Saturday, June 19, 2010

Speedboat chased by mini-maxis

John Rousmaniere reports on Day 1 of the Newport Bermuda Race

The wind that has been teasing the Bermuda race crews since early Saturday morning, has produced some turmoil in the standings at the head of the fleet. The 100ft maxi 'Speedboat' took the lead Friday night, but the mini-maxis remain close on her heals. Positions continue to change as the fleet nears the Gulf Stream.

The leader for several hours was Titan XV, a 75-foot mini maxi in the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division. Like the other large boats, in more wind she is a handful and can even be dangerous to sailors who don’t respect her power. But in these moderate conditions a boat this size is more noted for her speed. Chris Museler, in her crew, wrote on the Bermuda Race website, “These big modern keel boats, with their double-wide transoms and twin rudders, have such a narrow underwater presence that the ride is smooth as silk, similar to that of a large racing catamaran and even an ice boat. The tiny foam trail we leave in our wake looks like champagne.”

Titan was caught by the much larger 100-foot maxi Speedboat (Open Division, which started an hour later) on Friday evening. Other positions have been changing in the extremely competitive group of mini-maxis sailing in the Gibbs Hill Division, with Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente overtaking Niklas Zennstrom’s Rán soon after midnight, and Rán then catching Rambler and Beau Geste in parking-lot conditions.

After dawn, two boats reported a very light breeze from the southeast, but others were in a flat calm, with sightings of whales, porpoises, and one large fish – possibly a shark – that Titan rammed, with no reported damage to either the animal or the boat. If the sea life didn’t keep the sailors alert, reports of U.S. Navy exercises in the area surely did.

Later on Saturday morning the wind filled in for a while with a report of 15-plus knots, whitecaps, and the first sighting of cumulus clouds over the Gulf Stream ahead. By Saturday afternoon the standings were jumbled again, although Speedboat kept her lead as the wind came ahead and the boats started beating to windward, most of them close to the rhumb line with the evident aim of finding a favorable eddy that’s been spotted on satellite images.

“Everyone seems to be going the same direction!” reported Steven Thing from the Communications-Safety escort ketch Comfort. Boats are so closely bunched that it’s impossible to determine who’s winning on corrected time except that the small boats are very close to the big ones. All that’s sure late on Saturday afternoon is that the iBoattrack display shows the big Speedboat with her stern ahead of a great swarm of boats, and the boats tacking often as they look for the warm water of the eddy that will boost their speed by 2 or more knots. The leaders should be in the Gulf Stream Saturday night.