by Colin Thomsom
Veteran sailors Colin Couper and Paul Hubbard will be back to defend their respective class and divisional Newport to Bermuda Race titles this year. The pair are among the five Bermuda skippers that have registered for this month’s biennial 635 nautical mile ocean crossing from Newport, Rhode Island to St. David’s Head Bermuda.
The race starts June 18th and can be followed on www.iboattrack.com
During the previous race, Couper navigated his Swan 46, Babe, to first place in Class 3 in the St. David’s Lighthouse Division on a corrected time of 63 hours, three minutes and 41 seconds.
Hubbard claimed top honours in the Cruiser Division with first in class and first in the division after steering his Oyster 435, fittingly dubbed Bermuda Oyster, across the finish line on a corrected time of 82 hours, eight minutes and 21 seconds.
Peter Shrubb, commodore of race co-hosts Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, has high expectations for this year’s local fleet that also boasts “seasoned” skippers Steven Sherwin, Buddy Rego and Mark Watson.
He said: “We are looking for big things from these guys this year. All of the Bermuda boats have all done well in this race numerous times.
“They are all great sailors and I think that anyone of them could win this race. We have some good local boats in the fleet”
In all, Bermuda could be represented by as many as 40 sailors in this year’s race that gets underway June 18.
The Newport to Bermuda Race was inaugurated in 1906 for amateur sailors in normal yachts. Since then professional sailors such as Mike Sanderson have competed in the century old race aboard multi-million dollar designs.
Sanderson, a past ISAF World Sailor of the Year and Volvo Ocean Race winner, navigated Alex Jackson’s 98 foot Super Maxi, Speedboat, to overall line honours during the previous Newport to Bermuda Race on a corrected time of 64 hours, 42 minutes and 56 seconds.
The state–of-the-art Super Maxi will again compete in the Open Division this year.
Shrubb rates the century old race among the top in the world. “We would like to think there are four major races in the world. . . . the Sidney–Hobart Race, TransPacific Yacht Race, the Fastnet Race and then this race, the Newport Bermuda Race,” he said. “If you have done these four races, then you can consider yourself as an ocean sailor.”
Despite tough economic times, nearly 200 yachts have registered for the bienial sailing spectacle.
“We would’ve been happy with 150 boats due to the economy,” Shrubb said. “Sailing is an expensive sport and so we thought 150 would be good. But we are very pleased to be up to 196 boats.”
Since its inception the Newport Bermuda Race has pumped millions of dollars into Bermuda's local economy.
“It has been calculated that the race brings in ten million dollars and about six thousand visitors to the island which says a lot for the race and what it does for the economy,” Shrubb added.
The RBYC chief said hosting the race is no small task. “It’s always a lot of work getting ready for this race. We have to clear our docks out to make sure we can house at least 145 boats here at the club. It’s always a strain on our systems like the plumbing and wiring and other resources. But we are getting there, we are almost ready.”
Among the local dignitaries that could travel to Newport for the start of the race are Premier Dr. Ewart Brown and Governor Sir Richard Gozney. Two of the local yachts in this year’s race, Vanquish and Genuine Risk, have been chartered from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and will be helmed by Rego and Watson.