John Rousmaniere

First-Timer Sails Newport to Bermuda Race

Class Start at the 2008 Newport Bermuda Race  --Photo: Daniel Forster/Talbot Wilson/PPL

Class Start at the 2008 Newport Bermuda Race -- Photo: Daniel Forster/Talbot Wilson/PPL

I’ll bet many readers have a fantasy about doing this.  I do and many of my sailing friends do, too.  I’ll also bet the following quote from Richard Donn, captain of the Poeske, pretty much sums up how we would all describe our circumstance; except of course, that he followed through.

“Entering the 2008 Newport-Bermuda Race fulfilled a dream which was conceived early on in my sailing career but incubated slowly and only came to fruition in this year’s race to the Onion Patch.  For a 64-year-old man with a 25-year-old boat, the anticipation of the race was a mixture of excitement, apprehension, desire, and anxiety.”

— Richard Donn, Poeske

The Newport – Bermuda race is one of sailings oldest and most prestigious races.  Held every two years, the races features everything from gigantic ocean maxi racers with dozens of crewmen  to small, seaworthy cruisers sailing double-handed.  There are first-timers and there are teams and individuals (and boats) who have dozens of races under their belts.  It is not for the faint-hearted; with a 635-mile Atlantic Ocean trek that involves crossing the capricious Gulf Stream.

Richard Donn (center) with family and crew at race finish

Richard Donn (center) with family and crew at race finish

In 2008, nearly 200 boats raced to Bermuda and one of the entries was a 1983 Beneteau First 42, with a deep keel and tall rig.  Donn had crewed in the Marion-Bermuda race in 2005, and in 2006 did the return trip from Bermuda to Newport.  He and two of his crewmembers also crossed the Atlantic in the 2007 ARC.  Donn tells his story of entering the 2008 race on his own, in his own boat in a special feature on the Newport-Bermuda race site.  It’s been up for several months now, but it’s such a compelling story and one that resonates with so many of us that I thought I’d bring your attention to it.

In his piece, Donn covers the decision to enter, details about his crew and how he picked them, information about his boat and the rigorous inspection process required by the race organizers to ensure safety, and of course the experience of the race itself.  At the urging of John Rousmaniere, Donn includes an honest and extensive list of “lessons learned” at the conclusion of his piece.  Here are a couple of them; you can read the rest on the Newport-Bermuda race website, which should be a bookmark of yours anyway.

  • Start your preparations as earlier than you think is necessary.
  • Read accounts of previous races.
  • Use your mentor; they’ve been through this before and want to get you through safely.
  • Really know how to access and interpret weather data.
  • Pick your crew carefully and sail with them under conditions other than day sails on Long Island Sound.
  • Insist that your crew get into physical shape well before the race.
  • List all gear you plan to take ,know where it is stowed and anticipate what damage it might do when it gets dislodged.
  • Have each crew member stow their gear in either a locker or a zipped sea bag.
  • Use plastic baggies to keep sleeping gear and spare clothes dry.
  • Hypothermia is a real risk and can be deadly. Bermuda may be warm but the sea temperature north of the stream will be in the mid-50’s. Inadequate foul weather gear is a recipe for hypothermia. Personally review your crew’s foulies and safety gear. Every crew member should have a fleece jacket and pants which will insulate them when they get wet.
  • There is no such thing as overkill when it comes to spare parts, service manuals, and troubleshooting guides.

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Posted by Tom in Destinations, People