Why I race the Vineyard — Bernard Armstrong

The Vineyard is a tradition for many. We’ve decided to celebrate that with occasional profiles of Vineyard veterans, all members of the Buzzards Society. We continue with Bernard Armstrong, immediate past president of YRALIS.

The Vineyard Race offers many diverse challenges and combines many variables that can only be found in distance blue water races like it. So what are these many variables? Team work, day racing, night racing and night racing can be in both darkness and pitch darkness to name a few challenges. It can be stormy days and stormy nights to test the crew’s skills and team work but it can also be beautiful nights with bright moons. When I first learned to tie a bowline we had to tie it behind our backs. Night racing makes you really understand how important it is to really be able to do that.

Next there is the overall game plan about how to win the race and get around the Buzzards tower ( I remember when it was actually a big tower) and back to Stamford in the least amount of time. Thinking through the strategy and tactics is key to figuring it all out. How will the tides affect us considering the current conditions? Then the tactics. How to maximIze speed in the various tide situations. Stay in the middle. How to use the Long Island shore to your advantage. Whether to go inside Long Sand Shoal or stay outside it. When to use Plum Gut or the Race. Lots of chess like moves around the course have to be determined in advance and executed properly to achieve success.What to do during light wind conditions. What to do during heavy winds.

Another big challenge in the Vineyard Race is the crew. This involves planning all the logistics, provisioning the boat for 2-3 days at sea. Finding places for all the provisions on board. Then preparing and cooking hot meals for a crew of 10-12 crewmen in a boat under full sail in heavy seas. Other challenges involve safety especially at night, managing sea sickness, mending sails and making other critical repairs under sail.

One of my most memorable Vineyard races was in 2001 on board a Frers 45 named Somerset skippered by Walt Alder. Walt is a great skipper and a real sailing man. Somerset did all the other required ocean races that year and upon finishing the Vineyard race in 2001 we learned that Somerset won the Northern Ocean Trophy and that accomplishment is well documented in the hall wall board display at Stamford Yacht Club.


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