerboards, twin rudders, and cant keel—sometimes with the keel in a negative position, to keep the sails full. Using the keel sure beats huddling the crew to leeward, sports fans.

The situation fulfills the scene on the morning of the start, in the workout room of my hotel, when a fellow cycler said to me, “I had hoped this would be the year when I’d get seasick for the first time, but it’s not looking good for that.”

Time to go. Hugh just hollered, “Goose eggs!” and Joe just declared that it’s time to roll up the Code Zero rather than have it beating itself against the rigging for no gain.

P.S. Rolled up the Code Zero while watching Peter Blake’s old warhorse, Ceramco New Zealand, spin a 360 half a mile to starboard.

P.S. Caught the edge of a squall so we rolled the sails back out for a bit, but with no visible progress on the last 80 miles between us and Bermuda. Rolled the Code Zero back up.

P.S. Breeze filling in at five knots. Ceramco ahead to leeward. It’s going to be a long day. This centennial Bermuda Race balances my centennial Transpac and a 35-mile first day when I wrote home, “At its edgiest, light air opens a window into the character of a man, whereby one might judge whether his potty training went well or ill.”

P.S. As near as we can tell, Maximus is only a few miles ahead of us, so we ought to be looking good in class. Joe would have preferred to sail in the doublehanded division (solo and doublehanded is what the boat was designed for), but the organizers did not see it as a fit for that fleet of mostly production boats. When the Open 60 Pindar Artemis hit a rock 12 minutes before the start, our division of three cant-keelers was reduced to two. It’s a peculiar thing, but no ratings had been assigned to our division before we left. Oh well, at least I’m not beating my boss (SAIL publisher Josh Adams, comfortably ahead of us on Zaraffa), so I guess I have a job to go back to.

Click here for "Prepping for Bermuda: The Centennial Edition," Part 1 of Kimball Livingston's Newport to Bermuda race blog.

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