July 6, 2020, St George’s, Bermuda – The cancellation of two major biennial yacht races to Bermuda this year – the Newport-Bermuda and Annapolis-Bermuda races – has not stopped the enthusiasm for 22 sailors to race to the Onion Patch anyway now that the island nation has become open for visitors in the inaugural Spirit of Bermuda Charity Rally organized by the East End Mini Yacht Club (EEMYC) of St George’s and the Sailing Yacht Research Foundation (SYRF).
Today those teams started their offshore journeys at 1500 EDT, crossing two separate starting lines positioned in the Atlantic Ocean: one south of Newport, Rhode Island positioned for a 616-mile leg, and another east of the Chesapeake Bay for 603 miles, with both legs finishing just outside the harbor at St George’s, Bermuda.
The two entries that started on the mile-long North line today at latitude 40° 12.0′ N got a strong start beam reaching in a 10-12 knot easterly breeze. These teams were led by Hank Schmitt from Halesite, New York and his crew of five sailing the Swan 48 Avocation, and Alessandro Pagani from Lexington, Massachusetts sailing double-handed with Anthony Johnson on his Spirit 47 Luna.
For Schmitt, this is a familiar trip, one that he takes regularly as part of his Offshore Passage Opportunities, a business that connects crews and skippers seeking passage opportunities for deliveries and training. He also organizes the annual NARC Rally that moves offshore sailing vessels to the Caribbean for the winter season, along with their return, usually stopping in Bermuda.
“We’re very pleased to be part of this event, and thankful to the organizers for all the efforts they have made to conduct this race in a safe manner in these challenging times,” he said. “We look forward to getting to Bermuda and spending some time there enjoying their fine hospitality before sailing home.”
For Pagani this race is personal, and he and Johnson are planning not to stop in St George’s but to race around the island and its reefs to return to their start line.
“At a personal level it would have been extremely disappointing not to race to Bermuda,” he said. “I did my first race Newport to Bermuda Race in 2018 in the DH class. Last year I had planned to participate in the Bermuda 1-2 but an unplanned surgery got in the way. I was determined to sail to Bermuda no matter what and the announcement of this rally came at perfect time and for a good cause!”
The Rally is a fundraiser for the Bermuda Sloop Foundation’s “Spirit of Bermuda,” a 3-masted design based around an 1835 Bermuda sloop that was used to find and free slaves enroute to the US. The program has taken over 6,500 Bermudian teenagers for a week aboard to learn about the sea, sailing and teamwork.
Two more teams started the Rally east of the mouth of the Chesapeake, crossing a virtual start line positioned at 75° 30.0′ W. Both are boats owned by Andy Schell of Leesport, Pennsylvania, although he is not aboard either. Like Schmitt, Schell operates a business named 59° North that gives opportunities for offshore passages, with his Swan 48 Isbjorn and Swan 59 Icebear entered in the Rally. Both also got a strong start on their leg beam reaching in a 12-knot southerly.
Isbjorn is being skippered by Vincent Mattiola with help from Ben Soofer, and has a crew of six. Icebear is being skippered by Sean Westoby with help from Emma Garschagen, and has a total crew of eight aboard. Both boats left their base in Annapolis on Saturday to head south towards the start with overnight anchoring stops in southern Maryland and Virginia.
For compliance to Bermuda’s health precautions, crews can be tested and confirmed COVID-free, or remain quarantined on board while in Bermuda. Most plan to be tested because EEMYC has several events planned for their visitors at the end of this week and through the weekend.
“We’re excited to have the boats and crews coming here to support the Spirit of Bermuda,” said Mark Clarke, of EEMYC. “Their arrival coincides with the 52nd anniversary of the founding of our club, so we plan to have a Welcoming Party for the crews on Friday night, and on Saturday the fun Bermuda Triangle Offshore Race that includes the Spirit of Bermuda and other local-based boats. On Sunday is the Festival of Sail with Comet races in the harbor, followed by refreshments and awards. Everyone will have a great time before the Rally entries sail back to the US.”
For more information on the Spirit of Bermuda Charity Rally and to follow the progress of entries in the race, visit the event website at https://spiritofbermudarally.org.