"We have a good handicap, but I would like to think this win was down to the skill of my crew," said Crawford. "Don't take any notice of him," proffered fellow crewman Mike Rajacich. "I've been racing against this boat for so long and never beaten it, so eventually I decided to join the crew instead!"
For much of the race, the frontrunners were on record pace. In fact during the first 500 miles, at least three of the entries looked like they would set a new benchmark for the biennial event. However, near-calm conditions on the final approach to the island slowed the front half of the fleet and nearly all 176 entries compressed together, with less than 24 hours separating the first and last boat. It meant aggravation for the early finishers, and elation for those who came in later as many of the slower-rated boats missed the calm conditions and massively overtook their larger rivals on corrected time.
Having smaller, slower vessels outgun the titans on corrected time isn't an unusual scenario in this ocean-racing classic. A combination of a strong Bermuda High and an interesting pattern of warm and cold eddies in the Gulf Stream produced challenges both in the overall race strategy and in the finishing tactics. This year, the preferred path to the Onion Patch saw navigators favor the east side of the rhumb line, which yielded a favorable current flow from the limb of a warm eddy. Then most opted for a short path across the main flow of the Stream to get successive pushes from a cold eddy and a weakly defined warm eddy. Reports of over two knots of current offered a strong incentive for finding these eddies, with competitors using pre-race current charts and even Internet-provided thermal images to determine their positions.
As in many ocean races, the wind did not follow the forecast, and the projected light southwesterlies died out completely to yield light and variable southerlies. For the seven frontrunners that were making their final approach on Monday, this meant a full day of frustration in shifty, zero to five-knot conditions. Bob Towse's 66-foot Blue Yankee, the 70-foot Trader, the 60-foot Rima, and Zaraffa, a 65-footer, all caught up to within sight of the three ILC maxisGeorge Coumantaros' Boomerang, Sagamore, and Larry Ellison's Sayonara.
Nonetheless, the fact that the fleet compressed near the end made for some exciting finishes in each class. With so many boats coming in at the same time, the finish line off St. David's Head resembled the culmination of a buoy race more than a four-day ocean race. And with the majority of the fleet now able to berth in the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club's new marina facility, even the shoreside scene quickly became crowded with exhausted but elated competitors eager to enjoy the island's renowned hospitality. After a few days of R&R, many of these crews will return to race mode for the concluding two races of the Onion Patch Series, which start today. For complete results and more information on the Newport-Bermuda Race, visit the race's site at www.bermudarace.com.
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