Photo by john wadson
MAJESTIC: The Spirit of Bermuda in full sail along Bermuda’s South Shore.
Photo by john wadson MAJESTIC: The Spirit of Bermuda in full sail along Bermuda’s South Shore.
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Bermuda’s motto is Quo Fata Ferunt — Whither the Fates Carry (Us) — and the crew of Spirit of Bermuda will be hoping this is a ‘reach’ when the sloop leaves Marion today.

Skipper Preston Hutchings is hopeful that, with the right conditions, the sloop can be first over the line and repeat his triumph with Morgan’s Ghost in 2007.

Six years ago, his NYYC Swan 42 was the first to St David’s Head with a corrected time of three days, 22 hours, 47 minutes and 56 seconds, clinching line honours.

Speed

The crew were awarded The Blue Water Sailing Club Board of Governors Trophy for shortest elapsed time. This year however, Mr Hutchings is taking a much bigger boat.

Spirit is a replica of traditional Bermudian schooners built between 1810 and 1840, and used for trading. They featured a low-slung freeboard and were renowned for their speed and manoeuvrability.

The 112 ft triple-masted schooner was to go up against Belle Aventure, a 90 ft Ketch, in the Marion-Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race’s new Classic Yacht Division but Belle Aventure withdrew in the weeks running up to the event.

The race marks the inaugural entry in the biennial event for the sloop, which also made its debut in the Newport Bermuda Race last year.

Then, she crossed the 635 nautical mile (nm) stretch of ocean in 73 hours, 20 minutes and 17 seconds.

During her voyage she also diverted to come to the aid of a dehydrated sailor aboard Seabiscuit, although he was transferred to the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Enchantment of the Seas, 200 miles northwest of Bermuda, leaving Spirit to resume the race under sail.

Spirit was also the sole entry in the Spirit of Tradition Division of the Newport Bermuda Race last year.

Mr Hutchings is keen to see what she can do in the 645 nm event.

He has chartered Spirit with her professional crew of five to six sailors, plus three teenagers in the Bermuda Sloop Foundation’s sail training programme, and 20 of his family and friends.

The crew includes sailing master and past Olympian Alan Burland, navigator Larry Rosenfeld, Spirit captain Karen McDonald,  Nasty Medicine’s owner Dr Steve Sherwin, and Olivier Sarkozy, brother of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr Hutchings, senior vice president and chief investment officer of Arch Capital Group Ltd, said: “I thought it would be really fun to experience a sail from the US to Bermuda on a boat which is a modern version of something our ancestors would have sailed 200 years ago.

“Nowadays there’s electronic navigation, air conditioning and refrigeration to add to the comfort. Aside from these creature comforts and from Spirit’s unstayed masts, the boat is similar to what you would have seen had you been living in Bermuda 200 years ago.

“It’s the sort of boat you can also take friends on who may not have done any ocean racing before. The crew is large enough that there’s room for half-a-dozen or so who are inexperienced in sailing across an ocean.

“Of the guest crew there are about half-a-dozen ocean-going neophytes (beginners), and a large number of experienced sailors who have many thousands of miles of ocean sailing experience.

“The combination of the two means everyone will be safe, and hopefully we will all have a good time.”

Among the experienced crew are Mr Hutchings’ sons William and Alistair.

William has just graduated from Tufts University in Boston where he was captain of his university sailing team. Alistair is studying at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee, and is a former captain of his prep school sailing team.

Both have worked as sailing instructors at the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club (RHADC), as has friend Luke Templeman, another Bermudian on board.

“We have a lot of Bermudians on board,” said Mr Hutchings, 57.

They are joined by Brits, Americans and Frenchman Mr Sarkozy. “We are all really excited about the race,” said Mr Hutchings.

“Creating this Classic Yacht Division will hopefully attract more boats like Spirit to participate in the future, boats owned by foundations dedicated to teaching young people how to sail.

“This was always important to Captain H. Edward Williams (whom the Classic Yacht Division trophy is named after), that the youth of Bermuda should be provided with the opportunity to learn how to sail.

Advantage

“He taught his own son, Edward Jr, who will be a member of our crew.”

Spirit left Bermuda on May 30 under captain Ms McDonald at the helm and the crew assembled together in Marion, Massachusetts, by Wednesday.

Mr Hutchings is confident about Bermuda’s flagship’s chances, but says “it depends on the strength and direction of the wind”.

“If we don’t get a strong breeze our competition may be faster,” he said.

“With a course of roughly 165 degrees from Marion to Bermuda; if we can get a reaching breeze out of the east-northeast or west at a good rate of knots, we could do very well.

“The boat wants a reach. The nature of Spirit’s sail plan is such that we don’t want the wind too much on the bow or over the stern because that would lead to us having to tack or gybe the whole way”

A reach is a point of sail where the wind is abeam (slightly ahead of the beam, or at a 90 degrees angle).

Mr Hutchings said: “Whereas Morgan’s Ghost could sail well within 45 degrees of the wind, Spirit needs more of an angle relative to the wind — perhaps 60-70 degrees.

“Modern boats are more nimble. They can sail closer to the wind and they have spinnakers.

“When they tack or gybe it only takes a few seconds, but when you’ve got a boat of more than 100 feet, tacking and gybing takes time.”

Mr Hutchings said Spirit has an advantage over other boats in that she has a longer waterline, but her weight is a disadvantage in light air.

“If we have an eight knot breeze from the southeast, Spirit won’t be going very fast, ” he said.

“But I think it will be a blast, particularly because this is the closest we can get to experiencing the way Bermudians sailed back and forth between North America and Bermuda. They certainly didn’t sail with a spinnaker up going at 15 to 20 knots — speeds that Morgan’s Ghost reached in the 2007 race.”

Comparing the Newport Bermuda and Marion-Bermuda races, he said: “The Newport Bermuda Race is a little more serious in terms of the competition and Marion-Bermuda is more laid back.

“The starting line of Marion-Bermuda is a further away by 10 miles or so, but after the first couple of hours it’s basically the same race.

“Both races have a good atmosphere but once you’ve left the starting line it’s the same race. The only difference is the nature of the competition.”

He added: “I’m hoping to get here first, whether we win on corrected time or not.”