Spirit struggles in ghost wind
The 49th Newport Bermuda Race got off to a colourful yet inauspicious downwind start yesterday as subtle breezes reduced the racing fleet's sail out of Narragansett Bay to a trickle at best.
The sight of spinnakers collapsing as yachts gybed to starboard and then rolled back over to port in search of more favourable winds was an all too familiar sight for the thousands of spectators that dotted the shoreline and circled the racecourse in pleasure boats to catch a closer glimpse of the fleet.
Yet nothing illustrated the subtleness of the occasion more than the Spirit of Bermuda, one of three local boats in the race, that was most affected by the light air conditions.
As the heaviest boat in a fleet of 164, the triple masted sloop virtually sat idle as though anchored to the seabed as smaller yachts limped either side of her sleek hull.
More than an hour into the race Spirit's bow had barely pierced the southern tip of Jamestown on starboard and Castle Hill on port — two landmarks located on either side of Narragansett Bay.
Female captain Karen McDonald is at the helm of Spirit which has been chartered by local businessman and former Olympic rower Jim Butterfield.
The starting sequences of Dr Stephen Sherwin's Corby 41, Nasty Medicine, and Brian Hillier's J-125, Crossfire, followed in the same vein as the subtle 5-9 knot north, north west breezes took their toll. If was any consolation, though, the race started on schedule and went off without any hitches.
In all, yachts from fifteen classes racing in five divisions began the 635-mile journey to Bermuda under clear, sunny skies.
Winds are expected to remain light for the first 24 hours of the race as a high pressure system moves away from the United States East Coast towards the rhumb-line.
North of the Gulf Stream going down the rhumb-line there is a warm eddy circulating clockwise offering between 1-3 knots of current towards the south for about 60 miles.
The strategy is to sail far enough west of the rhumb-line before turning east to come out along the western side of a counter clockwise circulating cold eddy offering as much 4 knots of current for about 150 miles.
Winds are expected to increase to 20-30 knots from the south east or east as the fleet approaches the Gulf Stream late tomorrow night/early Monday morning as a low pressure system off the Carolinas moves offshore. Throughout this period seas could range between six to eight feet.
Winds are then expected to become south west and decrease to between 15 to 20 knots further down the race track, which, along with a good current west of the cold eddy, could see the fleet reaching towards Bermuda at over ten knots.
Crews will then be hoping the conditions hold for the remainder of the way.
The first yachts are expected to cross the St David's finish line sometime on Monday.
Because of the slow start, it is unlikely that any race records will be broken this year.
For regular updates on the fleet's progress, log on to www.pantaenius.com/NBRtracking while further details on the race can found at bermudarace.com.