Annapolis writer bound for Bermuda

Author:
Publish date:

If you want to race to Bermuda, the Bermuda One-Two that begins June 9 on Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay is not the only option. Six days later, on nearby Buzzards Bay, more than 70 sailboats will start the Marion to Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race. Wait until June 2008 and there will be the 101st running of the legendary Bermuda Race from Newport.

If you want to race to Bermuda, the Bermuda One-Two that begins June 9 on Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay is not the only option. Six days later, on nearby Buzzards Bay, more than 70 sailboats will start the Marion to Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race. Wait until June 2008 and there will be the 101st running of the legendary Bermuda Race from Newport.

Read the other story in this package: When it comes to sleep, cats have it right 

But if sailing is, for you, a very personal endeavor, the only choice is the Bermuda One-Two — just because of its single-handed first leg of 635 miles, ending in St. George’s, Bermuda. And for those of us with offshore sailing goals — either single-handed or as a couple — I couldn’t think of a better way to test our competence than completing both the single-handed leg and the double-handed race that begins June 22 and ends back in Newport.

At least that was my excuse for devoting so many resources — time, money and energy — to preparing Robin, the Westsail 32 that my wife, Monica, and I bought three years ago, specifically for this race. There are probably as many different reasons for entering the One-Two as there are competitors.

Dan Stadtlander turned 50 recently. That was his reason to bring Mirari, his 1969 Bristol 39/40, to Newport.

“The grumpy people in the old folks home are often the ones that didn’t live their dreams and then they come to realize that it’s too late,” says Stadtlander, an engineer from West Hartford, Conn. He envisions the day when, with pablum dripping down his chin from a rest-home meal, he can recall: “I did it!”

Lindsay Allison Lowe bought a boat specifically to race in the Bermuda One-Two this year. She, like Stadtlander and me, is a first-time competitor in this race.

“It’s costing me a fortune, but I can’t think of anything better to spend your money on than the coolest thing in the world!” says Lowe, 32, who lives in Baltimore. “I have a strong craving for adventure and new experiences. At the end of the day, it isn’t about single- handing or racing. It’s about going sailing. If you like sailing, then this is sailing.”

Peter McCrea, 64, has sailed in the Bermuda One-Two eight times, always on the same boat, Panacea, his Freedom 32. He says he became a single-handed sailor due to a divorce. Now, it’s his preferred mode for sailing.

“I really enjoy the challenge of conducting myself and the vessel safely from point A to point B and every single aspect of it, with the possible exception of snotty weather,” says the retired research scientist from Thomaston, Maine. “Living at sea for several days [alone] ... is a real high for me.”

To Ray Renaud, an official of the race and a competitor, “a lot of [the appeal of the race] has to do with the desire for controlled adventure. It is a little riskier doing it by yourself, but that keeps the adrenaline going, keeps you sharp.” Renaud, 64, a real estate developer in Warren, R.I., has sailed the single-handed leg four times in his 35-foot C&C Aggressive. “I think people like ... the personal risk factor and not having to worry about somebody else. [They like] that bit of risk that gives you such a high when you’re done.”

Whatever their motivation, first-time competitors immediately discover this is more complex than taking the same boat out for an afternoon of racing around the buoys. Safety considerations that the average cruising sailor might ignore are demanded for acceptance into this event. The list is three pages long, single-spaced, and includes items spanning the boat from wooden plugs tied to every through-hull to the proper navigation lights at the masthead. By my count, there are 46 categories of safety items, some containing a dozen separate considerations. Back in December the list was overwhelming. I put off tackling it until March. There were still a dozen items not completed with just three weeks to go before the safety inspection in Newport.

For most competitors this preparation for the race has to be worked around a full-time job. Stadtlander’s boat was still on the jack stands with two weeks left. Lowe ran out of time — her job kept her traveling and her vacation from a Baltimore-based energy company was being consumed during the race — so she started paying a boatyard to finish the jobs on her to-do list.

