By John Burnham, Newport Bermuda Race Media Team Co-chair
At press time in mid-February, with entries open until April 3, 202 boats had entered the 635nm Newport Bermuda Race, which starts Friday, June 17. Organized by the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, the race has a limit of 220 entrants, but anyone who ends up on the waiting list will likely make the start, as some attrition is normal between April and June.
Whatever the final number, it’s clear that interest is strong. Because the 2020 race was cancelled, there’s pent-up demand to do this classic ocean race, first held in 1906. Increasing that demand is the fact that sailboat sales have been strong during the pandemic. In addition, for many sailors, the Bermuda Race remains a “bucket list” event.
Marine-related businesses are anxious to support sailors and the race this year. Major existing sponsors led by Bermuda Tourism, Goslings Rum, Safe Harbor Marinas, and North Sails are back, and several new sponsors have signed on. They range from Rhode Island’s Bluenose Yachts Sales, Life Raft and Survival Equipment, Hammetts Hotel, and Castle Hill Inn to the international paint and coatings company Akzo Nobel. (See full sponsor list at bermudarace.com/sponsors.)
Also announced recently, the race headquarters for the week leading up to the start will be housed at Sail Newport, the premier public-access sailing organization in the Northeast. Located at Fort Adams State Park, Sail Newport has a spacious facility and easy access by land and sea.
The fleet itself is diverse, with boats from 33 to 100+ feet sailing in eight divisions. More than half the fleet (119 boats) is registered for the St. David’s Lighthouse Division, which broadly speaking is for racer/cruiser boats with amateurs at the helm.
Several winning boats in this division will be back for another shot at the famous silver replica trophy of the St. David’s Lighthouse. That includes Grundoon, Jim Grundy’s winning Columbia 50 in the 2018 race and Actaea, Michael Cone’s victorious Hinckley Bermuda 40 in the 2014 race. One of the most successful boats ever in the race is three-time winner Carina, a McCurdy & Rhodes 48, which is skippered by Rives Potts, who was aboard for two of Carina’s victories (2010, 2012).
In the Gibbs Hill Division, which includes boats with water ballast, canting keels, and no limit on professional crewmembers, 23 boats have registered, including Warrior Won, a Pac52 speedster. Its owner, Chris Sheehan, won the St. David’s Lighthouse Division in 2016 on a previous boat of the same name. The competition will be ferocious, however, with several fast 40- and 50-footers plus half a dozen boats in the 70- and 80-foot range including OC86 the former Windquest), sailed by a team from Oakcliff Sailing.
With fair conditions, the outright elapsed time record for the race could fall. In 2016, Jim and Kristy Hinze Clark’s 100-foot Comanche sailed the course at an average speed of 18.3 knots, finishing in 34 hours, 42 minutes and 53 seconds.
This year, the hottest monohull could be the 60-foot Mālama, a new IMOCA 60 sponsored by 11th Hour Racing and skippered by Charlie Enright of Bristol, RI. Launched last summer, the boat utilizes foils to lift it partially clear of the water, allowing it to average well over 20 knots in good winds. Sailing in the Open Division, Mālama is preparing for The Ocean Race 2022-23.
Potentially faster still are the boats in the Multihull Division. In particular, look for one or both of two MOD70 trimarans—Argo (Jason Carroll) or Snowflake (Frank Slootman)—to set a new mark. A sistership named Powerplay sailed the original Fastnet course of 595 miles in just over 25 hours last year, averaging over 23 knots and often sailing faster than 30 for long stretches.
The race begins in Newport’s East Passage off Castle Hill on Friday, June 17. The first class will start with a warning signal at 1pm, and subsequent classes will start at 10-minute intervals through the early afternoon. To see the entry list and learn more about the race, visit BermudaRace.com. ■