The 49th Newport Bermuda Race

  • June 17, 2014

The 635-mile biennial Newport Bermuda Race is the oldest regularly scheduled ocean race, one of very few international races, and also one of just two of the world’s scheduled races held almost entirely out of sign of land.  Founded in 1906, the Bermuda Race is held for the 49th time in 2014, when the race starts on June 20th.

The race is demanding. The rules say, “The Newport Bermuda Race is not a race for novices.” The race is nicknamed “the thrash to the Onion Patch” because most Bermuda Races include high winds and big waves (a combination sailors call “a hard thrash”), and because Bermuda was once an agricultural island where large onions thrived.

Every two years in mid-June, more than 150 boats start from the historic seaport of Newport, Rhode Island. The fleet has five divisions to allow seaworthy boats of many sizes and types to be raced fairly and aggressively for an array of trophies awarded in Bermuda at an elegant ceremony at Government House, the residence of the governor of this tropical island.

In keeping with the 100-year traditions of amateur sailors and strong family spirit, most of the boats tend to have amateur crews comprised of friends and family members. The race maintains its international prestige through competitive fairness, an exemplary safety record, and a responsive race organisation handled by the volunteer members of the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. Sailors everywhere dream of adding the Newport Bermuda Race to their life list of adventures.

The course looks deceptively simple. The starting line is set near Castle Hill Light at the entrance to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. The finish is 635 nautical miles to the southeast across open ocean. This is one of very few long- distances races that is a true ocean race, with land over the horizon almost from the start to the finish.

The ocean temperatures off Newport are cool and the visibility can be cut to a boat length in fog. Before nightfall, the fleet is out of sight of land as the crews sail toward Bermuda at speeds of four to 15 knots depending on a boat’s size and the wind strength. The shape of the Gulf Stream and the position of related ocean currents become obstacles or advantages over the next day or two. A favourable current is like an invisible conveyor belt that can carry a boat miles ahead of its competition. The warm, swift current of the Gulf Stream also can generate violent squalls and breaking seas. Day and night the crews must react to every change trying to maximize their progress toward Bermuda. The second half of the race typically has light winds. Persistence and concentration are keys to keeping the boats going.

Only in the last 20 or 25 miles can the competitors glimpse the low profile of Bermuda rising from the horizon. Excitement builds as other boats come into sight converging for the final sprint to the finish line set off the St. David’s Lighthouse at the east end of Bermuda . The navigators stay very wary of the coral reefs that extend miles to the north of the main island. The boats must sail to the seaward side of a set of navigational aids that mark the reef. Once across the line, the boats proceed to Hamilton Harbor using a channel through the reef. It takes a couple of hours before the sailors finally can step ashore and join the post-race festivities three to five days after leaving Newport.

YB satellite trackers will be fixed to all boats in the race. Several times a day the position of each boat in the fleet is updated and shown on a map at the Newport Bermuda Race website. This means that not only the race committee can keep an eye on the fleet but friends and family left on shore can cheer on an individual boat or the entire fleet.

For more information on the competition please visit the race website

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