Much to the dismay of a cadre of professional sailors who reached the finish half a day earlier, Eric Crawford and his crew from the Eastern Shore of Maryland won the overall Lighthouse Trophy in the Newport-Bermuda Race aboard Restless
, a 41-foot, 35-year-old Phil Rhodes design. Crawford, who has been sailing all his life and has owned Restless
for the past 13 years, credited the work of his crew with the victory.
"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!"
Crawford and his crew aren't new to the winners' circle; they've thrice won class honors in previous editions of this 635-mile race, and twice won trophies in the Marion to Bermuda event. Despite those credentials, they still surprised a number of competitors and race watchers in this 42nd running of the race.
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.
Jim Dolan's Bill Langan-designed ILC maxi Sagamore
, with former Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Ken Read serving as skipper, was first to finish, logging an elapsed time of 80h, 34m, and 15s, while Restless
the slowest-rated boat in the fleetposted an elapsed time of 93h, 15m, and 39s. A brief look at the results as adjusted under the IMS (International Measurement System) Performance Curve Scoring on the Ocean Course presents a clear story: Sagamore
's corrected time of 80h, 34m, and 15s yielded an implied wind of 9.8 knots, while Restless
' corrected time of 52h, 47m, and 54s indicated an implied wind of 19.1 knots!
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.
But the other major reason to deviate east from rhumb line
was the position of a large high-pressure center, which was projected to remain relatively immobile over the final portion of the course. Approaching the finish from the east would allow tighter and faster sailing angles relative to those competitors coming from the west who would be faced with struggling downwind in the dying southwesterly breeze.
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.
Aboard Blue Yankee
, with Ross Field doing the navigating, Peter Isler playing the tactician's role, and Steve Benjamin as skipper, the crew worked the conditions, changing frequently from the light No. 1 to the windseeker. It was no longer a distance race, but a short-course event with all of the energetic anticipation that comes to the surface when the mark is in view. Through their determined efforts and tactical savvy, they caught Boomerang
in the darkness, and passed her in the final few miles to the finish to cross the line
third, boat-for-boat. They had won the battle, but were far from winning the war. Judging from the daily SSB
position updates, and the gathering of bow lights
on the horizon, everyone aboard the bigger boats knew that their corrected-time scores would be doomed.
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.