Photo by spectrumphoto/fran grenon
EXHILARATING: The yachts sail 645 nautical miles from Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, to St David’s Head, Bermuda.
Photo by spectrumphoto/fran grenon EXHILARATING: The yachts sail 645 nautical miles from Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, to St David’s Head, Bermuda.

The Marion-Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race presents a unique challenge for sailors.

One of the more unusual aspects of the event is the opportunity to forego modern technology in favour of celestial navigation.

This ancient mariners’ technique uses ‘sights’ — angular measurements taken between a celestial body (the sun, moon, a planet or star) and the horizon — in order to steer a course.

By using this traditional method, race entrants can  gain a two per cent adjustment to their ORR (Off-Shore Rating Rule) rating.

The blue water classic began in 1977 and is open to all ISAF (International Sailing Federation) Group Classifications.

It is a Corinthian event, which enables non-professional yachtsmen and women to race without a paid skipper or crew.

It therefore appeals to a broad range of cruising and racing enthusiasts.

Category 3 sailors (professional racing sailors) can take part as ‘cruising friends’ but without payment. 

The Notice of Race states: “The spirit of the race is that all yachts and crew are participating for the joy and pleasure of sailing, competition, and the camaraderie that accompanies such an off-shore event.

“The race provides an opportunity for cruising yachts and amateur crews to participate in an ocean race and a rendezvous in Bermuda.

“It encourages the development of blue water sailing skills on seaworthy yachts that can be handled safely offshore with limited crew.”

Yachts are accepted by invitation only, following applications. They must be “seaworthy, monohull yachts appropriate for a Category 1 Race between 32-feet and 100-feet long with fixed keels, immovable ballast, an enclosed head, and a cabin fitted out for comfortable cruising”.

The skipper and crew must have a “demonstrated competency for an ISAF Category 1 Race”, with previous experience of at least 250 miles of offshore sailing.

Except for double-handed yachts, each boat must have a minimum crew of four adults. All boats must have  an enclosed cabin “fitted out for comfortable cruising”.

Hull length, exclusive of spars or projections fixed to the hull such as bowsprits or pulpits, must be between 32 and 80 feet. Fixed keels are required and moveable ballast prohibited.

The race is a challenging one, crossing 645 nautical miles of open ocean. Boats also have to cross the Gulf Stream, which presents its own challenges and potential extreme weather.

Mr Williams, commodore of the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club (RHADC), has completed eight Marion to Bermuda races. He was also a member of the crew that won the 2007 race aboard Preston Hutchings’ Morgan’s Ghost.

As commodore, he is looking forward to welcoming this year’s race entrants to Bermuda and the RHADC.

Although numbers continue to be down in recent years — most likely influenced by tough global economic conditions — this won’t affect the fun atmosphere pervading the race week’s events and activities, said Mr Williams.

Families

“The number of entries (38) is about the same as it was in the last two races, but previously we’ve had over 150 boats arrive in Bermuda,” he said.

“With 40 boats and an average crew of around eight however, it is easier to welcome them and to make this more of a ‘quality’ event rather than ‘quantity’.

“Members of the RHADC marina are kindly giving up their berths to make way for the visiting yachts and there will be someone to welcome them alongside.”

Club members and RHADC staff will be on hand to greet the yachts, take their lines and orientate them. The duty desk will also provide a ‘skipper’s package’, with all the information visitors will need on the week’s events.

Among the other groups of volunteers are people dedicated to entertainment, clothing (eg. hat and shirt sales) and catering.

Eugene Rayner will be in charge of organizing a 24-hour watch system at the finish line off St David’s Head. This will be in place from Monday evening until the last boat arrives.

Members of the Bermuda Rowing Association, who use the club’s facilities, will also be helping out.

“As a ‘thank you’ they are manning the bars at the prizegiving,” said Mr Williams.

“It’s going to be a busy week, with volunteers from all different directions.”

He said that having just two Bermuda vessels in this year’s race — Spirit of Bermuda and Alice Kay — was perhaps indicative of the ongoing recession.

“The economy isn’t great right now, and if someone does the Newport race it’s a bit of a job to get both of them (Newport and Marion) done consecutively.

“It’s often a case of time and money as these races are relatively expensive.”

He encouraged all sailors to experience the Marion to Bermuda race.

“It’s a wonderful experience and is unique also, in that much of it is family-oriented. The family aspect can be seen in fathers and sons, wives and daughters, all sailing together. Everyone really enjoys it.

“Families also fly down separately to Bermuda, so it’s become a ‘friends and family’ event over the years.

“Many of the people involved in the original race back in 1977 are still involved today, either as trustees or volunteers.”