How an America's Cup Design Came to Race in the MHOR

One of the bigger and heavier entrants in the Marblehead to Halifax race is the historical twelve metre yacht Valiant, owned and raced by Gary Gregory of Marblehead,  Now a race veteran, Valiant first competed in the race in 1991.

Originally commissioned in 1970 by Robert W. McCullough as the New York Yacht Club’s entry to the America’s Cup Defender Trials, Valiant’s first home port was New York.  One of the “jumbo twelves” she was the heaviest ever built.   Valiant was eliminated from the 1970 Defender Trials by Intrepid but went on to win the NYYC’s Lipton Memorial trophy that year.

Valiant was donated to Brown University (Providence, RI) and in 1973 she went to the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point NY where she served as the trial horse to Mariner for the 1974 Defender Trials.   In 1978, she was purchased by William Edwards of St. Petersburg FL who installed an engine.  From 1982-1988 she was owned by Charles W. Kern of Long Beach, California.

Gregory bought her in the fall of 1988 and trucked her across country from Long Beach, the boat on one trailer and a truck full of parts following behind.  At that stage she had no interior and a makeshift deck from the mast aft. She was designed to have the grinders and winches below decks, with canvas deck covers removed while sailing and the helmsman standing on a box, a configuration banned in 1974.

Gregory wanted to race Valiant, but there was very little data available for assigning a PHRF rating, and at any rate her displacement made a single-number rating problematic.  Her designer, Olin Stephens convinced Gregory to consider IMS (predecessor to ORR), even though that would require a substantial refit to the interior.

They first raced the boat in the fall of 1989 with 13 sheets of mahogany marine plywood lashed down below amid the beginnings of an interior and a new deck.  Then that winter they made a lot of progress getting the boat put together to race in her first Halifax race, or Marblehead race as it is known in Nova Scotia, in 1991.  Since then she has competed in eight more races, notably missing 2001 when she participated in the America’s Cup Jubilee in Cowes and 2007 when she raced in Valencia.

The 1991 MHOR was a learning experience for Gregory and the crew of Valiant.  “I had never been on an extended and windy close reach on a twelve metre before, and it was wet!  We arrived at the southwestern corner of Nova Scotia after dark in a howling Northeaster and dense fog, so we reefed and slowed to about 8 knots.  Turns out we should have been going 10+ knots.” Gregory said after finishing ninth out of ten in class.

Still, the hook was set, and Gregory resolved to attempt Halifax again, “It’s quite exciting going to new places that you discover for the first time, you feel a bit like one of the explorers.  Halifax is a delightful city that goes all out for the ‘Marblehead’ racers”.

The next race in 1993 featured a pleasant broad reach in moderate air to Nova Scotia, only this time it was clear with a moonlit sky.  Gregory was horrified to note the number of small fishing boats adrift with lights out and crews clearly sleeping in the same area where Valiant had blissfully charged through two years before, vowing to get radar for the next race.

Only 26 miles from the finish going 6.5 knots, Valiant heard Starlight Express checking in with Halifax Control.  Out came the beers in (premature) celebration and things quickly went pear shaped. According to Gregory, “We got becalmed and were drifting around in circles all night at St. Margaret’s Bay.  All the smaller boats arrived during the night, and it was very discouraging that morning when the wind came back”.

Valiant ended up finishing more than 19 hours after Starlight Express, correcting out about 10 hours out of first place at sixth in class.  “We also learned about the currents that come down the coast, and the effect their cold water has on the breeze”. Gregory said.  “Every race became an adventure, and we got better and better, climbing up the fleet”.

One of the most enjoyable and successful races was in 2005 when he won his class and came second overall.  “That year we had three generations on the boat.  Our main sail trimmer was Ralph Carlton and he had his son in law, Cutter Herlihy and grandson, Will Herlihy on board, while Gregory’s son Oliver sailed as well.

“It really changed the race for us,” Gregory said, “as it went from the romance of racing a big old boat into a family adventure”. 

In 2009 Valiant switched from symmetrical to asymmetrical spinnakers which eliminated three crew positions, making it easier to sail the boat shorthanded.  You can sail Valiant with eight people, Gregory said, but in a race that is going more than 24 hours you need at least two crews.  This will be the 10th year that Valiant competes and it is getting to the point where the kids want to take over and organize it themselves, Gregory said.

Gregory grew up in a small fishing village in Alaska, but went to college in Boston where he claims he was good ballast and did not mind getting wet.  With a bunch of fraternity guys he got involved in sailing and they ended up getting a boat as an excuse to spend time together.


Gregory decided to stick with a 12metre boat because he loves the adventure of going to different places and the excuse to spend time with his family and friends.  Valiant is big and heavy enough that we are not bothered about the weight on board, he explains, comparing it with smaller boats where size and weight of the crew is so important that it is harder to bring beginners and smaller people out.

