Duxbury sailors race to Bermuda

Written by Sandy von Stackelberg
 | Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:00

(One class starts the Newport to Bermuda race in a swirl of colors.)

Roughly 160 sailboats left Newport on Friday, June 15 bound for Bermuda. There were actually 10 “participants” from Duxbury, but not all of them sailed: nine made the race and one started them all.

Bill Walker’s Med Spirit, a Wellborn 92 skippered by Mike D’Amelio of Marblehead, broke their own boat record by four hours in the Open Division to a mere 44 hours. They were first in class and first to finish in their class and fifth overall out of 159 boats. Their average speed over the course was 14.5 knots, with a top speed registered as 23. With all of this they were not first, Rambler made it in 39 hours, breaking the Newport to Bermuda time record by 14 hours at an average speed of 16 knots. Fourteen boats broke the elapsed time record. Med Spirit started on port and stayed on port the entire way, like the rest of the fleet. Due to the wind heading, there were many sail changes using double head rig and tight spinnaker.

Meals weren’t a priority during the race. For a crew of 24, freeze-dried food with a bit of hot water, along with power bars, was it. Two of the crew from Duxbury, Charlie and Peter Willauer, fit right in. The crew ran three watches of three hours each: one group at work, the second on deck (but on standby) and the third below sleeping.

The most exciting period for Med Spirit was actually after the race. When the boat was entering into the narrow harbor under power, out of nowhere a squall line with 60 knot winds came up. The crew was prepared with the storm jib out and anchor at the ready. Conditions worsened, and the crew had to ‘hove to’ for two hours at the end of the long race. Another boat, Kodiak, which was just ahead of Med Spirit, unadvisedly tried to make that passage, but had to call the harbormaster for a tow.

On Shawn Dahlen’s boat, Attitude, many said it was a phenomenal race, with the main goal being fun. Attitude traveled 170 miles the first 24 hours and 187 the second for an average of 7.8 knots, besting their average of 6.5. At one point, they were up to 15 knots over the ground, but averaged 10-12.

Why were they able to go so fast over ground? One has to add the boat speed through the water to the current of the Gulf Stream called a “meander,” which in some cases was four knots. Attitude came in fourth out of 11 boats that started in their division and beat their boat time record by five hours.

The speed also came from the fact that the winds were strong (up to 30 knots) and it was a “beam reach” coming from the side, which is the fastest for Attitude. Strong winds require taking down some sail coverage by “reefing” (folding down the main, so less main is exposed) and the sails were sometimes double reefed, purposely losing over a third of the sail coverage.

Attitude arrived at 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning, from the Friday start, its best boat time ever. However, Dahlen and his crew did have to go through the last 24 hours of being only 35 miles away when the wind effectively died. Obviously the earlier big boats missed these doldrums, but the cruising boats, three divisions of the 11, landed smack dab in the middle of them. In fact, it was so slow the last day that two of the crew went swimming. Barns Davis said Attitude was so dead in the water, he is convinced a Portuguese man of war passed them.

Davis served as Attitude’s chef, as well as regular crew, and as a result Attitude’s crew ate well. Breakfast was like going to Wild Flower, eggs to order, pancakes, bacon; lunch like going to a good sandwich shop in Hall’s Corner, big thick sandwiches; dinner included steaks to rival the Milepost’s. Paul Driscoll’s wife also prepared 2 well-appreciated casseroles. One crew quipped that he gained a few pounds on this trip!

Celebrating a birthday at sea is not always easy, but this time a cake was produced from the galley. Tim, exactly how did you do that? Shawn and the rest of the crew were most pleased.

As Attitude went through a pod of 100 dolphins, another boat, Jacqueline II saw none.

After arriving, the crew did all the normal things: rented mopeds, went to Swizzle’s Inn and White Horse Tavern, jumped off the cliffs at Admiralty Point and swam in Tobacco Bay.

Andre Martechini said it was one of the easiest races he had have ever been on, no rainstorm, some big waves, but they surfed them and didn’t have to slam into them.

This was Tim Dahlen’s first Bermuda race, though he has delivered this boat back.

Said Tim, “At one point the boat was so flat, I brought out a book. I was really glad to be offshore with my dad where he’s in his element and, boy, did I learn from him and the rest of the crew.”

Paul Driscoll has been an avid sailor for the last 35 years, but seldom sailed offshore. This first trip he regarded as an adventure, with a variety of sail boats. He said he welcomed sailing with some of these accomplished mariners.

Ed Mayo sailed on Jacqueline II, a Hinckley SW 42. Though this boat has been on eight Bermuda races since 1986, it too set a boat record by 14 hours and was often above hull speed. It used “Code 0,” a tight reaching jib and at night the A-5 which is half the surface of the regular spinnaker.  Many boats were together, sometimes as close as 100 yards, sometimes one could see as many as 80 boats. At night, it looked like a city in the middle of the ocean.

The final Duxbury participant in the Newport to Bermuda race was Forrest Williams. He was the starting gunner for the Race Committee. He has been a member of the New York Yacht Club for years, which supports the Cruising Club of America on this race.

The gunner is the person who fires the warning, prep and start at five minute intervals for four and a half hours, a total of 17 starts. Of course the starting gun for one class was the warning gun for the next class. The first start was at 12:30 p.m. and it was for one of the training boats from Bermuda.

Williams was asked not to shoot the blanks in the air, but rather down toward the fleet so they could hear it. It must have worked well, for there was only one boat over early out of 160. An air horn and X-ray flag called that boat back.

Williams was on the flying bridge, five decks up on a USN buoy tender at one end of the starting line, which was lined up off Castle Hill. They dropped the anchor and then put in the GPS to “hold position,” and between the various thrusters, it did. Remember this is a buoy tender and must know exactly where they are.

The Newport to Bermuda competition this year was a great weather race, no beat up crew or boat, with few physical demands, unless you have to open your belt by one loop, depending on which boat you were on.