Setting out from Rhode Island Sound under spinnaker in light northerly winds, the fickle conditions are expected to provide a stern test for navigators and tacticians for the first 18 hours.
157 yachts ranging from Roy DISNEY'S MAXz86 rocket ship Pyewacket, racing in a special demonstration class with two other sisterships, down to William N Hubbard III's 37ft Lively Lady from New York set sail from Newport, Rhode Island on the 44th Newport/Bermuda Race yesterday.
The core of the fleet is made up of 102 IMS rated cruiser racers led by Llwyd Ecclestone's 94ft Frers designed Keturah and 12 IMS racing yachts which are contesting for the solid silver St David's Lighthouse and Gibb's Hill Lighthouse trophies. There are also 27 yachts competing in a separate non-spinnaker class and 12 two-man yachts sailing in the double-handed class.
The 630 mile classic, now in its 98th year, is rated as one of the toughest ocean races in the world on a par with the English Fastnet Race and the equally famous Sydney-Hobart Race, and has attracted many of the top names in the sport from around the world. These include Olympic medallists like Robbie HAINES from Coronado, California on Pyewacket, a star-studded Australian crew aboard the Swan 44 Mk II Crescendo that includes Gold medallist Jamie WILMOTT and Hugh TREHARNE, the tactician onboard Alan BOND'S famous 1983 America's Cup victor Australia 2.
AERA, another hot contender, this one from England owned by Greek yachting enthusiast Nicholas LYKIADAPULO, has several Volvo round the world race veterans onboard including Jez FANSTONE and Jason CARRINGTON.
Dee SMITH, the tactician aboard Bob TOWSE'S BLUE YANKEE, which won the Gibbs Hill Trophy two years ago, is skippering Hasso PLATTNER'S German MAXz86 Morning Glory this time round, and is joined aboard this potential pace-setter by Volvo race veteran Neal MCDONALD.
Sir John VEREKER, the Governor of Bermuda, has also thrown his cocked hat into the ring, by joining Colin COUPER and his Bermuda crew on the Swann 46 Babe. This is the Governor's first offshore race and before the start, he was relishing the test. "This is a wonderful opportunity and awesome prospect. This historic race is a phenomenal challenge and I am grateful that someone with so little experience has been accepted into this knowledgeable and friendly crew.'
Another personality is 92 year old Jim MERTZ from Rye New York who is competing in his 30th Bermuda Race as skipper on the Beneteau 44 Allegra. I've only missed two races, the one in 1948 when I was starting my own business, and in 1986 when the boat I was on pulled out at the last moment.' Mertz said today. His most cherished memory goes back to 1950, the first of twelve occasions when he sailed this race aboard the famous Sparkman and Stephens yawl Argyle, when she won the race outright.