In addition to racing, Gregory is well known locally for his philanthropic sailing endeavors, taking disadvantaged kids or terminally ill patients out on Valiant.

“Marblehead is like an exotic resort” he said, “go inland ten miles and you will find kids who look out of bus windows and have never seen the sea, and who would just love the opportunity to go out on a boat.  One of the first groups he supported was Girls Inc, the Lynn based charity.  “We take groups of the girls out and they just want a picture at the wheel, to send to their mums”   Gregory also takes out groups for Sailing Heals which provides a sailing experience for cancer and other stressed patients and their families.

Looking forward to this year’s race, Gregory says that actually, the kids have reached the point where they don’t need us, but we still want to go along for the ride.

 

 

 


Bill Greenwood on why Marblehead is the “Granddaddy of all races in the North Americas”

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

Why Race to Halifax? A First Time MHOR Skipper Shares Motivation for Entering.

For Tom Mager aboard his J122 Gigi the 2019 Halifax will be his first.

“My racing is typically around the buoys and the Beringer,” says Mager. “Given the long history of the Boston Yacht Club and Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron running this race I know how special an experience this will be.”

“I am looking forward to roughly three days of great teamwork with the crew racing around the clock. I’ve heard the stories of beautiful sunsets, sea life along the way and the huge welcome at the RNSYS”.



Mager, who is Rear Commodore of the BYC, says he has new respect for boaters who regularly race the MHOR and other long-distance races. He is impressed by the planning and preparation. “The safety requirements are probably the most significant aspect of preparing for the race,” he says. He is outfitting Gigi with the life raft, storm sails, manual bilge pump down below, offshore life jackets, personal AIS devices and more. “The good news is when I’ve gotten everything lined up for this year, the next one will be a breeze.”

Mager has found the other significant part of his planning is having the right crew. “It is not only a major commitment for the boat owner but also the crew. The crew count is limited to the capacity of the life raft. A navigator familiar with the unique aspects of this race is also critical,” he says. Mager says he is fortunate to have signed BYC Past Commodore Peter Fein as navigator for this event. Other crew slots are expected to be filled by his regular crew which he describes as “awesome.”

One last detail, according to Mager, is getting the boat back to Marblehead after the race. Most of the crew will fly back to work and family. “I’m still working on the details of getting Gigi back to Marblehead”.

2019 Race Dates Announced



Its hard to believe but the 2019 race is now less than a year away.  At this time last year we had just wrapped up a historic race that many of us will not soon forget.  Well its time to put that one behind us and start thinking about 2019.  The 2019 Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race will begin on Sunday July 7th 2019 so please mark your calendars so we see you on the start line. 

We would like to introduce the key persons involved in the 2019 race. The Race Directors are Anne Coulombe and Richard Hinterholler.  If you raced in 2017 you will for sure remember Anne and Richard as they are the backbone of running the race. The 2019 Race Chairs are Micheal Simms from the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron and David Bows from the Boston Yacht Club.  We are all excited that to be only a year out but as you can imagine we are hard at work planning another great race for 2019.

At the moment there are no significant changes to the race format but its always important to follow our communications for any changes that may impact your race.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at [email protected] and we will get you the info you need. 

We all hope you have a great summer of racing and sailing and can’t wait to see you on the start line in 2019. 

Regards,
MHOR Race Directors and Chairs

RNSYS Reception and Prize Ceremony

A memorable edition of the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race came to a conclusion on Thursday, July 13, 2017 at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.  Flag officers from RNSYS and the Boston Yacht Club joined together with skippers and crew for a reception and prize ceremony to mark a race that will go down in the history books, thanks to the record-breaking race by the crew on Prospector. The Mills 68 from Shelter Island, NY took more than two hours off the previous course record by completing the race from Marblehead, Mass. to Halifax, N.S. in 28 hours, 28 minutes and 50 seconds.

A long list of prizes were awarded topped by the record-breaking participation of Prospector.  Prospector wins first place in the IRC class and overall fleet and has been awarded the Halifax Herald and Mail Trophy, given to the monohull with the fastest elapsed time over the course.

“It was a race with terrific weather, fantastic sailing conditions, no fog and happy sailors," beamed RNSYS Race Chairman Will Greenwood. "The 37th Biennial edition of the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race has captured the spirit of competitive offshore racing. What more could you ask for?”  

The David P. Prince Trophy for the best overall corrected time in the ORR division was captured by Michael Cone and Actaea, repeating the same win from 2015.   The overall winner of the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet is Bill Greenwood III and his crew on Airborne IV, a Beneteau 50.  They win the Province of Nova Scotia Tray with the best overall corrected time in PHR, the largest group of race participants.  Their time was 50 hours, 18 minutes and 14 sec, adding to the vessel's growing list of race wins.  

