Rives Potts bringing Carina around to the winner’s berth at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.
“How did Carina do all that?” A lot of people have been asking this question at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club since Rives Potts’s 48-foot sloop finished the Bermuda Race on Tuesday morning and, that evening, became the winner of the St. David’s Lighthouse Division.
That refers to two things. First there’s Carina‘s domineering victory margin of more than three and a half hours. To put this in perspective, in Class 4 the top 10 places fit under a tent of only three hours, with first-place Windborn‘s margin over second-place Lapin exactly 11 seconds. Then there’s this: Carina had all that margin (and more) in the bank when she was half-way down the race course. When she exited the Gulf Stream, her lead was 60 miles.
Ask Carina skipper Rives Potts why she did so well, and in his genial southern drawl he’ll speak of a good boat, a good crew, and good luck. That she is a good boat has been beyond dispute since she was launched in 1969. Jim McCurdy, her designer, knew how to make boats strong, handsome, and fast – and with a good rating, too. In 2008 a small cousin of Carina‘s called Selkie, sailed by Jim’s daughter Sheila with me (among others) in the crew, almost won a true thrash of a Bermuda Race.
The first time I saw Carina in action was in a light-air overnight race on Long Island Sound in 1969. Under her father-son command team of Dick and Richard Nye she took the lead right off the starting line, but lost it and a lot more during an enforced stay on a sand bar off Port Jefferson. After she eventually was extracted by the rising tide, Carina steamed by us in a well-sailed Cal 40 as though we were standing still.
Good boats don’t necessarily enjoy good luck, but the odds for good fortune are better when they are sailed by a good, aggressive crew. The Nyes were famous for being both good and aggressive. “We used to swing for the fences quite a bit,” said Richard, who was known to surprise his crews by sailing off at right angles to the rhumb line in search of favorable current.
Rives Potts is not that much of a risk taker. Carina‘s progress in the recent Bermuda Race, as shown by his iBoattrack line, indicates that he had a distinct plan in mind and improvised when he had to. As most of the other boats worked to the west after the start, he footed off for speed, staying near the rhumb line. When Carina fell among the calms that left many boats motionless for hours, he didn’t panic. He would call what happened next “an accumulation of good decisions and good luck. You always know you’re going to sail into a hole in this race. The question is whether you can get out. Sometimes the stars will turn out right.” So will quick action. “We saw a wind line and tacked over to it on port and got away.”
Carina‘s navigator Patricia Young gave three reasons for the boat’s success. The first concerned those initial strategic and tactical decisions. “We just went with the wind we had rather than going as far as the optimizers said we should.”
Young’s second reason concerned how Carina managed a long line of black squalls that blew up into the thirties. “We changed to the no. 3 at the right time and we rocketed.” Reports from other boats indicate that some crews were not as well prepared to handle these gusts, and that the larger boats didn’t have these winds at all.
Patricia Young’s third reason for the boat’s success had to do with the crew’s morale. “Everybody participated. This was a total team effort.” Those who know Rives Potts will tell you that his teams are bonded by their captain. “If Rives can win this thing, I’ll be very happy,” America’s Cup and offshore racer Jerry Kirby, Rambler’s tactician, said on Monday. “He’s one of my heroes.”
Raised sailing on Fishing Bay, Virginia, near the mouth of the Rappahannock River, Potts graduated from Virginia Military Institute. Boat-crazy, he worked on America’s Cup campaigns, did a lot of ocean racing, and ended up running a boat yard – one of whose boats was Carina. Along the way he had sailed enough and known enough good sailors like Rod Stephens to persuade him that fundamentals are crucial. “I discovered there’s nothing new in boats. Different materials, maybe, but no new ideas.”
That reliance on basics and team effort made him adept at Bermuda Races. Carina has won a trophy in every one of the six races she sailed from 2000 to 2010, winning her class four times and the race once. And she has done it with due attention paid to morale and creature comforts. This year’s crew consisted of members of four families -Potts, his two sons, and a nephew; three Crumps; two Gahagans; Patricia Young and her husband Paul Hamilton; plus a friend. Their last-night meal this year was family style: spaghetti and meat sauce, raspberry crumble, ice cream.
By then Carina and her happy crew, who had so successfully made their own good luck, were many hours ahead of the competition and within striking distance of winning the boat’s second Newport Bermuda Race in 40 years.
Click here for the full race report.