Andrew Weiss talking about his class win in the 2022 Newport to Bermuda Race.
Andrew and Linda Weiss’ Italia 11.98 CHRISTOPHER DRAGON finished first in Class 12 (14 boats) and fourth overall in St. Davids Lighthouse (Corinthian) division of this year’s 635-mile Newport-to-Bermuda Race.
From the very start, Andrew was in control of his race. With a committee end favored starting line, and everyone trying to get an advantage from the get-go, Andrew controlled the start and caught nearly half the fleet barging. With much of the division having to peel off and approach the starting line again, DRAGON was off cleanly and reached R2 off Brenton Reef at the head of his group. They had started with a jib up for maneuverability, but after about 30 minutes the wind swung around to the northwest and they set their new UK Sailmakers A2. They only saw a jib again for a short time in the Gulf Stream. The sleigh ride had begun.
With his life-long friend and navigator Larry Fox’s council, they went east of rhumbline most of the race. Weather forecasters Chelsea Carlson and Jennifer Clark both gave similar points to enter the Gulf Stream, but Andrew said they ended up 50 miles west of that point not able to easily get that far east. When they did get to the Stream, a line of strong squalls came through. They took down the A2 and went to the J3, a prudent move, as the wind quickly increased to 25-30 knots with big waves.
Once the squalls passed and the crew got settled, they set their UK Sailmakers A3, a very flat reaching sail, the performance of which they largely credit their overall win in this year’s Block Island Race. DRAGON sailed under the A3 for the next 26 hours, passing boat after boat that had jibs up in the Gulf Stream. Weiss and crew were doing 16 knots with the A3 while the competition with jibs were still doing single digit speeds.
While entering and sailing through the Stream, DRAGON found itself in a pack of boats sailing closely together. “It was like a traffic jam,” Weiss noted, “with a lot of chatter on VHF 16 about boats being out of control. With the A3 up, several crew members kept hitting higher and higher speeds until we set the high for the race at 19 knots at one point while I was at the wheel.” In doing his homework before purchasing the Italia 11.98 last winter, he never thought the boat could go so fast. He went on to compare these conditions encountered in the Stream to those of the 2017 Sydney Hobart Race, where it blew 22-28 knots from astern. (Weiss had shipped a previous Christopher Dragon, a Sydney 43, to Australia for that iconic race.) As in the Hobart Race, all crew on deck were tethered to the boat, even in day light.
Throughout the maelstrom the Gulf Stream presented the fleet this week, Weiss’ boat and crew performed well. Importantly, they didn’t break anything and we nor rip any sails…a claim many competitors wish they could make.
By Sunday, still sailing under spinnaker, DRAGON was among bigger boats from “faster” classes. Again, with the input from Fox, they caught an advantageous current ring south of the Gulf Stream. “Anyone who was west of this eddy was out of luck!” Weiss continued. “We worked hard to sail our target angles on the long run. This helped us to stay east of the rhumbline so that we could have a good angle coming into the finish.”
They didn’t set their new UK Sailmakers’ lighter and bigger A-2 until Monday morning when wind dropped below 12 knots. “It’s a great sail, it’s bigger then the original A-2, it’s also lighter and we can run lower. That A2 is well worth the rating hit we took for it.
One aspect of racing that makes it more fun is when you have a friend’s boat in proximity of you. DRAGON was having a good boat-for-boat race with fellow Larchmont Yacht Club and Storm Trysail Club member Peter McWinnie sailing his JPK 10.80 IN THEORY, also sailing in Class 12. “In the big breeze, they planed away from us,” Andrew noted, “but they sailed higher angles whereas we sailed deeper ones. That allowed us to hold our southerly course. We went from being close to them to having 19 miles of easterly separation in the last part of the race.” McWhinnie finished second in Class 12 behind Weiss.
Weiss continued, “The wind went right the whole race, which meant if you were to the east of the rhumb line, you got knocked the whole way to Bermuda. That helped us tremendously. Sure enough, we corrected over IN THEORY by over three hours. In fact, only two boats in the next two faster classes (classes 13 and 14 including J/122s, J/44s, and J/120s) had faster elapsed times, and one of those was by less than a minute. DRAGON even had a faster elapsed time than all but three of the boats in Class 15.
The A3 that Weiss had UK Sailmakers’ lead designer Pat Considine design for the boat “does everything. It can sail down to 155° TWA in 22-26 knots, and it can reach well.” In the 180-mile Block Island Race, Weiss found the A3 could close reach well with a reef in the main. “I’m really glad Butch Ulmer talked me into making the sail completely out of .9 oz spinnaker cloth instead of having half the sail made out of a lighter material,” he explained. “We rolled out a handful of times and I was never concerned with damaging the sail.“
As for his take on the Italia 11.98 now that he has a number of regattas (and wins) under his belt, Andrew concluded, “This boat is fun to sail. We have not found a weakness of it yet. Even though we did not take first in fleet, fourth in a 108-boat fleet is pretty good!”