Newport to Bermuda or Bust

Fri, 07/15/2022 - 10:45am

In 2019 I was sailing Reverie north past Hammersmith Farm in 12 to 15 knots of east-south-east wind. As I casually looked over my left shoulder I saw the trimaran Argo zipping by me going an easy 12 knots; the boat nor her crew appeared to be breathing heavy because they were sailing in flat water with perfect wind—ideal conditions. Moreover, this fast mover was sailing flawlessly while flying only her mainsail. I knew that eventually Argo would come back and sail south on a reciprocal course while flying one of her headsails. Argo was practicing for something. Sure enough, as I was nearing the Jamestown side center span of the Pell Bridge and passing a locally-moored mono-hull - owned by a competitive Newport to Bermuda racer named Jay Gowell - called Temptress,
I saw this formidable trimaran cranking upwind with her number-two jib while flying a hull and going perhaps 18 knots or more.
Impressive stuff, and that day I was quick on the draw with my iPhone and made vids of her downwind and upwind performance. (For more intel check my Facebook page for Argo’s videos.).
What I’ve loved about sailing out of Newport Harbor for the past 30 years is that I can see the latest in cutting-edge sailing designs, and learn lots of interesting things as I watch the boats sail in the bay. Moreover, I’ve learned to use my iPhone as a notebook for my writing ideas. There is much to note in this one particular harbor for a scribbling
Argo is a MOD 70 - Multi One Design 70 - and the boat is designed for one thing, and that is speed. If you’re a sailor owning and helming a rig like this you have serious competition issues. Argo’s owner, Jason Carroll, is such a sailor. On 17 June while participating in the start of this year’s Newport to Bermuda Race, Carroll and his crew went charging over the starting line in close proximity to the Race Committee boat, and then began to push Argo toward the finish line in Bermuda.
The MOD 70 is a well race-tested well-built boat; however, these boats can break. In fact, the other MOD 70 sailing to Bermuda did break about half way to Hamilton, Bermuda and her rig came down. Fortunately, none of the crew were injured. Her name is Ultim Emotion 2. While sailing ahead of Argo by 10 miles in this very grueling ocean race, Ultim Emotion 2 had to retire from the race after her rig was overwhelmed. I’ve no idea how this happened; however, I did see the damaged trimaran upon her return to Fort Adams. Subsequently, Argo crossed the finish line in Bermuda after an arduous 33-hour sail. She broke a record for line honors in the 116-year-old race while making close to 20 knots for the entire sail to Bermuda. The crew of this boat got worked very hard during the race, while dealing with adverse conditions throughout. Especially in the Gulf
Stream. I doubt anyone slept a wink. Apparently, after four tacks from the starting line, Argo headed straight toward Bermuda on one tack while sailing in tough conditions.
There is another edgy design seen these days skimming across Narragansett Bay. This is an IMOCA class boat called Malama of the 11th Hour Racing foundation. This is the most savage boat design I’ve ever seen in all my years sailing out of Newport. Barrington’s Charlie Enright is her skipper. Enright is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to racing this kind of boat. Malama raced in the open division. This high-performance foiling boat also raced from Newport to Bermuda this year and made it from the start off Castle Hill to the finish in 41 and one-half hours; I can’t wrap my head around speeds that Argo, and Malama are capable of doing in ocean conditions. (For some perspective, the fastest I’ve ever sailed on a boat was aboard my 30-foot Ericson, Reverie. While sailing downwind in a storm she was doing 10.5 knots, which is as fast as I ever want to go in a sailboat.)
What was interesting about Malama, besides her design and racing capability was the unique makeup of her crew for this race. Skipper Charlie Enright was joined by: a professional big wave surfer named Ian Walsh, a professional back-country snowboarder named Elena Hight, a professional Swiss sailor named Justine Mettraux, and an OBR (on board reporter) named Amory Ross. This boat forces the crew into a Spartan mindset; there are no frills on an IMOCA class boat. It’s all about speed and endurance; it’s about brains and brawn. It’s about austerity for crew comfort. The aforementioned crew sailed a forthright and punishing race in their booming carbon fiber cavern. Both Argo and Malama are foiling boats and placed first and second in their respective classes. These boats are essentially flying while utilizing and managing the mass and physics of their designs. Provocative stuff.
While scouting around Fort Adams after Malama returned to Newport, I got talking to a guy connected to the 11th Hour Racing program. As I talked to a guy named Finn, I noticed the inboard workings of this wild looking boat and was taken by the grinding pedestal, winches, lines, and computer screens. There is no standing headroom in the enclosed cockpit that can allow the crew to grind sheets and trim sails. This boat demands attention of her skipper and crew - it’s a complex rig - especially when she is up on her foils where balance and tweaking the rig rule the moment. Furthermore, this boat is also designed to shed water as she charges forward. The faster the water sluices aft, the faster she can move forward with less drag. In some of the videos I saw of the race that were posted online, it appeared that Malama was sailing through the water, and not over it. This is the future of ocean racing.
The 52nd bash south was not an easy race by any stretch. Each boat had their challenges and unfortunately, there was the loss of a sailor’s life. The takeaway of any sailboat race is how the captain, tactician, and crew engage the elements in order to reach a common goal. Finally, in the spirit of sportsmanship and competition, men and women are able rise to their highest moments.
To windward