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Bermuda Short-Handed Return runs long on unique stories

By New York Yacht Club

In a distance race, every boat writes a unique story. This is especially true of short-handed races. While the fleet for the Bermuda Short-Handed Return wasn’t large, especially when compared to the fleet that raced to the fabled Atlantic archipelago two weeks prior in North America’s oldest ocean race, the stories from the BSHR were nearly as diverse and just as engaging.

The second edition of the Bermuda Short-Handed Return started from the western end of St. George’s Harbor on June 30, with the first boat finishing just off Newport just after dawn on July 4. The results were tabulated and the awards were handed out in a cozy ceremony on the lawn at the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court on the afternoon of Sunday, July 7. But shorthanded racing is all about the journey. Here are three stories from the race, which is a joint effort of the New York Yacht Club, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and the Cruising Club of America. The New York Yacht Club’s 2024 Regatta Program is supported by Safe Harbor MarinasPeters & MayHelly Hansen and Hammetts Hotel.

The complete results can be found here.

Murray Beach, skipper of the Tartan 4600 Meridian, was the only boat to start in the Singlehanded Division. He was guaranteed a win in his class, but he also managed to finish fourth overall amongst all entries in the race.

“I had done the Newport Yacht Club’s Bermuda 1-2 in 2015. And, frankly, that’s the most fun I’ve had sailing. I’d always thought it made sense to try to do a return race.

“The preservation of your energy is super important. So, I made very conservative decisions. For example, coming out of Bermuda, every doublehander was headed off to the northeast with their spinnaker full out and doing nine knots, going crazy. And I decided no, I’m going to go straight up the rhumb line. And I went wing-on-wing. And I was rested. I just decided I’m going to pick the shortest line I can for as long as I can. For a while, I thought I was nuts. But, then I realized later, here they all come in. And I was exactly right. I had been resting. They had been racing. And we were meeting right back together. I hadn’t done half the work that they did and I hadn’t taken the risk.

“Making that type of decision [to preserve your energy] is really I think the most important. I mean, I’m 70 years old, so I can’t keep up. When you’re 22 years old, you got a whole lot more horsepower than I do. I’d set out my strategy right from the beginning. And it turned out that it was a good strategy.

“I love singlehanded racing. And you know, I was thrilled. I was the first one to sign up for the single. And for about three months, I was the only one on the list. It was a terrific group. I mean, the sailors are unbelievable. It’s a great event. I’m glad they’ve added it.”

“My Co-Skipper Zach raced [Newport Bermuda Race] on this boat, and he’s sailed on the boat a lot,” said McKeige. “He was our speed guy. I was just kind of there keeping the thing on the tracks a little bit. He’s already experienced that incredibly heavy-weather downwind sailing, so you know, I asked him when should we take this A2 down, and he goes maybe 30 to 35 knots. I was like, alright, I guess we’re locked into this. And we’re going right into the heart of the storm.

“I’m not sure what the other people’s routing had, but we had a very slim chance to make it into that [new breeze partway down the track]. We knew we needed to push the boat really hard, right from the start. Just had to really push forward. We knew the kite was getting to its limit. It’s a little old, it had already done this race down and back a couple times now. And so we kind of decided, hey, we probably won’t need it later. Okay, well, let’s keep it up as long as we can.”

“I mean this boat it’s really wide, really stable, especially with speed,” said Doerr. “So yeah, we’ve carried [the A2] in 30 to 35 knots. This race was a little more difficult because the sea state made it tough to drive around the waves.

“I think going into the second night, and at least in the back of my mind, I was trying to think about taking the A2 down and maybe getting the A5 up. We knew we were kind of in a good spot on the fleet. And then I was down having a little nap. I hear standing on deck, and Will shouts ‘Zach, A2 just popped,’ and so, you know, we carried it until God took it down.”

Lastly, a story highlighting the importance of safety training and adaptability. Co-skipper of Yankee Girl, Jonathan Bixby, describes their diversion from the Bermuda Short-Handed Return in order to help a boat in distress. (Bixby, event chair and Doublehanded 2 winner Peter Becker, center, and Yankee Girl skipper Thomas Vander Salm, at right.)

“The Coast Guard called us and said that they had a boat in distress. They didn’t have any details, but they needed to divert us to go there. And we were the closest. We were going downwind, so we just jibed.

“During that process, we were communicating with some other boats that were out there that were relaying to us what was happening because the boat we were going to lost their VHF antenna and their AIS. They could communicate via handheld VHF radio, but we were too far away to pick it up. So, there was another sailboat that was in between us that was relaying that information to us. The Coast Guard told us they had a freighter that they were also diverting to the scene. We were aware that when we get there, there was another boat there to assist us.

“The two people on board decided that they did not want to get on the freighter and they wanted to transfer to us. Tom is a physician, and I don’t think they knew it. But, they were so relieved when they got on board to know that they were on board with a physician, because the woman had lacerations and was bleeding. That was really the reason we needed to get there, because we needed to make sure that we could get her on board and take care of her for fear of infection.

“Our whole intention was to continue racing, depending on what we saw with the people who came on board. So when they came on board, we realized, ‘OK, it’s not as bad as we thought. We’re gonna go back to where we suspended and start racing again.’ Which is what we did. Then, we got caught in a no-wind zone, and were still afraid that she might get infected. We needed to get within 200 miles of the coast so that if she did have to be evacuated, at least the Coast Guard could send a helicopter out to take her off. That was really our goal. Therefore, we put the motor on.

“You just need to do what you need to do. Tom and I are both members of the Cruising Club of America, and we’ve been through some intensive safety-at-sea training. I myself teach safety training for cruising couples, so we knew exactly what we were doing. We had to get them in the water and then haul them up. We’ve done all that before.”

The complete results can be found here.

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