Fox hopes to sail SLY to line honors in the 21st Annapolis to Bermuda Race

Bill Wagner
Contact Reporterbwagner@capgaznews.com

Bob Fox campaigned a J/42 named Schematic for a dozen years — doing quite well in a variety of distance races on the Chesapeake Bay or offshore.

Fox skippered Schematic to victory in PHRF Spinnaker 2 class for the 2016 Annapolis to Bermuda Race and posted a couple podium placements in the Annapolis-to-Newport Race.

However, Fox wanted to go faster, get there sooner and hopefully win bigger. The Annapolis Yacht Club member pounced when he learned that an XP 44 with a solid pedigree had become available.

“I think I’ve always had my eye out for a faster boat,” Fox said. “That’s an affliction that comes with boat ownership.”

Fox had originally entered the J/42 in the 2018 Annapolis to Bermuda Race, but updated the registration after taking delivery of the XP 44 on May 11. Now, instead of attempting to capture class honors, Fox is a threat to win the entire race.

After all, this particular boat captured line honors in the last edition of this renowned biennial race when it was named Rival and owned by Bob Cantwell.

“I kind of describe it as going from a 1999 Ford Taurus to a 2011 Porsche 911 Turbo,” Fox said of trading the J/42 for the XP 44.

Fox has high hopes of earning the Charles N. Bozenhard Trophy as first to finish the 21st Annapolis to Bermuda Race, which got underway Friday on the Chesapeake Bay. SLY, a name that obviously plays off the owner’s last name, was part of the first start for the eight entries in PHRF I class.

“We have the lowest PHRF rating so the expectation is that this boat should be at the front of the fleet, which puts a little pressure on the team,” Fox said. “If we can get the boat moving and sailing to its numbers we should have an opportunity to do quite well.”

Fox completed a total of 10 ocean races with Schematic — doing Annapolis-to-Newport six times and Annapolis-Bermuda along with Newport-Bermuda twice each. The J/42 weighs exactly the same amount as the XP 44 (20,000 pounds), but that’s where the comparisons end.

The XP 44 is a much more modern design, boasts a longer waterline, carries more sail area and features state-of-the-art electronics among many other upgrades. Perhaps most important in heavy air out in the Atlantic Ocean is the fact the XP 44 has a 7½-foot keel that weighs 8,500 pounds — 1,500 more than the J/42.

“This boat has a lower center of gravity. More of the weight is in the keel, which makes it stiffer and more upright,” Fox said.

Cantwell sailed this XP 44 with a crew that featured numerous professionals. Fox is racing with a team of friends, including navigator Greg Dupier as well as watch captains Warren Dahlstrom and Greg Leinweber. Connor Fox is part of his father’s crew while Forbes Horton, Annapolis broker for X Yachts, is also aboard.

“We’re still learning the boat. There are definitely a few little tricks to sailing it,” Fox said. “It’s got a big mainsail, which is what is really going to drive the boat. So we need to pay close attention to trim that.There needs to be a lot of communication between helmsman and main trimmer.”

Fox had planned to use the 69th Down the Bay Race as an opportunity to familiarize his team with the XP 44. However, SLY was forced to retire from that 120-nautical-mile trip from Annapolis to Norfolk. Now the Arlington, Virginia, resident can only hope his new boat is completely prepared for the 753-nautical-mile passage from Annapolis to Hamilton, Bermuda.

Organizers with Eastport Yacht Club started the 2018 Annapolis to Bermuda Race on Friday afternoon in southeasterly winds ranging from 6 knots to 8 knots. A total of 27 boats in three classes are competing in the 21st edition of the race, which was first held in 1979 and became a biennial event the following year. A healthy spectator fleet of about 30 pleasure craft were positioned around the R2 buoy to watch the start.

Annapolis to Bermuda is the longest distance race on the East Coast and is considered particularly challenging because it combines inshore and offshore elements. Navigators examining early forecasts were predicting a light air beat for the 120-nautical-mile Chesapeake Bay portion of the race with winds piping up during the 633-nautical-mile crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

Naval Academy entries have claimed overall victory on corrected time in the last two editions of the Annapolis to Bermuda Race. Midshipman Duncan Marner skippered Gallant to first place laurels in 2016 while midshipman Zach Michel skippered Integrity to top honors in 2018.

Both boats are Mark II models of the Navy 44, which were designed by David Pedrick and built by Tillotson-Pearson. Gallant and Integrity are once again entered in the Annapolis to Bermuda Race, along with another Navy 44-footer in Tenacious. All are being crewed by members of the Naval Academy varsity offshore sailing team, led by head coach Jahn Tihansky.

Rising senior skippers Cassidy O’Brien (Gallant) and Joshua Corbett (Integrity) are leading relatively raw crews consisting of underclassmen. O’Brien and Corbett were part of the summer training program the previous two years and thus have ocean racing experience.

“All three teams have been training hard for Annapolis to Bermuda, but this will be the first time offshore for many of our sailors,” Tihansky said. “So they don’t know what they don’t know.”

Chris Cantillo, who graduated last month No. 1 in the Naval Academy senior class, is skippering Tenacious. He has a pair of other recently commissioned ensigns aboard in Teddy Papenthien and Gunnar Hough. That veteran afterguard gives Tenacious a considerable advantage over its sister ships.

Gallant and Integrity have a pair of longtime ocean racers aboard as safety officers, but they do not recommend strategy or play a pivotal role in decision-making.

“We subscribe to Commander’s Weather in order to give the teams the best forecasting information money can buy. We also provide an analysis of Gulf Stream data for the leadership team to review,” Tihansky said.

“We want the midshipmen to make their own decisions. All the coaching staff provides is big-picture advice, such as the importance of pacing themselves. You want to keep the gas pedal pushed, but you must realize this is a long race and the crew cannot burn out.”

Boats participating in the Annapolis to Bermuda Race participated in a ceremonial Parade of Sail on Friday around noon with Kinvarra, a Tiara 31 owned by Dan Kral, leading the way through Annapolis Harbor. A bagpiper was aboard Kinvarra and began playing just as each of the three classes prepared to start.

Odenton resident John Benson was doing the race double-handed along with his 20-year-old son Jack. They are sailing a C&C 37 named Impromptu and are one of only two double-handed entries along with Jane Says, skippered by Gibson Island Yacht squadron member Robert Dunigan Jr.

“Jack and I have been sailing together since he was a young man and we are looking to do more offshore racing in the future,” said Benson, who has delivered boats from Annapolis to Bermuda as a captain for Endurance Yachts. “We are really looking forward to this race. It will be a great experience for both of us.”

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