“The air of excitement at the events at the start of the race in Marblehead was born out by the thrill of the record being broken by Propector," said BYC Vice Commodore and Race Chairman Jennie Aspinall, "But it didn't end then. Following the tracking with such a very tight fleet was addictive! Watching the finish was equally thrilling and here in Halifax, there was a buzz of conversation about the beauty and competitiveness of the race. Watching Warrior Won beat Lucy Georgina by one minute after 47 hours of sailing only served to add to the feeling that this has been a wonderful race with great events at both ends, making for many good memories, new rivalries and friendships.”   

Click here for a full list of the prizes and trophies awarded this year. 

Photos by John McKoy.

Halifax Crew Captures First in Largest Division of 2017

The crew of Airborne IV, a 50-foot Beneteau from the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron has captured top honours in the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet, the largest group of boats enterted in the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race.  Airborne IV lead the thirty four entries in PHR when the boat clocked a trip from Marblehead to Halifax in  2 days, 2  hours, 19 minutes and 45 sec crossing the finish line at suppertime on Tuesday.  A few boats in the division won't be crossing the finish line until Wednesday but they can't catch up to Airborne's corrected time.


"It's the best race I've ever done," said skipper Bill Greenwood III.  "There was no fog and it was just such fine conditions, everyone should have done this race." His son, Will Greenwood IV is co-chair of the Steele Auto Group Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race and took on the bow position during the race.  "The wind was just pushing us mostly downwind all the way.  It was a nice breeze, and honestly, one of the easiest races I've done." Greenwood has a strong record of winning in competition with Airborne IV, placing first in class in 2009, 2011 and 2015 and winning the PHR overall honours once before in 2011.



"At the turning mark in Marblehead, we set the kite, then we gybed twice and we didn't take it down until the finish line in Halifax.There were no sail changes and we had the full main up for the whole race.  We have three spinnakers on board but we left the same one up the whole race." Will Greenwood says the mood on board was light and Airborne's crew had a lot of time to enjoy each other's company. "Last night, we were all sitting at the dinner table telling jokes.  Mind you, this is the fifth race our core crew has done together.  We counted up all the Marblehead races between us and it totals 92 races!"

It was about 9 o'clock on Monday night when Will Greenwood heard that Prospector had broken the course record. "It's an honour to chair the race with a record being broken.  To be honest, no one thought that was possible when we reviewed the weather conditions and the projected wind of 10-15 knots so it came as a surprise to a lot of people."

Airborne IV is one of thirteen Canadian boats in the seventy three boat fleet.  Two other Nova Scotian boats placed second and third in PHR overall.  MacIntosh, owned by Durk Steigenga of the Chester Yacht Club is second and Sea Smoke owned by Mike Evans of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron is in 3rd.

New Marblehead to Halifax Course Record Set by Prospector

A racing yacht from Shelter Island, NY has blasted through the 363-nautical mile course between Marblehead and Halifax in a record time.

Prospector, a 68 foot vessel built in 2008 at New England Boatworks, took more than two hours off the previous record, covering the distance in 28 hours 28 minutes and 50 seconds.  This breaks the record held by Bella Pita, also a US boat, that was set in 2011.Prospector crossed the finish line in Halifax harbour at 18:28:50 on Monday evening, eight hours before the next yacht. A fleet of 73 boats left Marblehead, Mass. early Sunday afternoon, racing in a variety of different classes.  


Prospector's owners, Paul McDowell, David Siwicki and Larry Landry were on board for the race, speaking enthusiastically about the sailing conditions they encountered.  Landry said "it's amazing to be on boat that can go this fast.  Prospector is one of the best monohulls in the world." McDowell said the team hadn't registered for the race with the idea of challenging the record.  But he said once they looked at the predictions for weather and their best track, they knew there was a chance.  "We didn't talk about it on board so I didn't know until we crossed the finish line this evening that we had broken the record."  McDowell said the sailing conditions starting out in Marblehead were beautiful and they "couldn't have been better" as the race progressed. Landry says the team plans to take Prospector to the Pacific next year to participate in the Transpac and the Sydney to Hobart Race.

Thirteen of the boats in the race are Canadian, most from the Halifax area. On Monday evening, Airborne IV and skipper Bill Greenwood from the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron was in the lead of the Performance Handicap Racing division.  Many of the boats are expected to arrive in Halifax on Tuesday.You can track their progress on line by clicking on the Race Tracker and watch for updates on the race Facebook page and website: marbleheadtohalifax.com.

And they are off!

A fleet of 73 elite boats crossed the starting line off Marblehead Harbor and set a 363-mile course to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

 The skies were fair and winds out of the southwest averaging 10 knots to start the 2017 biennial edition of the Marblehead-to-Halifax regatta which dates to 1905.

 “The competitors were walking each other up to the starting line so I am predicting 363 miles of head to head competition,” said Anne Coulombe, of the Boston Yacht Club, co-director of the race.

