Bermuda Race's tightest contest

Keith Taylor reports on the action in the Newport Bermuda race's only one design class

Wednesday June 19th 2002, Author: Keith Taylor, Location: United States

Eduardo Salvati's Mabuhay II starts the Bermuda Race to weather of Scott Dinhofer's Brown Eyed Girl . Mabuhay won the J/44 Class. Brown Eyed Girl was fifth. Malcolm Clarke's Diogenes II is obscured.

Eduardo Salvati skippered his J/44 Class one-design cruiser/racer Mabuhay II to a convincing Class victory in the Newport to Bermuda Race yesterday.

The New York doctor and his crew crossed the finish line off Bermuda's St David's Lighthouse in the early hours of Tuesday morning, 26 minutes 59 seconds ahead of the second-placed J/44 Stampede, campaigned by Jim Sundstrom from Rye, NY.

Sundstrom, who was the class winner in the last two Bermuda Races, was looking to make it three in a row but was shut out by Salvati. In competition this time, Sundstrom's Stampede overcame sixth and seventh placings in the early stages of the race to move up to second, but could never catch Mabuhay II.

This was the fifth consecutive time that J/44 one-design cruiser-racers have enjoyed their own start in the 635-mile blue water classic that started last Friday from Newport, RI. They are the only one-design class in the biennial race staged by the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.

Jim Bishop, the class president and founder, from Jamestown, RI, and West Palm Beach, FL, raced his Gold Digger and stayed in contention throughout the race, match racing much of the time with Stampede. Gold Digger finished third, just 9 minutes and 13 seconds behind Stampede.

This is the second time in four attempts that Salvati has crossed the line first in the J/44 class in the Bermuda Race but the first time he has received the trophy. Eight years ago, Salvati was greeted by the first to finish cannon but dropped to second place in the class standings after he was penalized for going the wrong side of a mark of the course.

"It's particularly fitting that Eduardo should win this year," Bishop said. "It was a close-fought race and he deserves the victory."

Competitors in the class reported a fast sail to Bermuda, characterised by difficult squally and bumpy conditions in a cold, rainy northeaster the first night out, a spinnaker run in big lumpy seas in the Gulf Stream, a short period of very light wind and then a fast reach in southwesterly winds into Bermuda. At the head of
the record-sized 282-boat fleet, Roy Disney's maxi supersled Pyewacket slashed nearly four hours off the course record, taking just 53hrs 39min 22sec to reach the island.

Salvati reported that his boat was close to the top of the class standings at the 0800 position report on Saturday morning, about 18 hours after the start. However, during the day Mabuhay II snagged a lobster pot with the result that the cables jumped the sheaves on the steering system. "By the time we had it fixed, we were back in the pack," Salvati said.

Mabuhay II joined others in the class holding to the west of the rhumb line to gain the four-knot escalator effect of a strong south-flowing meander of the Gulf Stream. Salvati reported that in the closing stages of the race, his crew raced the boat very hard after sailing in close company on Sunday afternoon with three of the top five boats. The crew remained on the windward rail of the boat for the last 30 hours of the race, looking for the last ounce of performance.

Describing Stampede's sail to Bermuda, Sundstrom said: "It was an exhilarating race. Very challenging. We had every sail in the boat's inventory up at one time or another. The crew was working furiously to keep the boat moving as fast as possible in rapidly changing conditions. Our second place is a testament to crew work."

Stampede was placed in the middle of the 13-boat class after the first day's position report but pulled up through the competition in the latter stages of the race.

"We had decided to go west, so we were losing gauge against Bermuda by getting west," he said. "It looked like we were falling behind, but we were just leveraging ourselves up against what we thought would be a very strong westerly wind at the end and we were able to recapture 11 miles against Mabuhay Ii."

Bishop said the southerly 180-mile meander in the Gulf Stream, with its favorable four knot current was the longest in memory. "You had to be in that meander, or you weren't in the race," he said. "Because of this, there wasn't much divergence tactically on where to go."

John Bonds, navigator on Gold Digger agreed. The danger, he noted, was being caught in light airs at the foot of the meander where it turned and flowed east. "We were able to break out of it and slingshot across its bottom," he said.

It was an interesting race, the roughest he'd ever experienced, not for the severity of the winds and waves but their duration, Bonds said. Because of the length of the Gulf Stream's meander, the boats had spent a long time in its bruising square waves.

Commenting on the closeness of the class racing, Bishop said: "We saw most of the boats at one time or another on the way down but as usual in this one-design class we would pass people and think we had 'em put away and then they'd show up at the finish line ahead of you.

"We had a tight race with Stampede and Mabuhay II, amongst others. Mabuhay II crossed four lengths in front of us on port tack the last day. I think that's when she got away from as, as did Stampede.

Anne and Larry Glenn, from Locust Valley, NY, finished fourth in Runaway, just 6 min 15 sec behind Gold Digger.

"It was close racing," Larry Glenn said. "On the last fleet roll call on Monday morning the first eight boats were all within eight miles of each other. We locked up with Gold Digger about 120 miles from the finish and we raced within sight of each other for the remaining distance. They'd get ahead and we'd get ahead but they were just in front at the finish."

Scott Dinhofer, from Chappaqua, NY, who sailed his J/44 Brown Eyed Girl into fifth place, finishing 28 min 22 sec after Runaway, agreed with Glenn.

"After every position report you could put a quarter down on the chart and cover five or six of the lead boats. Just before we got out of the Gulf Stream and the wind died, you could almost measure the distances in boat lengths; boats were close enough that it wouldn't have been unusual for a day race, and we were half-way to Bermuda.

"When there are some your competitors in sight right there and you can see the results of your efforts in terms of gains or losses, it's incredible how hard you continually push yourselves."

In their race to Bermuda, the J/44s used their own ocean racing sails. When they compete next month in their North American Championships during the New York Yacht Club's Race Week in Newport, they'll be back in their strict one-design mode, sharing a common, pooled inventory of racing sails owned by the class.. At each regatta, owners draw for these sails, which are maintained by the class director, Tom Castiglione, and regularly updated in bulk purchases of 16 identical units.

Gold Digger leads the J/44 Class at the start of the Newport to Bermuda Race.

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