Blasting past the competition to set a speed record on this 635-mile course is anything but easy. It took Boomerang's owner, George Coumantaros, 40 years to accomplish that feat. And it wasn't for lack of trying. No wonder then that the biennial Newport to Bermuda Race is often considered a navigator's race—an event that demands knowledge of navigation, oceanography, meteorology, and how those elements interrelate in a winning strategy. Bob Hale, Boomerang's navigator, regularly attends weather seminars, checks the state of the Gulf Stream, and discusses the options before the race with meteorologists. The winning navigator on corrected time in the 1998 event, Dan Dyer aboard Kodiak, is also a regular attendee at weather seminars and Bermuda Race planning sessions. This is a race about doing your homework. Of course luck will always play its part, but there's a surprising correlation between the ones who have done the studying and those who appear the luckiest.
Such long-range climate studies proved quite effective for navigators in the last Bermuda Race,as well as the last TransPac, and the recent Cape Town-to-Rio Race. Due in part to this information, new course records were set in the latter two. Will it happen again on the road to Bermuda this year?
|"This is a race about doing your homework … and there's a surprising correlation between the ones who have done the studying and those who appear the luckiest."|
Internet technology allows us to use looped, geostationary satellite imagery to zoom in on Bermuda and see if clouds associated with a sea breeze are forming over the Island in the early afternoon. Wind directions can be confirmed with observations recorded at the local airport. If the weather maps are calling for a gradient wind direction of southwest, but a sea breeze is pulling the winds to the left on the final approach to Bermuda, the actual wind direction the sailors may see on their approach could easily be southeast. To the unwary on the west side of the rhumb line course, that could mean tedious tacking to the finish. And for those who've done their homework and studied the local conditions for the time of their arrival, it could mean a reach to the finish and possibly a trophy.
Once through the Gulf Stream, however, the game is by no means decided. Waypoints will be re-analyzed and modified. How should the navigator set up for the finish? That will be decided by the ultimate development of the weather patterns and the local conditions expected within the final 20 miles of the finish.
Throughout the race, the navigators will be plugged into their weather faxes. Even now, several days before the starting gun goes off south of Newport, many of them are already collecting faxes, checking the surface analysis against the 48-hour and 96-hour forecasts as they hit their valid times. How strong are the highs? How fast are the lows moving in to change the high's position and shape? Are there still lows coming off Hatteras headed toward Bermuda, and how is their track going to affect the wind direction?
Some of the Bermuda Race boats will be equipped with real-time satellite picture receivers. By comparing the latest weather fax with the latest satellite picture, they will be able to plot and track local, heavy thunderstorms as they move across the Gulf Stream. They can also identify recent changes to the Stream itself, and be able to maximize the advantage of the current while avoiding the worst of it.
As the competitors close with the finish off St. David's Light on the north end of the island, the last 75 or 100 miles will be spent listening to VHF radio weather reports. The line-of-sight transmissions travel particularly far from Bermuda, owing to the towering location of their antennae.
Once the boat is tied up and the results begin to make themselves known, the stories will begin to be heard around the local watering holes. The fronts that came through, the ride through the Gulf Stream, who hit it right, and who drifted off toward Ireland—it will all be laid out for everyone to analyze. There will be the famous and the infamous—the heroes and the zeros. Some of it will come down to luck. Most of it will be the result of persistence, hard work, and homework done weeks in advance. Ultimately it will be a result of teamwork. But a fair measure will come from that person sitting down below in a lonely seat in front of a computer, multi-function displays, radios, and weather faxes.
Will the Titans Slay the Record?
Though the official mission of the Bermuda Race is to promote amateur racing, it's likely that the professionals competing in the two racing classes will be the ones who break the outright record in this 42nd edition of the event. Here's a look at those with the potential to rewrite the record book, along with a few long shots that might beat the titans on corrected time.
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