The Marion to Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race is one of the world's great bluewater challenges. The 645-mile event was born in 1977, and this year's running may be remembered as the toughest Bermuda crossing since the notorious 1979 race. Three major low-pressure systems created what some observers termed a "mini-Perfect Storm" and 21 of the 48 starters retired in the face of 20-foot seas, driving rain and 40-knot head winds.
For each crew, the fight-or-flight decision was difficult. Many of those who reached Bermuda achieved an array of personal "firsts," including overall race winner and first-to-finish skipper Martin Jacobson of Newport, Rhode Island, aboard his Swan 44 Crescendo, who made his first passage relying on celestial navigation. "The whole point was to go back to the old days and use a sextant, but we were never 100 percent sure where we were," Jacobson observed. Crescendo nabbed line honors, beating out other boats that relied solely on electronic navigation.
For New Yorker Chris Culver, who placed first in Class A aboard his Hinckley Sou'wester 59 Cetacea, the Marion became a first when he won the Bermuda Ocean Cruising Yacht Trophy presented by SAIL Magazine for his combined performance in this year's Marion and last year's Newport-Bermuda Race. "With all of the challenges the sea puts in front of you, winning is the bonus but arriving is the real challenge," said Culver. "We did this race to improve our seamanship skills-what we experienced is the Corinthian spirit of this race."?
For other crews, their first Gulf Stream crossing, their first glimpse of Bermuda or their first time standing watch offshore still lay ahead when I met with some of them in Marion. I then visited the fleet in Bermuda a week later.
A FAMILY'S FIRST EXPERIENCE
For Andrzej Brezezinski of Lynnfield, Massachusetts, taking his 17-year-old son, Tomek, his wife, Anya, two Polish friends and one complete novice to Bermuda was part of the appeal. Brezezinski bought his IY60 Pegasus two years ago. "For the first time around, the preparation is a long process and takes up to six months. It's quite an undertaking and I'm looking at it as a learning experience," said Brezezinski.
With a huge low-pressure system bearing down on the fleet, many feared that there would be a northeast gale in the Gulf Stream. Strangely, the Stream was a bit player; what came after it was a full-on gale. Pegasus began taking on water through a forward hatch, which slowly filled the bilges. As the water rose, the electronics shorted out and the vessel went dark.
"We were about 100 miles away from Bermuda in the gale and we lost all of our electronics," said Brezezinski. "Our generator shut down so we had no battery power to start the engine. No radar, no motor, no electricity, no bilge pumps and no way to cook food or boil water. I had a spare handheld GPS, though, which I had put in the oven earlier as it had become the only dry place in the boat. Thankfully, my wife hadn't turned on the oven."
They hove-to for the night after Brezezinski gashed his head during an accidental gybe. The crew all felt they should not press on in complete darkness. They set off again in the morning and finished before sunset. "I was a little worried for my dad," said Tomek. "Seeing him with this bandaged head was a little unsettling at times."
For Anya, the race was much harder than she expected but she felt certain the sail back home would be a swift and gentle downwind cruise. "I discovered I love sailing," she said. "I conquered my fears. Will I do racing like this again? No. Or maybe ask me [again] in a few months. For me, the most important part of this race were the relationships. We were like one family sticking together to get through it."