Minis Transat Boats Wooed for 2016 A2B Race

.  The second race starts a week earlier from Annapolis, Maryland and has been running every other year since the early 1970s.  Limited to just 50 entries, local proponents of the Annapolis to Bermuda Race say A2B is more intimate, friendly to new racers (they have a mentor program) and is logistically easier and less expensive than bringing a boat to Newport for a race start.  Not to mention that crews from each race end up lining (and sometimes falling off) the same barstools in Bermuda as the N2B crews when all is said and done.  The A2B race is certainly no less challenging than A2N.  Except for the leg down the Bay, it is the same ocean, same Gulf Stream crossing, same freeze dried food and soggy sea-boots.  So both are great ocean races, it is just a case of different strokes for different folks.  Pick your race and enjoy.  That is, unless you can’t.    

Vernon Hultzer is a veteran ocean racer and along with his sailing partner and wife Heather, regularly competes in distance races like many of the N2B entrants.  Having competed in multiple blue water races over the years and having taken Team Wichard to victory in the grueling Bermuda 1-2 race in 2015, the couple can only reasonably be described as hard-core.  But despite their fearlessness, Vernon and his wife cannot sail in the 2016 Newport to Bermuda race.  The one and only reason is their boat.  Team Wichard is a 21 foot RG 650, AKA a Mini-Transat boat.  This is a tiny no-holds-barred ocean racer designed and built to sail a punishing 4,000 mile transatlantic race.  If you are teenage schoolboy (or girl) in France you probably have their posters on your wall, know all the class heroes by name, and would obsess on this race boat only slightly less than you obsess on members of the opposite sex.

Sailing legends Ellen Macarthur, Isabelle Autissier, and many others have used the Mini Transat to break out from the pack of unknowns into sailing stardom.   Autissier famously said that before the Mini Transat she was not a professional sailor and that it was through experiencing the race and its trials that she felt she became one.   Here in America, even in the Nation’s “Sailing Capitol,” devoted Mini sailors are not recognized by sailing buffs on the street, they do not sign autographs, nor do they generally move from these tiny but powerful vessels into careers as Grand Prix globe-circling racers.  But they do race.

For Vernon Hultzer and his fellow Mini Transat Racers the glaring difference between the N2B and A2B races is that one wants them, and the other does not.  Newport to Bermuda does not need Minis.  With their entries already filled to the brim, these pint sized rocket ships and tough as nails crew are not worth the effort, or so it would seem. Thanks, but no thanks.  One mini owner was reportedly planning to run the Newport to Bermuda race without entry while flying a Pirate Flag in protest.  When the A2B Race committee heard that the N2B race rejected the Mini Class from entry they were surprised.  “The boats are designed for transatlantic racing, and we know that they are highly capable” said committee safety chair Mike Lehmkuhl.  “Minis have raced in A2B for years with no problems whatsoever.  There is always risk in offshore sailing, but we felt the track record of the boats warrant their inclusion. These are not Catalina 25s we are talking about here, these are 21 foot tanks that were built to take a beating.” 

So the A2B race committee did exactly the opposite of N2B.  Corinne Smith, who coordinates race entries, contacted all the owners she knew and googled past race results searching for others in the United States.  List in hand she started actively recruiting.  “The Minis are exciting boats and we want to run an exciting race” said Smith.  “So we contacted everyone we could find who has raced a Mini Transat in the United States.  When we found them we extended a blanket invite. Bring your boat and your bodies and we will throw everything we have at you to help with logistics, accommodations, whatever we can provide.  We can’t give money, because that would be unfair to the other racers, but we offer our time, logistical help, network opportunities with other Mini racers - anything that might help make a Mini Transat Class for A2B a reality.   Our sponsorship chair even promised them each a bottle of rum and Cuban cigars at the finish!”

It seemed the bribes worked.  For the first time in its history the Annapolis to Bermuda Race is planning to hold a one-design for Mini Transat racers.  North America now has a race venue for these pint sized rocket ships, and their inclusion in A2B has generated even more excitement for the race.  Registrations are still open and the 2016 Running of the Annapolis to Bermuda Race is currently on track to become the highest attended race in years.  We for one will be watching the progress of the little tanks, as well as all the intrepid racers come the June 10 starting gun!   

Stay tuned for more announcements in Spinsheet for A2B 2016… 


Brian Barone, A2B Committe