Several large boats with impressive records are on the course. Among them Prospector this year’s winner of the 811-mile Miami to Montego Bay, Jamaica Pineapple Cup. The 68-foot yacht which carries a crew of 20 is based at the Shelter Island Yacht Club in New York.

Another is Ticonderoga a 72-foot wooden ketch out of Greenwich, CT designed by L. Francis Herreshoff. She is owned by Scott Frantz of the Riverside Yacht Club. At 80, her beauty is fabled for her sleek and graceful lines and her 86-foot main mast.  

Ticonderoga at the start. Photo by Craig Davis

Hundreds of spectators gathered along the shoreline to watch the start. Onshore enthusiasts will be able to follow the boats as they head toward Halifax using the tracker.

The record for Halifax is 30 hours 46 minutes which means the fastest boats could reach there early Tuesday morning. It all depends on the wind.

Love Story

When it comes to “The Halifax,” Arthur Love can claim dual citizenship.

At 83, he is the longest living member of the Boston Yacht Club (1951 to present) and a lifetime member of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, an honor bestowed in 1999.

“My parents loved the Canadian Maritimes,” Love explains. ‘Right after World War Two had ended our family went on a summer trip in 1946 to Nova Scotia.” It was the beginning of a summer ritual for the Love Family, one that would be repeated over the next several years.

He joined the RNSYS as a junior member in 1948 and learned to sail on a 36-foot schooner called The Rainbow. His first memory of the Marblehead to Halifax race was in 1947. “We would go out onto the jetty and blow horns as the boats approached the finish line.” Love explains that the finish was closer to the mouth harbor in those days.

Love has fond memories of his boyhood summers in Nova Scotia. Before renting a summer home in Halifax his family first went to Chester, NS, a “lovely seaside village about 45 miles south of Halifax. It was a beautiful place,” he says.

As a junior member of RNSYS, Love found Halifax harbor a good place to learn to sail.   There were a few close calls, he says, big freighters were always coming and going and the crews aboard the big Caribbean ships “didn’t seem to care about us.”  

Love’s first boat was a Bluenose 24-foot yacht built in Nova Scotia after World War Two.  He says the Bluenose was very popular at the time. It was handcrafted in the Maritimes. They required a crew of three, according to Love: a helmsman, jib man and a someone on the mainsail. They later added a spinnaker and “jenny”.

“We named our boat Puffin after the Atlantic sea parrot,” Love remembers. “They swim by flapping their wings and do somersaults as they skim along the water. We thought that pretty much described us in our boat.”

In 1951 the family moved Puffin to Marblehead. Dr. Julian Doherty, a friend of his father, was the commodore of the BYC in 1952 and got the family interested in the club. The Puffin was transported by ship to Charlestown and then to Marblehead. In those days, the BYC was located near Transportation Wharf. She joined a fleet of Bluenose yachts in Marblehead Harbor as the sixth. He kept Puffin until 1977.

Love has raced the Marblehead to Halifax twice – in 1961 and in 1963. Both times he crewed aboard Canadian boats. “Canadian skippers were very competitive, but also calm, “he remembers. What he found in both races was mostly light air - especially by the Bay of Fundy. “Some skippers had to tack all the way up the shoreline to finish, “he said.  But a captain named Don McNamara aboard a 60-foot schooner called Lord Jim decided to swing out to sea, make one hitch and a bee line to the finish. It worked” Love said.

Love remembers when the Marblehead to Halifax was held in August. He believes it was moved to July to help eliminate the fog that plagued racers later in the summer. He also believes there were more social events. The sailors were entertained by all three Marblehead clubs on different evenings usually under a big top at a yacht yard.

Looking to the Americas Cup and its high-tech catamarans, Arthur Love is not a fan. “High tech sailing is taking over, “he says. “I am more of an independent sailor I like feeling the boat under me and having control over when to tighten up or to slack off.”

Practice, Practice, Practice

Stuart McCrea and his crew on the J-120 Deviation had a big year in 2016. And there is a lot of hardware to show for their efforts. The RNSYS team won the trophy for the best results for a Canadian boat in the Newport-Bermuda Race, also winning the first ever J-120 class at Chester Race Week and the Prince of Wales trophy at RNSYS. And Stuart is recognized by both Sail NS and Sail Canada as Canada’s 2016 offshore sailor of the year.

Deviation Crew with the Prince ofWales trophy at RNSYS in September 2016

So that will be a hard act to follow. But McCrea is taking the same approach as he did last year – getting his boat and his crew ready by focusing on preparation. “Your best performance is directly linked to the preparation of the yacht and its crew,” according to McCrea. “This is one aspect of our sport that is most taken for granted, as some boats and their crews believe just showing up will mean success.”

