By Chad Corning

Pleiad RacingAfter a great result in The 2014 Atlantic Cup presented by 11th Hour Racing, Ed Cesare and I were excited to take on the Newport Bermuda Race. Though nothing rates worse under ORR than a Class40 we would still have four 40s to race against and as the 635-nautical mile Bermuda course repeatedly proves, anything can happen!

© Barry Pickthall/PPL

Like 2012, this was an odd race with the majority of time spent on port tack.  The major weather player in the race was a slow moving front that bent the winds to the northwest. On paper, we would punch through the front and sail to the island in the usual southwesterly breeze sometime around day two. That was the plan anyway.

Race day dawned with a nice northerly that you knew was going to give way to the sea breeze around start time. Some of the classes started with spinnakers, but the breeze was around to the south by the time it was our turn to go. After nailing a pin end start and crossing the fleet, we settled down into our race routine, now well practiced after a long Atlantic Cup. There was a large ring of current pretty soon after the start, which shifted our track a bit west to go through the center of this feature. The weather was fairly benign and we changed from the solent to the upwind code zero frequently. A familiar sight was Joe Harris and Rob Windsor on Gryphon Solo 2, who would be the main focus of the race as we were within sight the whole time. After the first of many parkups, we got into some very solid north-northwest breeze as we neared the Gulf Stream. This produced the best sailing of the race as we transited a fairly rough Gulf Stream with one reef and the solent with full water ballast. With a true wind angle of around 95-100, it was the true sweet spot of the Class40 and we sat in the mid-teens for hours.

That would be as good as it got sailing-wise. Once through the Stream we approached the frontal boundary, which was rife with very wet squalls and very shifty, but generally strong, winds. After a brief calm the winds auto tacked us and filled nicely from the southwest. We were off!  Nope. The front caught back up to us after only a few hours of sailing in the southwesterly and the nightmare began. Once the front passed over us it left confusion in its wake.  The Bermuda high struggled to re-establish the traditional southwesterlies and the fleet generally wallowed in very light winds for the next two and a half days. Each light zone would bring massive compression as boats behind would run right up to the light zone with spinnakers and then join the party. We saw a boat that we had an 80-mile lead on earlier in the race sail up to an overlap on day four. This required some serious Zen to keep things together mentally!

What kept things interesting for us after the race turned on its head was racing Gryphon Solo 2. We had nine lead changes during the course of the race as each boat had the better sail or the better angle at one time or another. This made us fight hard right to the finish, giving the race much more meaning and intensity that it otherwise might not have had. It was a nice moment sharing a drink with Joe and Rob at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club after an exciting five-day match race.

After my 11th and Ed’s 13th Bermuda Race you would think we have seen it all, but this race was a new and strange one. We were philosophical about the results knowing that beating all the Class40s was about as well as we could have done and we were happy to achieve this. Hats off to all the doublehanded teams who took on this race. Having sailed with full teams most of my life, I can tell you that double-handed sailing is a fantastic and rewarding challenge – check it out!