Preparing a boat for the race requires some fundamental skill with tools, of course. Preparing one’s self for the race often requires new sets of skills. So on the last weekend in March I went to the Newport Yacht Club, which co-hosts the race with the Goat Island Yacht Club. Day 1’s seminar was on sleep and alertness management (See accompanying story, Page 16). Offshore alone, you need a method for standing watch — looking out for the container ship bearing down on your boat at 25 knots — but you also need sleep.

Lowe, Stadtlander, I and a handful of other competitors learned how to use clustered naps to solve these problems. On Day 2 we got a rudimentary knowledge of how to read weather maps and a basic understanding of meteorological highs and lows.

But still Lowe and I were a long way from ready. You have to sail a voyage of a minimum of 100 miles and at least 24 hours offshore to qualify for the race. Stadtlander had done his qualifier last year. Lowe and I were left with fickle spring weather in which to find an opportunity to go offshore.

After a gale kept her in port and despondent on one weekend, Lowe sprinted from Annapolis to the Atlantic on the first good Friday that followed and had a terrific sail.

I, too, had to pass up a voyage in late April due to weather, but during the first week of May made it from Annapolis to the ocean, where I learned there was at least one more skill — nausea avoidance — which I had to master.

Until you have completed your qualifying sail, the dark thought of it hovers above, like a rejection stamp poised to slam down and dispatch you and your pretensions.

Once it’s out of the way, the starting line looms large in your imagination. At this point in my preparation, I would awaken in the early hours with thoughts of things yet to do and of time disappearing.

And as had been true since I first began considering the race, I lay awake thinking about the Gulf Stream, where you can get stalled in a reverse current or slammed by violent seas. At these times I would remember Dan Stadtlander’s story of his first sail to Bermuda.

“It was in my 20s. I had gotten bitten by the sailing bug back in my teens,” says Stadtlander. He had bought a 23-foot Alberg Kittiwake for $4,000. It was a wreck. “I spent a couple of years fixing it. I decided at the ripe old age of 27 I had more guts than brain cells, and I wanted to test myself out.”

So with a friend he planned a trip to Bermuda.

“The trip down, you could have done it on a sunfish, perfect conditions all the way,” he says. “On the way back, I haven’t seen anything nearly that bad in the years I’ve been sailing since.”

In “humongous waves,” the boat was rolled over and lost her mast, Stadtlander recalls. “I think we drifted to the edge of the Gulf Stream.” They were down below when the boat was rolled again. “I heard the wave coming. I hurled myself out the companionway and got the first board in. The boat probably went over our heads. Some of the lines from the mast grabbed my ankles, dragging me down. I unclipped my harness and was able to get to the surface,” where he found his companion.

“Your senses become very pronounced,” Stadtlander recalls. “It was pitch black, [but] I could see everything as clear as day.”

He saw the capsized boat, and then he saw it right itself, with waves washing over the deck. There was no way to bail it. The boat was going to sink. So he and his friend climbed up on the deck and got the life raft inflated. Then they climbed into the raft, which soon was flipped over. They had a primitive EPIRB with them but the antenna was broken.

They sat up all night until they fashioned an antenna from a flashlight battery spring. The signal was heard by a passing airliner and a Russian satellite. The Coast Guard sent a jet to investigate, and soon a container ship snatched Stadtlander and his friend from the water.

On June 9 Stadtlander will once again head out on those waters, the memory of that first trip still vivid. This time he will have passed a rigorous safety inspection and will be aboard an appropriate vessel.

“The preparation is what takes the risk away,” says Renaud.

Mirari (Stadtlander’s boat), Flying Tiger (Lowe’s boat) and Robin will have transponders attached to their cabintops. You can follow our progress, along with that of about 40 other racers, in real time by logging on to www.iboattrack.com . And you can log on to the Soundings Web page at www.SoundingsOnline.com and come along for the ride with me on my continuing blog, Bermuda Bound.