“Like the NFL, NBA, and other sports, time is spent practicing plays, scenarios, and strengthening team work to improve a team’s success. And while most of the time, our sport has us sailing during the day, hopefully under a nice sea breeze and sunshine, ocean racing adds the complexities of sailing at night and or sailing in weather most wouldn’t leave the dock for.”

McCrea’s own preparation includes years of training and competing, starting when he joined the Squadron as a ten year old. He graduated from dinghies after competing in provincial and North American championships. His experience in keelboats includes at least a dozen Marblehead to Halifax races. This will be the second as a boat owner.

Starting at the end of April, he gets the boat out and the crew together, and they spend time practicing tactics. Like the old chestnut about how a musician can get to Carnegie Hall, winning at sailing for McCrea means practice, practice and more practices. He will plan for 30 mile stints, using the time to test sails to find out which works best in which condition. Man overboard drills are also important to McCrea. “I don’t take it lightly. Everyone needs to practice this. Just think about trying to find a crew member in the dark when the boat is going 10 or 12 knots. It would be very hard.”

His regular crew includes Mathew Christie as tactician, Jason and India White, Geoff Dalzell, Robert Maclean,

Cameron Fraser and Dr. Sean Christie. Others who regularly take part, depending on the race are Giles Oland, Jonathan Ladha, and Stuart MacIntosh.

McCrea is not shy to look for expert help, either. “Last year we were able to have Andreas Josenhans and Sandy MacMillan on board for a day.” Josenhans and MacMillan are decorated Nova Scotia sailors who are world champions and Olympians who both work in different roles with North Sails.

“We were learning to understand what the boat is capable of and how to shift gears,” McCrea said. “Things happen very quickly when you are racing. If you don’t practice ahead of time, you won’t be ready to handle the circumstances when they come up. Doing these drills well in advance of the race is simply good seamanship, providing an advantage over other boats that aren’t prepared. I mean the last thing you want to do is be searching around below for a needed part as a fast approaching squall hits, or worst case trying to find the ditch bag as you and the boat are being tossed around,” says McCrea.

McCrea does focus on the safety requirements for ocean racing and makes a careful inventory and assessment of the gear needed to make sure the boat is safe. Plus he says it is crucial to review the rules and regulations of your rating organization. “Navigation and tactics come a bit later, when all the other things are tuned up.”

As the shakedown practises continue, McCrea starts thinking forward to the race and the tactics needed to win. “There is a large debate about whether you should go inshore at night, stay east or west of the rhumb line or try to grab the thermolift along the coast of Nova Scotia. Most of my success has come from staying close to the rhumb line. We have also noticed out in the Gulf of Maine there is a pushing and settling of the current that can cause some trouble.”

Deviation has all the latest equipment to help make those tactical decisions – satellite phone, a weather service that provides faxes and grib files plus the software that helps choose the optimum routing.

McCrea breaks the Marblehead to Halifax race into three important segments. "The first one is how to handle the start in Marblehead, offshore or inshore route, which will depend on the conditions of the day."

Deviation Heads Downwind. Photo by Tim Wilkes

Then he says the next big strategy decision involves Brazil Rock (the shoal that sits off the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia). “I have never gone inside the Rock but I have heard lots of stories of people doing this. Your arrival time at Brazil Rock will make or break your race. I am afraid a lot of people don’t understand the Bay of Fundy tides. They are a lot bigger than what you have experienced anywhere else. It all comes down to timing.”

The Bay of Fundy tides are generally recognized as the most extreme in the world. In Southwestern Nova Scotia, the height of the tide is 3.5 metres (11 ft). Depending on the wind conditions, when the tide is flooding into the Bay, a boat can be sucked north or west towards the Bay of Fundy. Especially if there is little to no wind to power the boat, the crew will have no choice but to sit and wait for the tide to turn to get back into the race.

“There is one last part of the race that I have found can be decisive,” says McCrea. “There’s a transition zone just inside Chebucto Head as you are approaching Halifax Harbour. I have seen the race won and lost there a number of times. Back in 2015, we came in on a tight close-hauled course running 12-14 knots with 20 knots of apparent wind. Then we gybed at Halifax Bravo (a light buoy). And then we spent several hours and five separate sail changes trying to coax the boat in by Chebucto Head. When we finally got moving, we managed to overtake a couple of boats but we felt like we had lost our advantage. In the end, Deviation was 12th in line honours and if you look at the results, a large number of boats came in after us in the next three hours, so quite a few others went through that same scenario.”

Apart from race tactics, McCrea also emphasizes to be prepared for all kinds of possible weather conditions and temperatures. Most people expect cool temperatures and fog along the coast of Nova Scotia. But McCrea also recalls a period of hours that Deviation and many other boats were becalmed on a sunny day in the Gulf of Maine during the last race. “There was no way to escape the sun on a day like that.” He also gives priority to planning for quality food and lots of smaller meals plus drinking lots of water. "I have found it very important to have smaller and more frequent meals to help people deal with the mental fatigue that comes during a long race."

