Eugene Rayner, chairman of the Finish Line Committee, is pictured at the Watchtower next to St David’s Lighthouse. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Eugene Rayner, chairman of the Finish Line Committee, is pictured at the Watchtower next to St David’s Lighthouse. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

Three hundred square kilometres of coral reefs protect Bermuda from invasion. Every even-numbered year, however, scores of seaworthy yachts — well-found and fortuitous in their hunt for the island — lay claim to its shores.

The finish line looms.

They thrash toward the Onion Patch, keep to seaward of North Rock and Northeast Breaker Beacons and to the five-mile mark at Kitchen Shoals Beacon.

There they radio in, the invasion embraced as the Newport-Bermuda boats pass Mills Breaker Buoy and sail for the island, their navigators ensuring the yachts are beyond the coral reefs that could rip their hulls.

Eugene Rayner chairs the Finish Line Committee. His 36-member team works in shifts out of the watchtower, next to St David’s Lighthouse.

The schedule comprises six-hour day watches and four-hour night watches for the Sunday through Friday following race start.

Those on the watchtower’s lower communications deck talk to the yachts on Marine Channel 72.

The lookouts on the top deck mark the finish times as per the crosshairs of a scope and a chronometer.

Mr Rayner explained:  “On the crosshair you have numbers, or gradations. The person who’s actually manning the scope will say five, four, three, two, one, mark.”

‘Mark’ reflects the instant the sail mast passes through the crosshair.

A second person records the time in a written log and on a computer programme. Two others serve as lookouts.

According to Mr Rayner, the yachts’ compass needles will be spinning when St David’s Light is 291 degrees magnetic. The boats slow down, knowing they’ve crossed the line.

By two-minutes past that buoyed line, the crews again report in to the tower, identify themselves by boat name and sail number and state the time of their finish.

Here, radio communications by someone who speaks English as a second language can challenge the team on the Communications Deck.

The tower will not confirm the yacht’s finish. Voice communications are subject to Operator Instructions, which state the response should be:  “Yacht ______, your transmission has been received by the finish line. Welcome to Bermuda. Please guard this channel as per racing instructions for the next 30 minutes.”

Clarifying why, Mr Rayner said: “If you are on shore, you can say categorically that this is the position in minutes and seconds.

“That’s the way they do latitude and longitude. But if you’re at sea, it’s approximate because of the rise and fall of the tide.”

“It’s two ways… Our time is the finish time, [but] their log should approximate our finish time.”

During the half-hour following this check-in, boats must contact Bermuda Radio (formerly Harbour Radio) for confirmation of details, such as their EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) and other numbers relevant to identification and

Night finishes can be challenging, particularly where boats overlap at the line, or have the same name.

Finish Line Committee members have no night vision goggles.

The Bermuda Electric Light Company assists by turning off the streetlights between finish line and tower.

Committee members hold a red light just below the scope to help them track the finishes, while yachts are supposed to aid identification by shining a light on their shoreward sail numbers.

GPS positioning enhances the team’s ability to accurately log a finish. The Committee can use the tracking units from a yacht’s iboat tracks to supplement its own scope/chronometer information. Its chairman has access beyond the public’s view.

The team copes. According to Mr Rayner, the Finish Line Committee has never missed a boat.