Getting ready for an offshore race


Editor’s note: Below is a look at preparation for and the start of the recently completed 2015 Marion Bermuda Race. 

After months of preparation, skippers and their crews from all across the East Coast set sail on Friday, June 19, to begin the 2015 Marion to Bermuda race. Participants scrambled to put everything together up until the last minute, in the high hopes that all of their hard work would produce a coveted trophy in Bermuda. With 46 yachts in the race, the start of the 37th Marion to Bermuda cruising yacht race put the competitors into decisive positions.

This year, 46 yachts, ranging from 34 feet to over 100 feet competed in the race. The yachts were divided into two divisions: Founders and Classic. The Spirit of Bermuda, which came in at 118 feet, was the largest yacht in the entire race and solely made up the classic division. The other 45 boats were divided up amongst the Founders division, in classes A through D. 

There were 13 yachts competing in Class A, 10 competing in Class B, 11 in Class C and 11 in Class D. In addition, there were 15 yachts racing in the celestial division this year. Celestial division competitors abandon their GPS systems for the entirety of the race until the finish line is within 50 miles of the yacht. Last year, Hotspur II (Columbia 50) won in this category. 

Class D contained the two smallest yachts, which were Wisper and Roust. Wisper was a Victoria 34, skippered by Peter Helmetag of Wilmington, Del. The other, Roust, was a Sea Sprite 34. Although small in size, Roust — and her skipper Ian Grumpecht — won last year’s race to Bermuda. 

In 1977, when the race was first run, the average boat size was a mere 38 feet. Fast forward to today, the average size of the 46 boats is 47 feet, according to the race’s website. Despite the overall increase in the size of the yachts over time, Roust showed that any boat, regardless of her size, can win the Marion to Bermuda race.

Friday morning began somewhat chilly for a June day. The weather in Buzzard’s Bay was cloudy and only in the mid-60s. As the starting times neared, the temperature increased to about 78 degrees and the skies cleared. It was a beautiful day for the race, except that the winds did not act as predicted that morning.

The wind was predicted to come from the southwest, and to be light. Instead, by the beginning of the start time at 11:30 a.m., the wind blew much stronger and from further south than supposed before. According to Robert Raymond, a navigator aboard Hotspur II in a previous race, “Light winds [mean] there won’t be many accidents at the start.” 

The crew of Ti: skipper Greg Marston (with thumbs up), others from left, watch captain Peter Stoops, navigator Andrew Howe, race official, crewmembers John O’Meara, Jake Marston and Chase Marston.

Courtesy Spectrum Photo/Fran Grenon

The strong southerly winds had slowed and disheartened many of the participating crews. As of Monday, three days into the race, many of the yachts were off to a slower start than hoped. One example was Spirit of Bermuda, which usually sails far ahead of the other yachts, being enormous in size and manned by many people. On Monday, the classic yacht instead was flanked by several competitors. 

Although one cannot prepare for an unpredicted, opposing wind such as this, the crews and skippers of the 46 boats did their best to prepare for all else coming their way. The pier outside of the Marion Yacht Club held many instances of months of preparation finally coming together.

“The art of preparation can’t be rushed. You have to do it one step at a time, starting last year,” said Tom Bowler, the skipper of Escapade II (Morris 46). This year marked his third time racing in Marion to Bermuda. However, this was his first one skippering Escapade II.  According to Bowler, he expects his yacht to do respectably in the race. “We have high hopes for Escapade.”

Preparation for the race can also be quite stressful for the participants. When the start of the race arrived, much of the stress disappeared for some racers. Wes McMichael, who skippered Ballyhoo (J 44), said, “I’m glad we’re done preparing for it. I’m ready to go racing.” Ballyhoo has sailed in the Marion Bermuda Race three times, but this is her first time with McMichael as the yacht’s skipper. 

Katie Hall, a first-time racer aboard Ballyhoo, said, “I’m really nervous and excited with anticipation.” Her sentiment was shared by many of the competitors, as well. An atmosphere of such a nervous excitement spread throughout the dock as crewmembers scrambled to complete last-minute preparations.

On board Hotspur II, the racers were abuzz trying to get everything ready to sail. Crewmember Matt Correira had his young son, Nobere, on the docks helping to load up the boat. Additionally, Hotspur II’s cook Mark Chomiak raced to find his passport in time, which had gotten lost in the rush of preparations. When it came time to sail to the starting line, all was in place for skipper Ron Wisner. Hotspur II, as well as Ballyhoo and Escapade II, put all of their hard work together to produce excellent starts. 

By Ocean Navigator