Newport-Bermuda draws from the best

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The 2002 Newport Bermuda Race lived up to its reputation as a thrilling offshore regatta: Six vessels withdrew; four sailors went overboard; and Roy Disney’s maxicat, Pyewacket, blazed a new race record of 53 hours, 39 minutes, 22 seconds.

The biennial race organized by the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club returns this year with its classic 635-mile bluewater course, a new big boat demonstration division and a roster of social activities. The race, which begins in Newport, R.I., and ends at Bermuda’s HamiltonHarbour, begins June 18.

The race traces its roots to the early 20th century. In 1904 magazine editor Thomas Fleming Day organized a race from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Marblehead, Mass. In 1906 sailors raced from New York to Bermuda, and what would become one of the most popular races on the East Coast was born. Organizers moved the race start to Newport in 1946.

“Its sailing against some of the very best offshore competitors,” says Stamford, Conn., sailor Bob Towse, whose Blue Yankee won the IMS Racing Division in the 2002 Bermuda race.

The 2002 race was the fastest and the biggest yet, according to organizers. A fleet of 182 started the race in Newport as brisk winds whipped across Narragansett Bay. Favorable currents gave competitors a fast ride to Bermuda, with the maxicats leading the way. Several boats turned back due to breakages.

Geronimo, the 69-foot cutter-rigged sloop owned by St. George’s school in Newport, served as communications and emergency coordination center for the yachts in 2002 and will also return in 2004. Organizing committee members will be on board the sloop to conduct daily roll call of competitors and organize a rescue if needed.

Four sailors went overboard coming through the Gulf Stream in 2002, but all were quickly recovered. In separate incidents, two sailors required medical attention, including one man who was hit in the face by an exploding block. Organizers emphasize safety. Competitors attend a safety seminar and vessels are checked prior to the race.

Although heavily damaged by last summer’s Hurricane Fabian, organizers say the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club will be in top shape for the finish, and celebratory “dark ’n stormies” — Bermuda’s signature drink of ginger beer and dark rum — will be awaiting the finishers. The Bermuda finish is festive, with friends and families gathering to greet the racers.

The Bermuda race is part of the three-regatta Onion Patch series — named for Bermuda’s most famous crop — which includes the New York Yacht Club’s Annual Regatta and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club’s Anniversary Regatta.

The series kicks off this year with the NYYC’s regatta June 12 and 13 (See story, Page 3). Racing will be on Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound, and include a race around ConanicutIsland. Competitors will include 12 Meters, one-designs and classic yachts, as well as yachts from the Rhode Island and Long Island Sound clubs. Organizers also anticipate competitors to include International America’s Cup Class yachts, which will likely be in town preparing for the UBS Trophy, June 19 to 26. (That race is hosted by Team Alinghi, the Swiss winner of the America’s Cup, with an independent race committee selected by NYYC.)

“I particularly enjoy the New York regatta part of [the series],” adds Towse, who will be competing again this year.

If the NYYC regatta is a warm-up for the Bermuda race, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club’s annual regatta adds the finishing touches to a bustling two-week race series. This year the race will take place June 24, and features a new format. Instead of two windward-leeward races, there will be one short windward-leeward in the Great Sound, and a longer round-the-buoys course starting in the Great Sound and finishing in HamiltonHarbour.

The Onion Patch Series is open to IMS Racing and IMS Cruiser/Racer yachts. The 2002 individual winner of the Onion Patch series was George David’s Idler. The winning team was the Storm Trysail Club’s White Team comprising Bob Towse’s Blue Yankee, Jim Bishop’s Gold Digger and Don Patterson’s Orion. www.bermudarace.com; www.rbyc.bm