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19 June 2006, 10:36 am
Upset In The Gulf Stream
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Newport Bermuda Race 2006

In what could prove to be a major upset in this year's Centennial Newport Bermuda Race, Hap FAUTH's JV66 Bella Mente was leading the fleet overall, well ahead of much larger rivals. According to the iboat tracking system, Bella Mente was not only leading her class and the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division, but was 50 miles ahead of 98 foot super maxi Maximus.
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It would appear that FAUTH and his crew made their gain overnight by staying well west of the rhumb line course through the Gulf Stream while Maximus ran out of wind to the east, early on. A potential elapsed time win by Bella Mente over Maximus would be a momentous victory.

Slow Going

The momentum for this year's centennial Newport Bermuda fleet slowed to a whisper on Sunday with most of the fleet becalmed in the Gulf Stream overnight.

Leaders in the Demonstration Division like Maximus and Gryphon Solo opted for the eastern side of the Rhumb Line and initially got a jump on the fleet. But, the big surprise came when those that chose the western side gained ground before the wind went light early Saturday.

As the fleet drifted, boats like Zaraffa owned by Skip SHELDON and Kodiak II skippered by Llwyd ECCLESTONE Jr are vying for the lead in Class 9 of the St. David's Lighthouse Division. Itrack put them nearly side by side, 264 nm from the finish at the 1030 report. These veteran boats may well be able to punch through the ridge of high pressure and be among the first to get to the breeze south of the Gulf Stream.

Renegade Leads Double-Handers

In the double-handed division, Tom SLADE and Kenneth BALL aboard the Santa Cruz 52 Renegade led their fleet, 282 nm from Bermuda, and are having a spectacular race.

In class 15 of the Cruising Division, the emerging leader overall is the Swan 56 Nova skippered by Mark DISTEFANO. He and his crew were two miles ahead of Frank STEINEMANN's Swan 80 Selene. Marcus DURLACH's Alden 72 Fearless was third, moving at five knots, 296 miles out.

Being adrift in the Gulf Stream is one of the most stressful aspects of this race. 'We are racing in three hour shifts and currently the weather is very cold,' wrote Molly KNOWLTON of Florida overnight. KNOWLTON is the cook aboard Pegasus and a member of the Coldwell Banker team. 'We have 13 men and two women aboard, and are working hard to become a cohesive, winning team. We have been blessed by the presence of videographer Billy BLACK who is filming a whale passing 15 yards away as I speak.'

Sticking Together

While the frustration levels will grow as sailors await the wind, the appeal of the open sea remains a major draw as teams work their way through adversity together.

'The first two days of the race are often cold and miserable and when you enter the Gulf Stream it is hot.' said Kaighn SMITH skipper aboard Gaylark in the cruising division. 'Once you pass through the Gulf Stream and sail towards Bermuda, we call it the 'happy valley'. The first thing you see is the seaweed of the Saragossa Sea and then the Bermuda Long Tail. You smell the foliage of Bermuda long before you see the island.'

Seeing land and seeing old friends is the icing on the cake in this race, but it is the lure of the sea and the challenge of the Gulf Stream that brings sailors to the starting line. 'It is not hard to understand the bond with the sea when you go out in a small boat,' added Sir John VEREKER, the Governor of Bermuda. VEREKER is racing with a team of Bermudians on the yacht Babe in this, his second Bermuda Race. 'I love the vastness. It is just wonderful to be out there for so long under the stars in the Milky Way,' VEREKER said. 'Two years ago when we neared the finish, and the other masthead lights appeared, I actually felt it was a bit of an intrusion.'

Joe HARRIS on Gryphon Solo reported. 'The wind has been between four and eight knots all night and we are moving slowly and only occasionally directly towards Bermuda. The forecast is not a pretty picture with a big high pressure system parked in our path delivering very light winds from random directions. It could take us quite a while to negotiate the remaining 315 miles to the Onion Patch.'

DOAN's Report

Val DOAN, Team Wave navigator and leader aboard Synergy, reported, 'We are doing well and going fast again, 200 miles in the first 24 hours. The second 24 were much slower due to no wind, but we are very happy with our crew work and the boat's performance. Apparently the race committee is having trouble with many transponders and we are not coming up on iBoatTrack, so I guess we must be patient while they work out the bugs.

'We are just exiting the Gulf Stream and into the cold eddy at 36 54N and 68 35W, and will stay to the west of the cold eddy to catch the sling shot effect down, before heading more southeast. We have a few boats around us, but it is amazing how quickly everyone disperses.

'The first night was gorgeous with a city of lights around us, 65 boats that we counted, and it was like catching fireflies as a kid. All the crew take a 1 hour shift at the wheel, then rotate to trim, and we did a few headsail changes in the middle of the night that went flawlessly, so we are very happy with teamwork. After the pressure cooker of getting ready before the race, this is pure bliss to be out here in such terrific conditions, even though it is a little light.'

Laurie FULLERTON (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Gryphon Solo at the start:© Fran GRENON/Spectrum Photo
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