A couple of other quick tips from McCrea:

  • Watch out for fishing boats while you are in the Yarmouth and south shore area. AIS is very important because there is a lot of commercial traffic in these waters and they don’t always follow the rules – gross tonnage is the rule they use!
  • Rest is paramount for the crew before the race. “I have a curfew on Saturday in Marblehead…the party is always great but I aim for me and my crew to be in bed by 10 pm. Especially if the weather gets bumpy, everyone needs that extra sleep.”

Written by Kathy Large

Stuart McCrea at the helm of Deviation.

Ten member crew is “all in the family”.

Family crew will rotate helm every half hour during 2017 race

Seventy-three year old Brad Willauer is one of the veterans of the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race.  He has been participating since he was a teenager, usually working the foredeck on someone else’s boat.    Now, after participating in MHOR at least ten times, he will be skipper of his own crew for the first time in this event in July.  And he has a few strategies in mind that have proven successful in other offshore races.

Willauer purchased his first boat large enough to participate in the race in preparation for his retirement from the financial industry back in 2004. Since then, he has been cruising and racing for extended periods of time in the Caribbean each winter including participation in the Newport to Bermuda, and the Marion Bermuda Races.  Breezing Up, a J/46, is back in New England and he plans to be on the start line of the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race 2017 with a family crew. 

The Willauers take it as a matter of pride their ten member crew is “all in the family”.  “They are all good sailors and well-experienced.  Four of them are members of the Cruising Club of America (Brad Willauer is vice commodore of the CCA), and we also have a couple who are licensed coast guard captains,” he said.  Willauer’s own sailing resume includes racing in the Caribbean, Transatlantic (Bermuda to Spain) and cruising in the Mediterranean, Thailand and British Columbia.

His crew includes his children Ben and Tori Willauer, a son-in-law, Tony Fitch,  nephew Charlie Willauer and his three sons Cory Cramer, Charlie Willauer Jr, and Pete Willauer  plus nephew Langley Willauer and his daughter Nora.  The Willauers claimed podium finishes in four Newport to Bermuda races including first in the Cruiser division in last year’s race.  The dedication to making sailing a family experience has also won the Willauers the William Glenn Family Participation trophy in the Newport to Bermuda Race on two occasions.

Willauer believes the younger crew know the most about the boat and the technology on board and they are eager to do more sail changes, which is why he likes a mix of ages on board.  “They know everything!”  His own confidence about the boat and its capabilities are strong.  He lived aboard Breezing Up for extended periods of cruising in the Caribbean so he is confident to make the call about which sails should be up and what boat speed they can hit, depending on the conditions. 

“We have a lot of fun…we have a great time together.  Our family is close in general, anyway.  They all work hard."  

Above: A happy skipper, Brad Willauer has just learned he won his class in the 2006 Newport to Bermuda race. Saint David's Light, Bermuda is in the background

Willauer has adopted a practise that no doubt makes everyone sit up and pay attention.  All crew members steer the boat with the helm changing every half hour.  “This practice makes for a happy ship.”  

He says he remembers sitting on the rails of other people’s boats in 10 or 12 prior Bermuda Races, knowing him and other younger sailors on board could likely do a better job than the old guard, who often held onto the helm for long periods of time.  

“Finding the groove is a special skill, keeping her in the groove requires intense concentration,” according to Willauer. That’s why everyone knows they should only speak to the driver on business, no chatting.

“Some are better than others in handling the job but we don’t make note of that in any way.”  He admits some severe conditions cause him to alter this routine – such as driving with a chute on the upper limits of apparent wind or near gale conditions.

Another tried and true strategy - they all share the cooking, including the skipper.  They have all learned how to cook for offshore sailing for one simple reason:  “Good food is important for morale,” says Willauer.

It isn’t just this generation of the Willauers that devote their time to sailing.  “Sailing is what we did as kids.  My older brother Peter and my father were very good sailors and I learned from them.”  His brother Peter competed in national championships and later founded the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Maine.   The family has a deep connection to the summer community at Prouts Neck, Maine where his great-great uncle Winslow Homer had his painting studio.  Breezing Up is Willauer’s third boat named in honour of Homer’s famous painting.  Breezing Up is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art which describes it as “one of the best-known and most beloved artistic images of life in nineteenth-century America." 

The Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race is a 363-nautical mile offshore race sponsored by the Boston Yacht Club and the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.  The 37th biennial race starts in Marblehead on Sunday, July 9th following a course across the Gulf of Maine and along the coast of Nova Scotia to Halifax.

One of Brad Willauer’s memories of past Marblehead to Halifax races involves some winning insight by his brother Peter.

