As at least some of you know, we intend to sail our 21-foot Mini 6.50, Abilyn, from Newport to Bermuda and back to NYC on June 17--the same time that the Newport Bermuda Race fleet leaves Narragansett Bay en route to Hamilton Harbour. And, as we've reported previously, Abilyn is ineligible to enter the race. Do I believe Minis should be permitted to race? Absolutely. These boats are purpose built to handle the rigors of the open ocean, and have been sailed singlehandedly across oceans for decades. But rules are rules...and stability indexes are stability indexes. Nevertheless, our taste for adventure persists. And so, in a good faith effort to advise of our intentions and to promote good will, I reached out to the Newport Bermuda Race Organizing Authority purely in the spirit of Corinthian sailing.
Below is the e-mail I sent.
Dear Newport Bermuda Race Organizing Authority,
I am the founder and skipper of Abilyn Racing, a sailing program based in Larchmont, NY, focused on shorthanded sailing. Our weapon of choice is a Mini Transat 6.50 named Abilyn. I am writing to advise the OA that, despite being ineligible to race in the Newport Bermuda Race on two grounds (length and ORR-calculated stability), we nevertheless intend to "race" double-handed from Newport to Bermuda on June 17. Our goal is by no means to disrespect the race, its heritage, or the OA. Rather, the upcoming Newport-Bermuda Race provides us with an opportunity essentially for live practice: practice for next year’s Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race; practice for future, bluewater racing and passage making; in short, practice for whatever sailing adventures come next.
Our approach to this adventure is well-grounded in the origins of the Newport Bermuda Race. In A Berth to Bermuda, John Rousmaniere writes that Thomas Fleming Day had a radical idea at the turn of the 20th century—offshore sailing in small boats. Day believed that “small vessels are safer than large, provided they are properly designed, strongly built, thoroughly equipped, and skillfully manned.” Confident in his own abilities as a seaman, unphased by those who preached the dangers of offshore sailing, and desiring to “get a smell of the sea," Day set sail in 1906 from Brooklyn, NY, with three other boats in what became the inaugural Newport Bermuda Race.
Day understood that sailing offshore in a small boat is a beautiful challenge for the prepared seaman. Even today, to many sailors across the pond and around the world, sailing a small boat across an ocean means only that it must be Wednesday. It is my belief that, if Day were alive today, he would have smiled and tipped his hat at the thought of sailors venturing short-handed into the ocean aboard 21-foot oceangoing machines. He would have done so not in amazement, but rather as a gesture of respect and camaraderie that can only be shared among like-minded sailors who understand the importance of safety and seamanship as the bases for offshore sailing.
It is with the principles espoused by Thomas Day in mind that we intend to get a smell of the sea ourselves on June 17. Our boat—a Pogo 2 Mini Transat designed by Groupe Finot and built to offshore standards—is properly designed and strongly built. Indeed, Mini Transat boats have been racing across the Atlantic since the 1970s with crews of one. At least one Mini has circumnavigated the globe. And another Mini was recently sailed from the Caribbean to NYC, where it is staging for a record attempt between NYC and Lanzarote. Our boat also will be thoroughly equipped as we are adhering to the Newport Bermuda Race Safety Requirements, as supplemented by guidelines promulgated by the Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race organizing authority and the Storm Trysail Foundation. Finally, our boat will be skillfully manned as my co-skipper and I have substantial ocean racing experience, including five Newport-Bermuda races between us both. I also previously qualified for the Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race aboard Abilyn.
In view of our intention to “race” along with the fleet to Bermuda, we respectfully request that the OA permit us passage out of Narragansett Bay on June 17 by way of the official Newport Bermuda Race starting line. As a gesture of good faith—and regardless of whether the OA grants our request—we will donate $500 in the name of the Newport Bermuda Race Organizing Authority to the Storm Trysail Foundation, the preeminent organization providing education to young sailors about the importance of safety at sea.
