Older, wiser, but not necessarily slower, a 35-year-old Bay boat wins the top trophy in the 42nd biennial Newport-Bermuda Race.
The story of the tortoise and the hare could serve as the script for this year’s Newport-Bermuda Race, and the top terrapin in the 635-mile event was a 35-year-old Chesapeake Bay boat with an all-Bay, all-amateur crew. Eric Crawford, 38, of Easton, Md., and his 35-year-old Pearson 41 Restless took home the St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy, one of ocean racing’s Holy Grails, earning best corrected time among the 175 boats competing in 12 classes. It was Crawford’s third try at the Newport-Bermuda on Restless, and savvy sailing coupled with some weather luck made it his best showing ever. (In the 1996 race, Restless won its class.)
In fact, four of the top six in fleet were Bay boats: Tad duPont’s Cal 40 Nicole (St. Michaels) was fourth overall, Ken Comerford’s Cal 40 Phantom (Annapolis) was fifth overall and Pete Geis’s Custom 38 Anthem (Annapolis) was sixth.
The race began June 16 off Newport, R.I., in 15- to 25-knot southwesterlies that held for the first two days and had the fleet’s big boys-among them Larry Ellison’s Sayonara, driven by Whitbread skipper Chris Dickson, and James Dolan’s Sagamore, driven by America’s Cup skipper Ken Read-on schedule to break the course record George Coumantaros’s Boomerang set in 1996. But then, not 120 miles from the finish line, the big boats ran smack into a high pressure system that literally took the wind from their sails. While they wallowed in light air (it took them 16 hours to go the last 120 miles), the rest of the fleet continued flying in the breeze behind them.
Crawford saw the breeze dying and decided to stay high on the course and west of the rhumb line. The move paid, since those who tacked earlier ended up beating to the finish in little or no breeze. Crawford had been keeping tabs on the top boats in the fleet, and toward the end of the race suspected he and his crew were about to win big.
“There were only a couple of boats that had gotten out any distance ahead of us, and at the end there they had gone east,” Crawford says. “And when I saw what the breeze was doing and what the forecast was, I said, I think we just closed the door on them.”
Besides the Lighthouse trophy, Restless took home six other prizes, including the Corinthian Trophy for the boat with the best all-amateur crew, and the Overall Performance Trophy for the boat that beats the next two yachts in her class by the largest margin.
Crawford, who works at Higgins Yacht Yard in St. Michaels, bought Restless 13 years ago from his father-in-law. He’s been upgrading the boat steadily, and he races it in six or eight Bay races each summer as well as the Tred Avon Yacht Club fall and spring series. He’s been sailing with much of his crew-Mike Keene, Mike Rajacich, Mike Marshall, Eric Hummel and Leo Newberg, all from Talbot County-for at least 12 years and is quick to attribute the win to their skill. And the latest permanent addition to his offshore crew is his 15-year-old son Eddie. Eddie cut his offshore teeth on last year’s Annapolis-Newport race, in which Restless finished second. This was Eddie’s first Newport-Bermuda.
“He’s our good luck charm, we think,” Crawford says, “so we have to take him with us from now on.”