Anarchist “keel trimmer” gives a great look into the Bermuda Race, this time from the 80’s IOR racer “Dogsled.” Plenty more great info on a race for the record books in the Newport-Bermuda thread.
Dogsled is a 1984 Kaufman 47, based out of Halifax, NS. Her original name was Gem. Gem was the name given to a series of boats that were campaigned in the Sound ‘back in the day’. I don’t dare go into too much detail because some of you old shmucks will insist on hijacking this and correcting me, but suffice to say this old boat has a particularly good pedigree. She’s a classic IOR sled, made for the open ocean, and looking at her interior in comparison to modern racers, you can easily see the evolution of the species – think Aurora, but made of wood – the bunks, cabinetry, layout, etc, are remarkably similar to today’s configuration. According to Ron Wiess, she was built before the rules drove the designers into the uncontrollable, pinched-stern perversions that heralded the end of IOR.
Speaking of the interior, she is easily the wettest boat I’ve ever sailed; she was a wet boat brand new, and boats do not get drier as they get older. For example, the hole in the deck for the baby stay was called ‘Old Faithful’ until a garden-hose based solution, known as the horse dick, was retrofitted by the current owner. There are so many leaks in the deck it’s really hard to know where to begin. The regular crew tell stories of making pancakes in the galley while up to their ankles in water. As a result, the wood interior is just about at the gut-it-and-start-over stage, but that’s part of her charm. (Fortunately, another few hundred pounds of water seems to do little to slow or adversely affect the trim of this 23,000 pound freight train.)
We sailed with a crew of 10, breaking out to 3 watches of 3 people each, with the skipper, Todd, as a floater. It was pure luxury to have 6 hours off for each 3 hours on, and as a result no one begrudged the calls for extra hands for sail changes, because there was so much time to rest up. We had new instrumentation in the form of a full TackTick suite, and a demo version of Explorer for weather routing (the instruments were not connected to the PC).
As others have noted, this was not a complex race – the name of the game was to stay out of trouble, sail the shortest possible distance, and once the sleigh ride ended (the one that allowed Rambler to set a time 25% faster than the previous record), make the most of any pressure we could find. Well, find pressure we did, but that was later. Maybe there was a long term forecast predicting the low that formed to the east of rhumb line, but we knew nothing about it at the start.
It was a downwind start, and with the exception of Crazy Horse, everyone approached the (huge) line on port tack, to facilitate the spinnaker hoist on the same side once over the line. For a moment it seemed like CH was going to force us to change course, but their young driver blinked and turned up instead of forcing us to give way, much to the vocal dismay of CH’s tactician. Bareheaded, we crossed the line a few seconds after the gun, and went up with the 1.5 – nice clean set. The first few miles were a tight drag race, with the still agitated Crazy Horse holding a course the rest of us felt was not proper, until she dropped back and gybed over to starboard to get east and away from the crowd. Things settled after that; we cleared Breton. The wind moved forward, so kite down, #2 up with 22kts of apparent. A little later we set my new favorite sail, the heavy staysail, which added good speed to our boat. We laughed hard at some of the others trying to get a faux staysail up – we saw storm sails, etc. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that jib/staysail combination was going to make an enormous difference in how we finished. It allowed us to sail the rhumbline with no difficulty, while boats without zigzagged for hours – kite up, turn down, kite down turn up. Lather, rinse, repeat. Dogsled just went straight. We put the #1 up when it got light, at about 1800 local time. The staysail didn’t come down until the wind shifted, allowing us to set the 1.5 kite again, at about 2100. We carried that kite through the night, although we moved the pole to the deck at about midnight to get more reaching performance. 15kts apparent / 18 true. Three hours later it was 18 apparent / 26 true, and we kept on trucking. The forecast for the wind to shift, letting us turn back onto rhumbline, never materialized, so 0500 found us further west than we wanted to be.
So, kite down, #2 up, and back on course. Two hours later wind dropped to 19 true; staysail up. We kept this plan and course through the day, with our big yellow boat hauling ass like she was born to reach. Never went below 10 knots. The first 24 hours saw 200 miles under our keel and 10 grown men giggling like girls. It was only going to get better. As the sun set for the second time, with 25 knots TWS, we double reefed the main and dropped the staysail, leaving the #2. Boat speed didn’t diminish much and the boat was easy to handle. A slight wind drop a few hours later and the reefs came out. By the time the sun rose, we were 278 miles from Bermuda, with the wind down further and the #1 replacing the #2.
This is where we made a wee mistake. Looking at the forecast for the wind to diminish to 6kts, Chris our navigator / watch captain, made the choice to fly our light staysail – perhaps not realizing it was basically a drifter, and a pretty old one at that. At 13 knots apparent, the sail didn’t even last long to douse it before it became ribbons of old dacron. We continued on sans staysail till we set a kite later the next day.
To his credit, he was distracted. The end of the initial low pressure system was imminent and we were trying to decide how to make the best of the system that had formed to our east. With winds forecast from 20 – 50 knots, the course we chose to find good wind was easily the most important, and most risky decision of the race, and Chris did not sleep a wink for about 20 hours to ensure we rode that line as well as possible. Lose some sleep, win Bermuda – it was that simple. We steered between 140 and 155 from about 11am on Sunday till about 3am on Monday, then turned down to 180, our new rhumb line. At about 2300, it was jib and staysail went down, kite up.
The new course and breeze necessitated a gybe at about 0200; we screwed the pooch big time. It took 3 attempts to get the kite flying on starboard tack, and we were bareheaded for about 45 minutes, speed down to 8.5 knots, while things got sorted out. Since our winning margin was only 11 minutes, we know now that we nearly lost the race as a result of these problems. One more failed hoist would have ended it. We carried the kite till about 0900 Monday, at which point we were only 73 miles from Bermuda. By this time the wind had gone forward again, so we bid farewell to our spinnaker and set the #2, later #1, and staysail and aimed our big yellow bow for the finish line. Two tacks later we were over and done.
Crossed the line at 1814, 76 hours and 44 minutes after we started. Dogsled – winner class 4, Bermuda Race, 2012.