Sinn Fein, Newport Bermuda Race

How this boat won back to back victories in the Newport Bermuda race. From the "Winner's Debrief" in our September 2008 issue.

October 24, 2008

Sinn Fein Cal 40 368

Daniel Forster/talbot Wilson/ppl

In winning the newport bermuda Race’s St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy in June, Peter Rebovich, 72, who sails his Cal 40 Sinn Fein out of Raritan YC, in Perth Amboy, N.J., achieved what only one other skipper in the race’s history ever had: back-to-back wins of the race’s top trophy. This was also Sinn Fein’s fourth consecutive Class 1 victory. Only Carleton Mitchell, sailing his 38-foot Olin Stephens-design Finnesterre, which won the St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy in 1956, 1958, and 1960, has done better.
“To win the Lighthouse Trophy, you’ve got to win the class,” says Rebovich. His preparations to do so began in 2007, when he and his crew, especially his son Peter Jr., began running through the possible optimizations that could be made to Sinn Fein. “We talked about a longer pole, a bowsprit, asymmetric spinnakers, symmetric spinnakers, and ran through all the numbers,” says Rebovich. “We had some help from Jim Teeters at US SAILING, and decided to go with no pole, no sprit, and centerline, bow-tacked asymmetric spinnakers, which gave us the rating we were looking for.”

Rebovich had two spinnakers, both designed to be tacked to the bow, made by Ullman/Skelly Sails for the race, one for broad reaching and one for running. He also had the boat go through Endorsed IRC measurement, which includes weighing the boat and determining the exact centerline.

They also talked about crewing the boat. “I’ve been sailing with six of my crew for the past five or six Bermuda races,” says Rebovich. “They’re all great sailors in their own right. One of them, Foster Tollman, has won three lighthouse trophies; he was on the winning boat in 1986.” Rebovich originally planned on sailing with eight, but family circumstances meant one crew had to stay ashore, so they went with seven, including his two sons, Peter Jr., and Mark. “We used a two-watch system,” says Rebovich, “and I floated. We had great drivers on both watches, and they constantly competed against one another to keep the boat going fast. My son Mark is better than anyone I’ve ever seen at getting speed out of that boat.”


After attending Jenifer Clark’s Gulf Stream and weather seminar, and taking a look at what the Stream and its associated eddies were doing, Rebovich and his co-navigator, Kelly Robinson, made the call to head west, and hit a warm eddy about 136 miles out of Newport. “The first night and the first day were great,” says Rebovich. “We were headed right for the eddy and were carrying the No. 1 and a full main in about 16 knots of breeze. By the time we hit the eddy, the breeze was up into the 20s and we’d reduced sail down to a No. 3 and a reef in the main.”

Sinn Fein got a boost from the eddy, and was able to aim for a knuckle he’d spotted in the Gulf Stream where the current wouldn’t be much of a detriment. But not everything was going perfectly. “We had water coming in everywhere,” says Rebovich. “It crashed the laptop we were using for downloading weather GRIBs and position reports, so we were flying blind. I was constantly bailing, and the bilge pump was running all the time. We used the satphone to check the positions of our closest competitor, a custom McCurdy & Rhodes-designed 38-footer, Selkie, and saw that at one point we were 30 miles behind her.”

But when Selkie crossed the Stream, Rebovich thinks they made a tactical error. “When we crossed,” he says, “we tacked on to port. We were aiming for South Carolina, but we were headed at 6.5 knots toward Bermuda. I don’t think Selkie tacked in the right spot.” Selkie went further west than Sinn Fein initially, but at about 450 miles from Bermuda, they crossed tacks and exchanged sides of the course. While both boats were well west of rhumb, and in strong southwesterlies, Sinn Fein was further west until about 350 miles out, where they converged with Selkie again and both boats headed straight for Bermuda.


One of the secret weapons onboard Sinn Fein was a Melges 24 headsail and its furler, which Peter Jr. had swapped for some bottom cleaning time on the Melges. “When we were sailing with the jib top, we’d hoist the Melges’ headsail as a staysail, and while it was small, it looked great,” says Rebovich. “It also gave us an extra two-tenths of a knot of boatspeed.” As Sinn Fein approached Bermuda, the wind allowed them to use another weapon in its sail inventory, a brand-new reaching spinnaker, which they flew from about 100 miles out. “When we got to Kitchen Shoals,” says Rebovich, “we were able to put up the No. 1, drop the asymmetric, and foot toward Mills Breaker. From there, we hardened up, and after one tack, crossed the finish line.”

Sinn Fein finished with an elapsed time of 104h:53m:57s, a little more than 2 hours behind Selkie. On corrected time, Sinn Fein beat Selkie by 25m:10s in IRC. “We knew we’d done OK,” says Rebovich, “but it all depended on what the implied wind would be for the ORR scoring.” Under ORR, Sinn Fein beat Selkie by 1h:3m.

“When we got in, the guys headed straight for their hotel,” says Rebovich. “I puttered around on the boat cleaning up for a while, then hit my bunk and got some sleep. The next morning, once he saw I was up, the watch captain on Selkie, John Rousmaniere, came over to chat. He asked me a few questions, then asked me how I thought we’d done. I told him that I thought we’d done OK, and might have beaten Selkie. Rousmaniere then replied: ‘If either one of us wins, we’ll win the whole thing. It’s a little-boat race.’ I was surprised, then once we found out we’d done it, tremendously excited.”


With a total of nine trophies to collect, Rebovich thought first of his crew. He asked the awards committee to give the navigator’s trophy to his co-navigator, and asked that his crew be allowed to individually come up and collect the other trophies. When he went to collect the St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy, a stunning silver replica of the lighthouse used as the finish line, Sir Richard Gozney, Governor of Bermuda, met him halfway down the stairs and held his arm as he went to collect his trophy. “He must have been given a briefing,” says Rebovich. “I’ve had Inclusion Body Myositis [characterized by chronic muscle inflammation accompanied by muscle weakness] for many years now, so it’s not as easy for me to get around as it used to be.”

When asked about making a run at Carleton Mitchell’s record in 2010, Rebovich said it all depended upon how his health would be then. But it didn’t sound as if it was out of the question. “After all,” he says, “I can stay in the nav station the whole race if I have to.”


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