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Bill Greenwood on why Marblehead is the “Granddaddy of all races in the North Americas”
In anticipation of the 38th annual race we sat down with Bill Greenwood, owner and skipper of “Airborne IV” and a sailor who knows a thing or two about conquering the voyage.

In anticipation of the 38th annual Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race we sat down with Bill Greenwood, owner and skipper of “Airborne IV” and a sailor who knows a thing or two about conquering the voyage.

What is your own personal history with MHOR?

My history with this event goes back to my younger years when I participated in my first race with Past Commodore Dr.H.H. Tucker when he was 18. I’ve also sailed the race with Past Commodore J. Surrette and in more recent years have done it on another one of my boats, “Confrere”. Over the last number of races, I’ve sailed on my latest boat, “Airborne IV”. In all, I’ve participated in upwards of 20 of those Marblehead races.

What makes this such a terrific event?

I’ve been going back to Marblehead for the past five decades. I and many of my crew have had this great relationship between the two coasts and two Clubs, sailing from Boston Yacht Club to RNSYS. Many other Club members from both Countries also participate.  We still see many of the same friends. There is wonderful sailing camaraderie between two Clubs and the two nationalities. It’s also been a competitive sport between the two Countries. It’s a technically challenging race. Over the years, I and my very talented crew have learned a lot about maximizing the variables of ocean racing to place reasonably well. That includes everything from poor weather conditions from an easterly wind with fog – or the challenges presented at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy with significant tide conditions. Strategic sailors will look at where they will want to be at the corner at Brazil Rock – the western tip of Nova Scotia. You need to anticipate where you will want to be hours before you get to this turning mark. The timing is based on weather conditions, anticipated speed, and tide schedules. It’s a strategic process of being in the right place at the right time. The race course will test the mettle of each of the crews. Ultimately, it’s the fellowship of sailing with and against a great bunch of people along with the challenges of trying to be competitive out there. It’s about a safe and a well prepared boat and crew. It’s about having fun in two unique places and drinking rum with friends at both ends. And it’s a unique collective accomplishment in one of the oldest ocean races on the north and south continents.

What is your fondest memory of the MHOR?

There’s been many, but for me, this was the 2017 race. If you had to look at a perfect race for “Airborne IV” and crew, that was it. Spectacular weather, moonlit nights, smooth seas, a consistent strong SW wind, and no virtually no fog. Especially favorable for our boat. We were able to carry a spinnaker just after the windward starting mark, across the Gulf of Maine, up the coast of NS, a gybe of the spinnaker at the Halifax bravo mark and carry on to the finish line. There was one sail change! The chances of that happening again are slim to none. We won our class overall, and the overall PHRF racing division so that was the highlight of all races I’ve done. I said to our crew – “as long as we do this, we will never have another spectacular race like that again” - it all came together for the crew with ideal conditions for our boat.

What is your advice to first time participants?

First and foremost, you should be having fun and be safe. You need a well-found boat - the boat needs to be properly fitted for sea as are the crew, as safety is a huge factor as conditions can deteriorate quickly.  I strongly recommend that you have good navigational technical skills when it comes to monitoring AIS and radar, and boat handling in all conditions. Heavy weather and seas are part of ocean racing. There is a fine balance between flat out racing and safety. Learn to push the boat within safe parameters. Having proper meals for your crew, ensuring your crew gets rest when they should be resting and generally making sure your boat is sound are all important. First time racers should seek the advice of more seasoned sailors who are more than willing to help with boat preparation.

Why it is such a highly regarded event?

This is the Granddaddy of all races in the North Americas as Commodore Stanfield has quoted. And of course, it’s the oldest ocean race in North America having started in 1905. A year before the start of the Newport to Bermuda race. There is obviously a reason why this race has continued all of these years. Sailors love the challenge. The race provides various classes that allow those sailors who may not want to race in a racing category to race in a cruising division. There are lots of interesting facts – you are racing from one international country to another, and both Halifax and Marblehead are wonderful communities to meet new people and places and spend time in these historic towns. For Americans coming to Canada, Halifax is a welcoming port with plenty of activities happening in the summer. That is an ideal combination along with the challenge of the race itself. Because it’s been traditionally a “downhill” race (prevailing Southwest winds) – that makes it appealing as well. The organization at both ends of the course is exceptional. The social events are great fun where fellow sailors can meet and greet.

Any other thoughts to add?

This year I will have all three sons racing with me along with my brother. That is something I am really looking forward to. In many cases it can be a wonderful family event – and it’s great to see families on board together on this terrific adventure. For those who are considering doing this race I would encourage you to participate. There are many of us who would be happy to mentor those skippers needing some encouragement and advice. Check with the committees who I’m sure can direct you to other skippers and crews most willing to assist.

We are wishing Bill and the crew of Airborne IV all the best in this year’s race!

As told to Tara Wickwire, Chair of the RNSYS PR Committee for MHOR