“He won the race with a boat called Madcap. He realized that he could pick up a thermal along the shore of Nova Scotia.  There was a high pressure system and most of the fleet was flopping around with no wind.  For about 60-80 miles, he sailed close to the Nova Scotia shore and that extra bit of wind made the difference.”

“I have great memories of my visits to Halifax, especially early on, crewing on Salmagal III, a boat built by Arthur B. Homer, the chairman of Bethlehem Steel.  “I have really fond memories of going down into the Arm and receiving the warm hospitality from people like Sally Norwood, once we came ashore.  I didn’t get to stay long in those days… I would usually head to the airport for the first flight back to Boston.  But the reception was really terrific!” In earlier times, individual Squadron members volunteered to act as hosts to each arriving crew.

The fog used to be extremely challenging, especially coming into the finish line at night.

 “One memory I have is from the 1970’s.  I was working on navigation and we were coming in to finish in thick fog at night.  We had the spinnaker up for the last ten miles and were making between 8 and 9 knots.  There was no radar on the boat but we knew where we were going. We had passed Chebucto Head.  In those days, we were running exact courses and timing with a stop watch. But the noise was tremendous so we decided we needed to douse the chute so we could slow down the boat and hear the signal that we had actually finished the course.  And in fact, that’s what happened, we slid across the line and we heard the signal boat…but it wouldn’t have happened without pulling that sail.  Modern navigation makes all these things so much easier!”

(Written by Kathy Large)
PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Forster/Talbot Wilson/PPL

9 Races of Halifax Memories


Twenty-three years ago I participated in my first MHOR driving my Frers 36, Achiever. The fact that I am here writing this article is testimony to our surviving that race, but it was a close run affair. The misadventures of that maiden effort would make a highly humorous read on its own, but that is for another time.

Nine MHORs over the intervening years still leave me a neophyte among the real veterans of this race, but my experience is somewhat unique in that I have been a volunteer, event chairman, and BYC commodore, as well as a race participant. These are some of the people and experiences I have encountered over the years with this grand event. 

People

The people who volunteer, work, participate, and plan continuously from race to race are what make this event the attraction that brings sailors back year after year. But where to start?

The Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron is as good a place as any. It sometimes seems that the entire membership is made up of past commodores, with each one nicer than the next. Their hospitality, good humor, and generosity are unsurpassed. As part of each race, renewing friendships with the members and staff of the Squadron is like coming home.

At the Boston Yacht Club, for several races, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the very large committee that is almost permanent from race to race. Volunteers who have donated their time for decades of races are common. The skills and experience they bring to each race are critical to its smooth running. As for the BYC’s cadre of past commodores, they are no less friendly and welcoming than the Squadron’s, albeit a bit crustier.

Weather

Every distance race has its own unique meteorological personality each time out. But the MHOR takes the prize for race-to-race and within-a-race variability. One race had 102 degrees of warmth for the skipper’s meeting and within three days, all on deck had full winter layers under their foul weather gear. That one was particularly dramatic, but that sort of change within the race is actually the norm. 

There are glorious downwind sleigh rides or 300-mile tight reaches that have yielded some wonderfully fast races, but for each of those there are the light-air years hard on the wind, with VMC stuck at four knots forever. Those are the years that have some boats not making it to Halifax in time for the awards ceremony.
And there are the interesting little low-pressure depressions that spin up unexpectedly (usually at night, it seems) that make the extra time prepping the boat and crew worthwhile. Fortunately, these do not happen every time out.  Regardless of whether it is a fast or slow year, however, there is always . . .

The Current

Getting around the legendary corner at Brazil Rock is, of course, the key tactical moment of each race. The water surging in and out of the Bay of Fundy and the way it treats your boat can make or break you. And despite all of the daily charts and weather prognostications, you really have at most only a six-hour window to predict your speed and possible location and change your course sufficiently to avoid disaster or take advantage of the speed boost.

We have had it both ways. I can recall losing the gamble and watching six knots of boat speed reduced to one and a half knots of speed over ground within a quarter mile of the whistle off Cape Sable. It seemed that it only took a week for the current to let us go. That race did not end well for us.

However, another time, we were caught north of the rhumb line as we approached Blonde Rock and took a chance cutting through close to Mud Island. We got lucky that time and did a slingshot around the corner going ten over the bottom.

And there are always the bracing and refreshing waters of the Labrador Current that can impact your visibility and comfort while causing you to reflect on your sanity. I had such a moment in the last race, when watching the light come up at 6:00 am (no sunrise to be seen) on the rail, hard on the wind, solid green water coming over the bow, I thought, “What in the world am I doing here?” But those thoughts go away quickly when the hospitality of the folks at the Squadron warms you on your arrival.

Competition

Generally the fleet spreads out after the first night, and you might see four or five boats at any given time, usually not in your class, so you are really competing with the wind and the racecourse. Before tracking systems gave information on where competitors were a few hours earlier, we had to wait until boats finished to see any results.

