Newport to Bermuda to NYC: Prepping for Safety

As some of you know, my co-skipper, Sam Cox, and I are planning on sailing (well, racing) from Newport, RI, to Bermuda on June 17, 2016.  Coincidentally, some other folks will be racing to Bermuda at the same time--something called the Newport-Bermuda Race ("Bermuda Race").  You might have heard of it.

Unfortunately, the 21-foot Abilyn, a Mini Transat 6.50, whose design has been tried and tested across oceans, is ineligible under the Bermuda Race Notice of Race ("NOR") and Safety Requirements ("NBRSR").  Like any regatta, the Bermuda Race has eligibility requirements.  For example, the minimum length for participating boats is "at least 27.5 feet."   NOR at Para. 4.1(a)(ii).  Given that Abilyn has a length of only 21 feet (6.5 meters), the NOR, on its face, declares Abilyn ineligible.  Although the Bermuda Race Organizing Authority ("OA") may waive the eligibility requirements at its discretion, see id. at Para. 4.1(b), we've been told that the OA will not do so for Mini Transat 6.50s.  However, even if the OA did waive the eligibility requirements for Abilyn under the NOR, Abilyn would still be rendered ineligible by the NBRSR, which requires a minimum stability index of 115 under the Offshore Rating Rule ("ORR").  NBRSR at Section 2.2.1.   Abilyn's sister-ship, USA 831, has been rated under the ORR as having a stability index of 85.2.  So we're screwed all around. 

The ORR stability requirements are what they are, and reflect only one of a number of methods used to assess whether a boat is "seaworthy."  But, notably, the rules for Minis competing in the Classe Mini circuit in Europe, and the biennial Mini Transat Race, which takes solo skippers across the Atlantic Ocean, require only that the boat have "positive stability with a 45 kg weight . . . at the maximum air draft point [top of mast]" when the "maximum air draft point [is] at sea level."  2015 Classe Mini Rules at Section J-15-b.  This test measures the angle of vanishing stability, and is often referred to as the 90-degree test as the boat is tipped around 90 degrees with the top of the mast attached to a weight and measuring device.

Source: (the 90° test the week before the start of the 2015 Mini Transat).

Class 40s, which are eligible to race in the Bermuda Race, rely on the 90-degree test to gain entry to many regattas around the world, including the RORC Caribbean 600.  The ORR, from my understanding, takes into account other values beyond angle of vanishing stability, including a "capsize increment," which can be negative for beamy boats.  But I am no expert on the ORR.  Thankfully, the ORR does not contemplate a 180 degree rollover test as required by the IMOCA 60 class rules.  See below.

At the end of the day, although Minis have been racing across the Atlantic since the 1970s with crews of one, and at least one Mini has circumnavigated the globe, which is reflective not only of the seaworthiness of the boat but also the dedication to seamanship exhibited by those who sail them, we're certainly not upset with the OA's decision.  Indeed, there are other long distance regattas in the U.S. that allow Minis to participate, most notably the Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race, the Annapolis-Bermuda Race, and the Singlehanded Transpac.  But the Bermuda Race holds a special place in our hearts.  It's where we cut our teeth offshore on other boats, and learned to love and respect the challenges that sailors face offshore that they do not face sailing around the buoys.  So it's time to return to the course aboard Abilyn and take her farther than we've ever taken her.  

Although we'll be flying a Jolly Roger when we sail out of Narragansett Bay at the start of the official race (potentially the flag flown by The Rhode Island Pirate, Thomas Tew, or a hybrid of our own creation (see left)), our goal is by no means to disrespect the race, its heritage, or the OA.  Indeed, the upcoming Bermuda Race provides us with an opportunity for live practice:  Practice for next year's B1-2; practice for future, bluewater racing and passagemaking; in short, practice for whatever sailing adventures come next.  Our secondary, but equally important, goal will be to provide the Bermuda Race OA with an additional point of reference on which to rely when considering whether to allow Mini Transat 6.50s in the 2018 race.  If we can beat some official entrants, that would be icing on the cake.

With those goals in mind, we will use June 17 as our departure date, Castle Hill as our starting line, and St. David's Lighthouse as our finish line.  More importantly, as any sailor entering the Bermuda Race must do, we will undertake rigorous and comprehensive safety preparations to address the foreseeable risks along the race track from Newport to Bermuda and then from Bermuda to New York Harbor, where we hope the new Brooklyn Bridge Marina will give us complimentary dockage for a night or two before we head up the East River and back to Larchmont.  

Newport to Bermuda and back to New York Harbor.

So what does this prep look like for us?  Well, for starters, we'll be following the NBRSR's Safety Equipment requirements as closely as possible.  Section 3.0 lists all required portable and affixed safety gear, including:

  • Lifejackets
  • Safety harness
  • Jack lines
  • Companionway clipping points
  • Navigation lights
  • Spare navigation lights
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Horn
  • Flares
  • Lifesling (or equivalent MOB rescue device)
  • MOB pole
  • Heaving line
  • Installed VHR radio and antenna
  • Handheld VHF radio
  • Emergency VHF antenna
  • AIS
  • Satellite phone
  • GPS
  • Distance measuring device other than GPS
  • Depth sounder
  • Steering compass
  • Second compass
  • Charts
  • Sail numbers
  • Tapered soft plugs
  • Ground tackle (anchor plus rode)
  • Searchlight
  • Flashlights (watertight, 1 per crew member)
  • First aid gear
  • Radar reflector (11.5" diameter or greater octahedral reflector)
  • Buckets (2, stout)
  • Safety gear and through hull diagram
  • Emergency tiller
  • Tools and spare parts (effective means of quickly disconnecting or severing the standing rigging)
  • Marking of safety gear (retro-reflective material required)
  • Knife (readily accessible from deck and/or cockpit)
  • Reefing ability
  • Storm trysail
  • Heavy weather jib
  • Storm jib
  • Boom preventer
  • Boom support (means to prevent boom from dropping if halyard fails)
  • Emergency drinking water (1 gallon per crew member of emergency water in sealed containers)
  • Inflatable life raft (ISO-certified raft apparently not required)
  • Grab bag


Reviewing this list, the 21-foot Abilyn is already well-appointed.  Most notably, we carry a Winslow 4-man ultralight liferaft (weighing in at only 32 lbs.) and an offshore flare kit, both of which we obtained from Landfall Navigation in Stamford, CT.  