Please let us know at your convenience whether the OA will grant our request. We are amenable to speaking further about logistics, including, for example, an appropriate timing for our start so that we do not interfere with the starts of any official entrants.
Ok. I admit. I probably shouldn't have led with the statement that, despite being ineligible, we nevertheless intend to "race," which implies that we intend to intrude. This is not our intention, which I made that clear in a follow-up e-mail to AJ Evans, the chairman of the regatta, whom I understand is also the youngest chairman in the history of the regatta.
Not being one to just let things mull about, I picked up the phone and gave AJ a call, primarily to introduce myself, but also to clear the air. Why did I feel the need to clear the air? Let's just say I received a response from a member of the OA that was not meant for my eyes. This e-mail contained a few exclamation marks and made reference to RRS 69.
Despite the vitriolic nature of the response, AJ and I had a very gentlemanly call, and even batted around a couple of ideas, since our request to sail through the official starting line was not well-received. AJ initially proposed that I set sail from Brooklyn. Although starting from Brooklyn has some appeal given that the regatta had its first start there in 1906, ultimately, we are set on leaving from Newport. We can't help it. We love Newport. (If Thomas Day were alive today, we would have kicked back a few over at IYAC culminating with unspeakable activity at the Candy Store). AJ, however, expressed a concern about potential interference with other boats while offshore if we were to leave from Newport. I reiterated that we have no intention of intruding upon the race--especially with the official entrants who have undertaken significant preparations (both time and expense) to get to the starting line of this classic regatta. I also mentioned that we would not seek to enforce any rights of way that we might have against any official entrant while offshore; if we have a port-starboard situation, and we're on starboard, we're going to give way, well before the port boat has to change course. We're out there to sail as a fast as we can to Bermuda and participate in the adventure, not to be dicks.
AJ also suggested that we sail out of Narragansett Bay either before or after the exclusion zone is enforced. This too has appeal, but we're waiting to see the Notice to Mariners once it's posted on the Newport Bermuda Race notice board. What we don't want is to leave too late in the day on June 17.
One option that we did not discuss would be departing after the last start, but potentially before the exclusion zone is lifted. In 2014, the last class (14 in total) would have crossed the starting line at 1520 EDT. Departing after the last start would address both of AJ's concerns: potential interference during the start and while offshore. Unless it's blowing 20-30 knots from a downwind point of sail at the start, most if not all of the fleet will remain ahead of us well into the ocean. If it is blowing 20-30 knots from a downwind point of sail at the start, fuggedaboutit.
No resolution was reached other than that we made clear that we'd keep clear.
All in all, I'm happy I was able to speak with AJ. From what I could gather, he's doing exceptional work as the regatta's chairman and clearly has the interests of the regatta and its competitors as his primary focus (as he should as chairman).
But I also got the sense that AJ understands and perhaps even appreciates what we're trying to accomplish. In the end, we're all sailors and are unified by our connection to the sea, regardless of whether we're pros or weekend warriors, or whether we participate for trophies and records or for pure adventure and the feeling that overtakes us when we grab the helm on a downwind run under a full moon and universe of stars. Just like Thomas Day and his contemporaries who chose to venture offshore in small boats in what became the first Newport Bermuda Race, we all just want to "get a smell of the sea."
See you out on the water.
REVISION: Based on a comment posted to Sailing Anarchy, we want to make clear that we did not refuse AJ's suggestion that we start either before the exclusion zone is in place or after it is lifted. In fact, we fully support that approach. When we stated above that we would keep clear, we did not mean to suggest that we intended to start in a sequence but keep clear of official entrants. We intend to keep clear by starting well before the first start, or after the last start clears. In other words, we will be avoiding the exclusion zone altogether unless the OA gives us permission to sail through after the last start clears (but before the exclusion zone is lifted). Our intention is not to violate any rules that are applicable to us as a non-racing, non-participating boat.