But in the 2013 race, we were involved in somewhat of a match race with PC Bill Greenwood’s Airborne IV, a sister ship of Southern Dream, our boat. As night fell on Sunday, we separated from them as we headed south of the rhumb line on a weather play. Two frustrating days later, after having been becalmed as much as 25 miles south of the rhumb line, we were pretty sure our weather gamble had failed, and we were certainly far behind. As we approached Cape Sable, the customary fog bank enveloped us just to add to the fun. While monitoring the radio and radar, I was amazed to hear Bill talking to a fishing boat. We figured he must be closer than we’d thought. While there was lots of traffic on the radar, one boat crossed just ahead of us; the fog conveniently lifted to reveal Airborne IV crossing a few hundred yards ahead. We then had a 100-mile beat to the finish with some very exciting racing. 

The Finish

Over the years the finish line has moved around quite a bit, from way out by the Chebucto Head to the current finish just off the entrance to the Arm. But regardless of where it is, there is always something interesting at the finish. 

The finishing effort begins with a call to Halifax Traffic Control announcing your entrance to the traffic-controlled area. It is always nerve-wracking listening for your competitor’s call and hoping you don’t hear it before you call in. Halifax Traffic Control will tell you if there is traffic expected. In one race, fairly early in the morning after a very rough night, we were informed there was outbound traffic, but they were not too specific about what it was. When we saw the traffic, we thought we were hallucinating. A huge US Missile sub, or “boomer” blasted by us on its way out of the harbor. It was an unforgettable sight. Fortunately, there was good visibility that time. At other times, visibility is so bad you can be a boat length away from the finish mark before you can see it. Add in another boat finishing at the same time, and you can really wear out your last nerve after three days of intense racing.

The longer one spends strolling down memory lane, the more stories and experiences pop up. I will close by saying that the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race has been one of my most enjoyable and memorable sailing experiences. I am sure that after your experience with this year’s race, you will agree.

By Jim Flanagan

Steele Auto Group Signs on as Title Sponsor

A prominent Atlantic Canadian company is the 2017 title sponsor for the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race.  Steele Auto Group is based in Halifax and owns 17 dealerships in the region.

“We’re thrilled to be a supporter of such a prestigious sailing event here in Halifax” stated President Rob Steele, a member of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, co-sponsor of the MHOR with the Boston Yacht Club.

“The Steele dealerships have been involved in sponsoring events at the Squadron in the past,” and was our title sponsor in 2015 says co-chair Will Greenwood.  “So we are extremely happy to welcome back this company and its support for this classic international race.  Corporate support is crucial for our success in hosting hundreds of sailors here in Halifax.”

The Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race is a 365-nautical mile course raced every two years by dozens of yachts.  Sailors will start the race in Marblehead, Massachusetts on July 9, with the prize ceremony scheduled for RNSYS on July 13.  

Steele Auto Group started in 1990 with one Chrysler dealership.  The group now has 17 dealerships in three provinces representing 21 different brands.

New Website Launched To Support The 2017 Race.

We've upgraded our website with a new design and  more imagery of the race. The new site is part of a larger web infrastructure upgrade and was redesigned for improved support of mobile devices. 

As more details for the 2017 edition are available we'll be updating and expanding the new site. 

If you have any quests, as always, please contact us.


Spookie Claims Line Honors

An American racer has claimed the honour of being first over the finish line in this year's Steele Auto Group Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race 2015.  "Spookie", a Carkeek HP 40 was the first boat across the line in Halifax at 18:34:25.  "Spookie" is owned by Steve and Heidi Benjamin of Norwalk, Conn.  Steve Benjamin was on board to enjoy the honour of being first boat across, after many years of racing this course.  "I feel wonderful.  Marblehead is one of my favourite races of all time!" he said at the dock in Halifax.  
 
"Spookie" has a long list of wins including in 2014 the Vineyard Race, the Ida Lewis Long Distance Race and Quantum Key West. "This is a fast boat, especially downwind.  The conditions suited "Spookie" which has a light displacement, a large sail area combined with a flat hull shape." Benjamin says the crew also made excellent decisions dealing with light air off Cape Sable and the currents. "The strongest wind the boat had to work with was right at the finish line."
 
"I am super happy to be here in the daylight.  I think this crew is hungry and thirsty and we'll celebrate tonight."  Despite the boat's superior performance, the boat is currently for sale.  The businessman who is a consultant to North Sails has recently purchased a TP 52, another Carkeek design which he plans to sail in its first regatta in August.
 
The Marblehead fleet ran into light air conditions on Monday afternoon.  Winds picked up at noon today (Tuesday).  "Spookie" was in port approximately 5 hours ahead of the next group of boats expected overnight.  
 
The first Canadian boat to finish is expected to be "Helm's Deep", owned by Mike Sutton of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.