Abilyn is also equipped with a MOM8 MOB module (also obtained from Landfall); a VHF with integrated AIS, two EPIRBs (an ACR GlobalFix iPRO 406 MHz GPS EPIRB for the boat, and an ACR ResQLink 406 MHz GPS personal locator beacon for my PFD); and four separate GPS modules including the Mini class standard Garmin GPS 152, a handheld Garmin 78sc, and two BadElf GPS Pro modules.  


First Aid - Our West Marine Medical Kit 3.5 is still functional, but likely will need to be supplemented with more robust first aid measures designed for offshore sailing where potential evacuation may take more than 24 hours.

Tools and Spare Parts - We will also conduct a review of our tools and spare parts inventory when boatwork begins in full next month, with a plan to supplement our inventory of nuts, bolts, cotter rings, wrap pins, and Harken low friction rings.  In terms of tools, we have the standard suite of vice grips and screw drivers, and also a hacksaw with spare blades in case we need to cut away the standing rigging.  But we may consider a cable cutter.  

Storm Trysail - Instead of a storm trysail, we're opting to rely on our Dacron mainsail, which has a third reef point allowing us to sail with little canvas up.  We understand the limitations of this option, but, for the Minis, a triple-reefed main and reefed storm jib (or just the storm jib) has been reported to work well in storm conditions.

Detecteur de Radar

Detecteur de Radar

Radar Reflector - We have a Davis Instruments passive radar reflector that passes muster under the safety requirements.  However, with this device mounted in the standing rigging, we've found that the edges of the reflector, which are quite sharp, chafe against the main when the sail is eased against the spreaders downwind.  So we will opt to use two Plastimo tubular radar reflectors mounted on the shrouds, although the tubular reflectors have been reported to be far less effective than the octahedral devices.  That said, our primary means of avoiding close calls with other ships is our Detecteur de Radar, which emits a loud, biting, unbearable sound whenever we get pinged with radar and also lets us know from which direction the ping originates.

Boom Support - We're considering installing Dyneema lazy jacks.

Charts - We have Maptech paper charts for Narragansett Bay, and surrounding bodies of water. We will add to our charts inventory a Bermuda plotting sheet, and British Admiralty charts for the Bermuda islands.   

Satellite Phone - Our plan is to obtain an Iridium GO! module for use offshore.  This satellite device allows for the same race tracking and two-way text messaging as our Delorme InReach device. However, the Iridium GO! module also will allow for phone communication, and will also allow us to download weather and routing data through PredictWind's offshore app.  The device is attractive because of it's low monthly price for unlimited voice and data usage.  Yes, we understand this goes against purist Mini sailing principles.  In considering that point of view, we are looking at using an SSB receiver to obtain weather information.  Our Mini-sailing friend, Nikki Curwen, who raced in the 2015 Mini Transat, recommends the Sangean ATS-909X.  

Emergency hull repair - The NBRSR requires soft, tapered plugs for all through-hulls, which we have aboard Abilyn for her one through-hull.  Surprisingly, the NBRSR does not mandate sailors to carry items to address punctures or other damage to the hull.  Onboard Abilyn, we already carry emergency epoxy capable of hardening under water, but might pick up a couple of Rupture Seals.

Remaining Items -  Procuring spare navigational lights (bow and stern), a heaving line, a replacement searchlight, and an emergency VHF antenna shouldn't be an issue.

In addition to the required list of safety items in Section 3.0, the NBRSR contemplates that crew members have certain training, including man overboard training, CPR and first aid training, and general onboard training.  Sam and I certainly intend to tune up prior to the June 17 start.  Part of that tune up will include man overboard training, and optimizing through sailing in the Larchmont YC Edlu regatta and the Storm Trysail Club Block Island Race.  And at least I intend to take a Red Cross CPR and First Aid training course prior to the start.

But I consider myself a prudent sailor and somewhat of a perennial student when it comes to safety.  So relying solely on the NBRSR to dictate our safety preparations isn't enough.  Our safety prep will also include an onshore network of experienced sailors and at least one doctor who will be "on call" to field emergency communications.  Joe Harris, who is racing around the world on his Class 40 Gryphon Solo 2, recently described on his blog an incident where he had to activate his onshore network when his EPIRB inadvertently began transmitting a distress signal.  Through this network, which was established to handle "emergency communications," Joe's team was able to advise U.S. and Australian sea-air rescue teams to stand down.  Rich Wilson, who finished the 2008-2009 Vendee Globe in ninth place, set up a similar kind of network, which included doctors and professional yachtsmen, as he describes in his book, Race France to France:  Leave Antarctica to Starboard.  Although our voyage amounts to a fraction of the mileage of a global circumnavigation, having an "on call" onshore network seems prudent, if only to ease the stress on my wife and ensure that rescue services aren't implemented unnecessarily.  

June 17 is not far off, and we hope to lock down all safety essentials well before then.  Stay tuned for more coverage of our prep, including posts on our Helly Hansen gear, food, Gulf Stream and weather analysis, and other musings.  

See you out on the water.