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:
Written by Kathy Large
Stuart McCrea at the helm of Deviation.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.