Set, drift, weather and sea state, particularly Gulf Stream weather and sea state challenge the blue water sailor.
Sailing style, boat structure and experience determine a crew’s response to those conditions and the date and time of day or night that their racing yacht makes landfall.
If by night, a boat’s Newport-Bermuda Race finish has traditionally required that the crew shine a light on the shoreward sail number at five and two minutes before the line and again as they finish. The light helps the Finish Line Committee identify the finishing yacht.
According to Eugene Rayner, chairman of the Finish Line Committee, this Sailing Instructions rule is rarely followed.
Nick Nicholson, who is a former chairman of the Bermuda Race, said: “If the requirement is in the Sailing Instructions, it is the responsibility of the captain to comply.
“On my own racing boats, we have always complied when finishing at night. Filing a protest alleging infringement of this rule is the responsibility of the Finish Line Committee. If they choose not to pursue it, that’s their call.
“The requirement is there to make sure that yachts are properly identified as they approach the finish.”
At the time of writing, the chairman of Race Media Operations, John Rousmaniere, noted that up-dated Sailing Instructions had yet to be published. He said he would be surprised if the requirement for boats lighting their own sails were not again included.
“The more information, the better,” he said.
Mr Rousmaniere also said: “Year after year, the Finish Line Committee records more than 170 finishes with very few challenges by participants, which suggests that Eugene and his team continue to do a superb job and that things work well.”
Mr Rousmaniere noted the many layers of the finishing system, including the finish line’s location and length, and the boats’ GPS systems and compass bearing to the tower.
He referred to the requirement for crews to alert the finish line of their approach, the concentration demanded of those tracking and alerting, and the double-checking that takes place for conformity of hand and computer records.
“Each boat’s position is reported from before the start to beyond the finish line by satellite tracking using transponders on the boats, identifying them by name,” Mr Rousmaniere explained. “When the digital ‘boat’ crosses the finish line on the tracking display, the boat has finished the race — providing one more very strong piece of evidence.
“Tracking this year will be done using the highly accurate Yellowbrick system, which is used in the Sydney-Hobart and other major races.”
The Bermuda Sun wondered if technology might someday force the demise of the Finish Line Committee. Its chairman, Mr Rayner admitted the possibility, but said he didn’t expect the Committee would be disbanded within the next couple of years.
“What could happen,” he said, “is that you’re watching all the boats in real time on your computer screen.
“You can tell when the boat’s finished on your computer screen in live time, but that will mean continuous feed of the transponder on the boat.”
According to Mr Rayner, transponders do not currently provide a continuous feed.
When and if that change occurs, the need for lighting up sails during night finishes might very well become moot.