2017-07-06 / Around Town

Bermuda 1-2 Race a Unique Experience

By Lisa Gabrielson McCurdy

Dragon2, skippered by Michael Hennessy won the return leg to Newport. (Photo by Bill Shea) Dragon2, skippered by Michael Hennessy won the return leg to Newport. (Photo by Bill Shea) Sailors in the Bermuda 1-2 Race expect a challenge. It’s what they sign up for when they choose this iconic Bermuda-bound event.

The two-part race, which runs from Newport to Bermuda and back again, is contested every other year in June. This year, the difficulty of the race was amplified by the challenging conditions and equipment failures that plagued the fleet. The Bermuda 1-2 is unique in that skippers sail from Newport to Bermuda single-handedly, stay there for approximately a week, depending on the length of the trip south, and then return to Newport with an additional crew member on board.

The legs are scored separately, and then together, to determine the overall winner. While the sail south is challenging, the trip north can present more difficult weather, adding to the intensity. However, this year’s race saw the drama stacked definitively in the first half of the voyage.

Ultimately, it was Tristan Mouligne, who grew up on Aquidneck Island and plans to move back to Portsmouth, winning both the first leg and overall aboard the Class 40 Toothface 2. Another boat of the same design, named Dragon2, skippered by Michael Hennessy from Mystic, Connecticut arrived in Bermuda less than six hours later. Hennessy would go on to win the return leg to Newport, along with crew Kyle Hubley.

When time combinations from both legs and corrections were calculated, Mouligne was the overall winner of the race.

Mouligne is a five-time Bermuda 1-2 race veteran. Part of his success can be attributed to the fact that the faster boats in the race were able to outrun some of the worst weather that afflicted the slower fleet on the first leg.

The wind direction and large seas battered the single-handed sailors, who rely on auto pilot systems to guide the boats and allow for short sleep breaks. In heavier weather, however, sleep can be fitful, while the risk for equipment breakage is elevated. For many skippers, even with a full crew, heavy weather often means little or no sleep, adding to the already stressful task of navigating 645 miles to Bermuda under sail.

A system of thunderstorms descended on the fleet on the first night of the race, and while the leaders pulled away in the freshening breeze, many of the slower boats were faced with a fast but difficult race. Five of the 34 boats did not complete the first leg, while two retired on the first night due to equipment difficulties, one of which was caused by lightning. Both returned to Rhode Island. Three other boats retired during the race and continued south to Bermuda under power. For the 29 boats that continued under sail, the wind direction began to vary, meaning navigationally the skippers had to maneuver more than normal, requiring extra tacks and course adjustments in order to make it to Bermuda.

While Mouligne won the first leg overall and Class 1, another local sailor, Paul Grimes from Portsmouth, sailed J/35 Breakaway to a first-place finish in Class 2.

Most Bermuda-bound races from the northeast end there, where skippers enjoy the festivities and then a leisurely return sail. Of course, for the 1-2 racers, they’re not even half-finished. Upon arrival on the island, skippers must conduct necessary repairs for the return trip, fixing sails, recalibrating electronics, solving rigging issues, replacing missing equipment and so on. Of course, there’s also time for play at the St. George’s Dinghy and Sports Club, which hosts the event.

The revelry can’t last too long, for it is soon back to work for the return trip. Having collected their second crews, with the exception of two skippers who chose to do the trip solo both ways, the boats headed north, where the Atlantic Ocean treated them to a beautiful sail home. Three boats also retired during the return leg, but all made it safely home.

This time, it was Michael Hennessy’s Dragon2 that won line honors in a blazing 72 hours, 8 minutes. In a mirror image of the first leg, Toothface 2 crossed the second and final finish line just 24 minutes later. On the return, Mouligne was joined by Mike Dreese from West Newton, Massachusetts.

Combining both legs and adjusting for boat handicap, Mouligne edged out Hennessy by less than six minutes for the Class 1 and overall trophy, which was awarded at the Newport Yacht Club on June 24 by Mayor Harry Winthrop.

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