July 7, 2020

John Gambles of SatoriJohn Gambles in Satori’s on-line cockpit in the 2020 Newport to Bermuda Race

The biannual Newport to Bermuda Race (N2B) was to be held June 27 to 24, 2020 but the 636.2 nautical mile on-the-water-event had to be cancelled due to Covid-19 to the disappointment of the prepared 200+ registered skippers.

Just like many of our Clubs, the event organizers, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and the Cruising Club of America were not about to be completely shut down. They brilliantly partnered with SailingOnLine (SOL), a premiere on-line sailing platform, to create a Virtual N2B Race.

An astounding 536 boats registered for the SOL on-line Race, Skippers from all around the world, with 10 countries ultimately being represented on the Podium. Included, but unfortunately off-podium, were 24 Canadian boats, 3 of whom were proudly representing RCYC. The Race was conducted in four classes of boats (Dehler 46, Italia 14.98, Xp55 and Sun Fast 3300) competing for four of the historical trophies of the N2B Race.

While Canadians did not make it to the Podium, the four Canadians who were the first Canadian boats in their respective fleets were Xp55 Solaise Moose, sailed by Stephen Benn; Italia 14.98 Bow; Sun Fast 3300 Satori, sailed by John Gambles of RCYC and Dehler 46 SecondWind, sailed by Greg Latter. Torontonian Stephen Benn, an experienced N2B navigator, who, like John Gambles, has crewed on the boats of Bermudian, Paul Hubbard, sailed Solaise Moose to 30th place overall finishing in 80 hours, 13 minutes and 36 seconds just 2 hours, and 5 minutes and 35 seconds behind rafa, an Xp55 that earned the overall line-honours.

Xp55’s took the first three places overall. rafa, sailed by Juan Barclay of Peru, finished first overall in 78 hours, 23 minutes and 1 second. In 2nd place was ij, sailed by Ilpo Jarvinen of Finland, who finished just 1 minute, 39 seconds later in 78 hours, 24 minutes and 40 seconds. In third place was robert1, sailed by Robert Schon of Sweden, finishing 11 minutes and 45 seconds behind the second place boat in 78 hours, 36 minutes and 25 seconds. The finish of the first two boats was a nail-biter with just 1 minute and 39 seconds separating them after 636.2 nautical miles!

Bow, the 1st Canadian boat in the Italia 14.98 fleet, finished 81st overall in 82 hours, 23 minutes and 17 seconds.

SecondWind, the first Canadian boat in the Dehler 46 fleet, sailed by Greg Latter, finished 189th overall in 91 hours, 10 minutes and 39 seconds.

The complete ranking list of participants is posted on SailOnLine.org.

As John Gambles, who has raced several times in the three major races to Bermuda, the Newport, the Marion and the Annapolis, will tell you this is as close as he has come to competing in the real thing and done so without getting wet! At 80 John thought that his ocean racing was virtually over…..not so it seems! John spent 93 hours, 23 minutes and 8 seconds at the helm with the autopilot spelling him for off-watch sleeps and naps in his on-line cockpit. Satori, with an average speed of 6.8 knots, finished just 1 hour, 30 minutes and 32 seconds behind Midnight Express, the winning Sun Fast 3300 from the UK.

The N2B race started at 1700 UTC on Friday, June 19 and required an average speed of just over 5 knots to finish the 636.2 nautical miles by 2300 UTC Wednesday, June 24th in the allotted 124 hours. No one mentioned that we would lose an hour of UTC time due to the Summer Solstice on June 20th!

The SOL platform is quite sophisticated. The Polar Charts for the boats are built in and visible, noting the angle of your sails while you are sailing; NOAA weather reports posted every six hours just like in the real race; the ability to look ahead at the forecasted weather minute by minute, hour by hour; an autopilot that can sail on COG or TWA; the ability to see the predicted courses over the next 6 hours in 15 minute intervals in both COG and TWA at the same time; the ability to steer the boat with accuracy to .001 of a nautical mile; the capability of putting in multiple Delayed Commands for the autopilot. As some of the participants who set up multiple Delayed Commands and left the helm found out that dramatically changing wind patterns can get you to a BBQ on dry land!

Screen Print of SatoriScreen Print of Satori at 1210 UTC on Monday June 22nd with 206 nm to go sailing east of the rhumbline with autopilot on COG and predicted courses for the next six hours for both COG and TWA. The right panel with the Boat Positions can be toggled to Helm Setting, Polar Chart, Chat Room and Settings.

As an example: - On Saturday the posted Weather Alert at 2215 UTC woke John from a power nap in his online cockpit. At the time he had Satori’s autopilot sailing on TWA! This was 3 hours before a predicted dramatic 360° Gulf Stream clocking of the wind S/E/N/W/SW. He was astounded to see that in 2 hours Satori’s autopilot using TWA predicted Satori to be sailing to the Azores! He immediately switched the autopilot to COG. The wind clocking started at 0105 UTC on Sunday and continued for an hour and a half. The Sun Fast 3300 fleet were in the midst of it and John stayed glued to the helm. In that hour and a half he changed the COG course 42 times or approximately every 2 minutes! Yes, this is just like IRL! One of the participants reminded us of that well known sailing proverb - “Long-distance races are won and lost at night!”

The participants in their race reports described the competition as fierce. Many who made it to the Podium are on-the-water Skippers in real life. There was an amazing seriousness to the competition. This was not just a “game”. Well known Skippers and Navigators who had registered for the cancelled on-the-water N2B Race participated in the virtual SOL race. They had come well prepared. They were using Expedition routing software paired with downloaded CSV Polar Chart files, Commander Weather Reports, information from the Predicted Winds site, among other tactical secrets. By comparison John said that he was sailing by the seat-of-his pants with his sextant at ready! He found the technological advancement in navigational skill and aids in the 30 years since his last N2B Race quite amazing. Without all these aids you can, just like in real life, still cover the Leaders. SOL allows you to see the other boats and their trailing course line. Another Canadian boat, Sunrunner, was covering Satori most of the N2B Race hoping to be the first Canadian boat to finish in the Sun Fast 3300 fleet!

Some clubs organized their Members to participate. The Mamaroneck Frostbite Association of the Beach Point Yacht Club of New York had six Members competing in the Sun Fast 3300 fleet only one of whom finished ahead of John, who finished 21st in that fleet of 101 boats and 249th overall. 9 Members of Australia’s Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron competed, 5 of whom chose to race in the Sun Fast 3300 fleet and two of whom finished ahead of John.

The routing software was apparently predicting a favoured course, east of the Rhumbline, to 25 knot winds. The Leaders in the Sun Fast 3300 fleet headed east and Satori followed with Canadian boat, Sunrunner, following her. When it was clear that this was turning out to be far too many miles off the Rhumblline one of the Leaders and Satori bailed out heading back west to what was now a favoured course slightly west of Rhumbline. Satori did her best to claw her way back and for 10 hours on Sunday was in 8th place in the Sun Fast 3300 fleet of 101 boats but in the end it was not possible to get back to the front of the drag race down the Rhumbline!

There is absolutely no question that any Canadian sailor, no matter what age, racer or cruiser, experienced or otherwise, who has long-distance-sailing on their bucket list, particularly ocean sailing, should be going to the SOL site and joining the SailingOnLIne Yacht Club. SOL is a place to sharpen your racing tactics and navigational skills in exciting competitive virtual real life races among extremely friendly and helpful sailors. It is the place to go to prepare for the real on-the-water Race. The SOL Racing Calendar includes World Races you have only dreamed of participating in to imagined destinations! As John said, “For us seniors our ocean racing is not ‘virtually’ over!”