2008 Newport-Bermuda Race Off to a Strong Start

Jostling for position at the starting line amid steady southwest breezes and glorious summer sunshine, this year’s competitors in the 2008 Newport-Bermuda race got under weigh Friday as the starting cannon fired just after noon. In staggered starts based on entry class, nearly 200 boats dashed out of Narragansett Bay off Castle Hill making a southeasterly course for St David’s Head, Bermuda, 635 miles away.

How a boat finishes will be heavily influenced by how they perform the first night at sea. Being on the cold side of the Gulf Stream, this night will be spent in an area frequently blanketed in fog. Equally important, given the weather forecasts, is to get far offshore as quickly as possible to avoid the lighter winds near land expected in the evening.

A critical tactical decision is the point at which the boat crosses the Gulf Stream. While approaching and crossing it, the boat will encounter extreme variations of current, water and air temperatures, and wind directions which, taken together, can create unpredictable and dangerous weather. Making an efficient Gulf crossing is very important. Many skippers will opt to head straight for it to cross as quickly and early as possible.

Once across, the boat is on the warm side of the Gulf Stream, and the next 300 miles or so are typically very pleasant though occasionally an area of a frustrating calms. If the early part of the race has gone well, this stretch, known as ‘Happy Valley’, is where a skipper can make his boat run.

The barrier reef to the north of Bermuda poses the biggest challenge at the finish. Though GPS and radar have made the modern sailor’s navigational task much easier, the ancient risk of running aground is a real threat, especially during a nighttime finish.

All eyes are on the 99-foot Maxi yacht Speedboat skippered by Alex Jackson which is expected to take this year’s line honors – first to cross the finish line – some time late afternoon Sunday, a great start to its racing debut. Another fast boat making its debut this race is the Puma Volvo Ocean race team’s 70-footer. The 2006 line honors winner, Bella Mente, is near at hand but is not expected to overtake its faster competitors this year.

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