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. 


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.


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.


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.