Durability & The Bermuda Race

For many sailors, especially in the northeast of the U.S., a passage to Bermuda is a bit of a rite of passage. Successfully completing such an open water trip is often sought after as a way to confirm to yourself (and to your mates) your abilities as a successful sailor and seaman. The biannual Newport to Bermuda Race is a way of achieving this mark with the added advantage of competition and camaraderie, not to mention the lush beauty of an island in the middle of the ocean & the Dark and Stormy’s waiting for you on arrival.

And while Newport-Bermuda is referred to as a race, the truth is, only a very small number of entrants are really in it for the glory or have an honest chance of collecting silverware. For the bulk of the fleet, simply doing a Bermuda Race is the reward. Thus, the bulk of the competitors are Corinthian, on “normal” boats sailing with family and friends on boats they don’t use for racing sailing, but do go cruising on.

For these sailors, the idea of an unlimited budget, especially for things that can wear out fast, like sails, is just not an option. Like Hood customers in general, the ones who sail (race) to Bermuda are much more interested in value over price. The unique woven Vektron material we pioneered over 20 years ago is an ideal product for the customer who wants durability at a fair price.

One of Hood’s clients, who is getting his money worth out his Vektron sails, is Chris Andrews from Portsmouth, NH. Chris has a 1980’s vintage Cal 39 and the 2014 Bermuda Race will mark his third round trip to Bermuda with Vektron sails. In 2009, Chris contacted us looking for a 150-sized headsail suitable for taking to Bermuda. Any time I read anything that says “…going into the ocean” I call up the client to get the low down. Thus, my first conversation with Chris was pretty entertaining.

I discovered Chris wanted to: Cruise locally in Maine, do local Portsmouth racing, do the Bermuda 1-2 (race from Newport to Bermuda single-handed and return Double-handed) and “oh by the way, I want to do Newport to Bermuda in 2010 and I don’t want to spend lots on sails and I want them to last.” Well, I am not sure he actually spoke those last words, but it is pretty clear to me that like almost all sailors value was an under current in the program.

Anyway, to make a short story long, we went with a main, a 135 (roller) headsail (and a rating to match it) and a Solent Staysail set up. The solent staysail and the rigging on it is really a boon for anyone sailing without a bunch of seriously fit college sailors, especially if the primary headsail is to be set on a furler. Most furlers do have two grooves, but in order to use them as such (hoist the next sail and then lower the first one) they need to give up their furling feature, and the attendant rating benefit.  If the furling stay is retained as a furler, then changing headsails becomes a real performance.

The crew needs to lower the headsail on the furler, unshackle the head and the tack, get that sail out of the way, get the new sail up to the foil, shackle the head and tack onto the halyard swivel and drum, hoist. Hope the breeze does not change again for 24 hours…

The Solent stay set up I put together for Chris eliminates all that commotion. The Solent stay sets parallel to the head stay and perhaps 6-10 inches aft. It allows all manner of sails to be set on it from light air reaching sails all the way to a small, even reefed Jib. It does not require a Corinthian crew of 5 to spend hours on the bow battling with shackles and sails blowing all over the place. The entire sail change can be managed by two people and mostly by one person on the bow with another in the cockpit handling lines.

With the constraints we all have on our time these days, getting the most bang for the buck out of our “fun” time is important to us. Making and keeping sailing fun  and simple for those who dedicate a chunk of that valuable time is one of the first things I think about when speaking with customers about sails.

Just ask anyone who has been sick or gone through some hard weather in the Gulf Stream and sworn off ocean racing. Usually they are raring to go again with in a couple of weeks after returning, because the Bermuda race is simply a fun event. And those Dark and Stormy’s after a few days at sea don’t hurt either…After all if it isn’t fun why do it?