Two island boats will race from Newport to Bermuda
Lost in the wake of the America’s Cup World Series that arrives in Newport next month is the biennial Newport Bermuda Race, a 635-mile journey from Narragansett Bay to the island just 1,000 miles northeast of Miami. Once again, Jamestown will be represented in the race.
Andrew Kallfelz and Jim Bishop are two islanders who have committed their boats to the competition that can take anywhere from three to six days. Kallfelz entered his boat Aurora, while Bishop’s boat – Gold Digger – will also take the cruise.
The Newport Bermuda Race dates back to 1906. It was founded as the first ocean race for amateur sailors and normal boats. Since that time, 46,000 sailors have participated on 4,500 boats that have sailed a collective 3 million miles. The racecourse usually gets interesting when the boats arrive in the Gulf Stream, which is known for its strong currents and challenging weather conditions.
More than 170 boats are part of the competition this year, and they are divided into five divisions. This enables all types of seaworthy craft to vie for an array of trophies that are awarded at a ceremony at Government House, which is where the governor of Bermuda resides.
Kallfelz’s boat is a classic Tartan 41 that was built in 1973. It’s based on a design by legendary boatbuilder Olin Stephens, who has had numerous boats – including Dorade and Stormy Weather – triumph at the Newport Bermuda Race. Kallfelz has owned the boat since 2000 and entered it in the race to Bermuda for the first time in 2006. Aurora also raced in 2008 – when it won its division – and again in 2010.
In 2008, Aurora finished first ahead of runner-up Jacqueline IV and third-place Lindy in the St. David’s Lighthouse Division. This division is the largest in the race – it allows a limited number of professional crew members, but only amateurs are permitted to helm the boat.
Aurora races with a crew of eight that includes his wife, Julie, and Rob Lambert, who is also from Jamestown. Newport Bermuda is the only offshore race they do, spending the rest of the summer racing around the buoys on Tuesday nights in Narragansett Bay.
“What is really dramatic about this race are the three different scenes,” Kallfelz said. “You start out in the cold North Atlantic here in Newport. The first two or three days are cold days and cold nights with a decent breeze.”
A big change occurs when the boats arrive in the Gulf Stream. Kallfelz describes it as “always turbulent, sometimes violent, defi- nitely squally, and with lightning.” The transition from the tough conditions of the Gulf Stream to the warmer, more placid water known as “Happy Valley” takes 24 to 36 hours.
“That’s what brings everybody back,” Kallfelz said. “The rough start, the very dramatic transition, and then the happy finish.”
Once the boats arrive in Bermuda, the fun really begins. With the awards ceremony still a few days away when the boats arrive, the sailors have a chance to enjoy the surroundings if they wish to stay. Most of Kallfelz’s crew flies home at the end of the race, but they are replaced by friends and family who fly in, including his two daughters, who help to deliver the boat back to Jamestown.
“What we like about the race is that it becomes a family affair once we get there,” Kallfelz said. “We race down with a race-intensive crew, and come back with a more friends-and-fam sort of orientation. It’s fun for everybody. It’s fun to contemplate both pieces of it: the racing down and the return delivery.”
Kallfelz isn’t expecting any surprises this time around. He said that he constantly analyzes the last race to see what could have been done better. Minor changes and modifications are often made, although this year has brought no major changes other than a little bit of routing technology.
Another vessel that hails from Jamestown, Gold Digger, a J-44, is more experienced. Bishop purchased it 20 years ago and it is part of a 14-boat, one-design class that competes on Long Island Sound. Bishop said that while his current boat has been entered in the Newport Bermuda Race “seven or eight times,” this will be his 21st time in the race.
According to Bishop, the J-44 class was the first class to have a one-design start in the Newport Bermuda Race. As an example of the closeness of the competition between the boats, he points to one Bermuda race in which the 13 boats in the class all finished within 90 minutes of each other.
A crew of 12 will help to guide Gold Digger on its voyage to Bermuda. “I’m looking forward to getting back to the Onion Patch,” said Bishop. The Onion Patch is the oft-called nickname of Bermuda because it used to be a popular importer of the vegetable. The Newport Bermuda Race is sometimes referred to as “The Thrash to the Onion Patch.”
There is one other boat with Jamestown history in this year’s Newport-Bermuda Race. Jackknife is a J-133 owned by Andrew Hall, and while the boat has a British hailing port, it is kept in Jamestown.
The five divisions include everything from amateur cruisers to professionals, along with open and double-handed divisions. A total of more than 90 trophies and prizes are awarded. The race begins on Friday, June 15, at 1 p.m. Each boat in the race will carries a transponder, and their progress can be monitored online at Bermuda Race.com.