Big turnout for 100th anniversary Newport Bermuda Race which starts today 16/6/06

A record number of yachts – 265 in total – will set out from Newport today for the 100th anniversary Newport Bermuda Race.

The Newport Bermuda classic has traditionally initiated amateur sailors to the rigors of long distance ocean racing, but this year’s Centennial Race – the world’s second largest ocean race fleet after the Fastnet Races in 1977 and 1979 – has a true veteran element that promises to produce an epic offshore contest.

New Zealander Charles St Clair Brown is chalking up his first Newport to Bermuda event and has the potential of taking line honors in this 635 mile classic in less than 33 hours aboard his 98ft super maxi Maximus.

The record stands at 2 days, 28 minutes and 31 seconds set by Morning Glory in 2004 but if the conditions are right, Brown says of his Fastnet record holder: “We are racing on the extreme end of the sport and welcome the opportunity to be here. We have a shot at an elapsed time record and for us that is more important than winning. It is nice to be able to innovate and set new standards in this race.”

One Bermuda race veteran is Joe Harris of Massachusetts. A former recreational sailor, he has entered the professional ranks with his Open 50 Gryphon Solo against Maximus in the demonstration division: “I have competed in four previous Bermuda races with my father,” Harris said. “He passed away last year, so honoring his memory is part of the reason why I am racing today.”

Other top veteran racers are competing on boats that have just touched water. One of them is Bob Towse from Stamford, CT who is racing his new 66ft Reichel Pugh design Blue Yankee with his son Farley. She had her first outing in last weekend’s opening Onion Patch races. The boat may be new, but the team has great depth with tactician Chris Larson of Maryland and female navigator Adrienne Cahalan of Australia. “It is a brand-new boat launched eight days ago,” said Larson. “Right now, we are working hard to minimize the sail inventory and her weight.”

Another boat to watch out for is the Open 60 Pindar which will be competing in the race as a joint entry with one of the UK’s leading investment companies, Artemis. Record-breaking British yachtsman Brian Thompson, who is set to embark on an exciting new sailing campaign next month, will skipper the ‘Artemis-Pindar’ crew comprising of both experienced and amateur sailors. Racing on board will be Pindar boat captain, Nick Black, accomplished British yachtswoman Miranda Merron and Chairman of the Pindar Group, Andrew Pindar, who will be competing in his longest ever offshore race.

Commenting on the race Pindar said: “Having entered Rolex Antigua Sailing Week in May for the first time, it seemed only natural to race the yachts in the Newport-Bermuda Race too. It’s widely known as a ‘must do’ event for any sailing fanatic and we’re especially delighted to be here for the centenary celebrations. I’m looking forward to sailing with all the crew and in particular with Brian, who is not only a great skipper but one of the most accomplished and talented yachtsmen in the world today.”

Pindar’s other yacht the Volvo 60 will also be competing and among the crew will be World record-setting British sailing heroine, Dee Caffari who will join her close friend, Loz Marriott who’ll be skippering the yacht. Dee and Loz met when they each skippered entries in the Global Challenge 2004/5.

The current forecast for today’s start is predicting sunshine and a developing thermal breeze and there might even be a spinnaker start for the second race in a row. Down the course later today and Saturday, boats should get a shift to the south-west as they make their way down to a ridge running north-east off Cape Hatteras up into the North Atlantic just above the Gulf Stream’s path. The ridge appears to be thicker to the east.

With the present pattern of the Gulf Stream currents, crews appear to have a choice of going east of the rhumb line, the direct course to Bermuda, and getting more favorable current but a wider area of unsettled transition winds. The other option is to go west of the rhumb line in less favorable current, but experience more wind. Winds will be 8-14knots overnight Friday and in the 5-15 range on Saturday.

The Azores High should expand westward as the boats make their way through a lightwind day on Sunday. Then on Monday through Wednesday the weather should change.

Boats could experience south and south-east wind in the 15-25 knt range by Monday that will continue through Wednesday. What started out with a downwind breeze may just finish with a stiff beat during the approach to Bermuda.