Monday, July 12, 2010

Sunderland, Coast Guard Drop Bermuda Race Claims

Yachting journalist and historian John Rousmaniere is a frequent contributor to Scuttlebutt, and recently spearheaded an outstanding media program for the 2010 Newport Bermuda Race. John loves the race too, and thus has been active in clearing up a false report that came from Laurence Sunderland, whose 16 year old daughter Abby this June failed in her attempt to solo circumnavigate the globe.

There has been heavy doses of criticism directed toward the Sunderlands, some of which had to do with Abby being dismasted while seeking to cross the exceedingly dangerous Indian Ocean during its most dangerous time of year. To deflect this criticism, Laurence Sunderland sought to tamper with the Bermuda race's reputation.

John Rousmaniere sets the story straight here:

Abby Sunderland’s father and the U.S. Coast Guard have retracted statements that a boat was lost in the 2010 Bermuda Race.

When the young singlehanded ocean sailor Abby Sunderland and her father, Laurence, and brother Zac appeared on NBC’s “Today” show on June 30, 2010, host Meredith Vieira asked Laurence Sunderland to comment on the extensive critical press coverage of his daughter’s recent rescue from her dismasted boat in the Indian Ocean.

Sunderland said that she had been singled out. “I mean, let's look at the Newport-Bermuda race. A boat tipped upside down, lost its keel, we don't hear any of that in the news.”

Nothing in that statement is true. There was no capsize, no loss of a keel, and no other serious damage in the Newport Bermuda Race fleet. Each of the 183 boats that started the race at Newport on June 18 finished safely at Bermuda.

“We take Laurence Sunderland’s charge very seriously because we take safety extremely seriously,” said Newport Bermuda Race Chairman Bjorn Johnson. “We won’t let a boat sail unless we believe that it and the crew are prepared to meet the demands of racing 635 miles across the Gulf Stream. Every boat is inspected. The list of required safety equipment and procedures is very long. Sometimes we tell captains they can’t race unless the boat is strengthened or the crew is more experienced.”

The Bermuda Race Organizing Committee concluded that Sunderland’s claim probably was based in part on an erroneous U.S. Coast Guard report that the committee had been trying to have corrected. According to this report, which was posted on the Coast Guard’s online publication On Scene on June 23, “a participant in the Newport to Bermuda Race” was dismasted on June 15 at a position in the Atlantic Ocean 1,050 miles east of Nantucket. The boat’s one sailor was rescued with the assistance of the international SARSAT rescue system. The Coast Guard report said nothing about a capsize or keel loss, both of which were mentioned by Laurence Sunderland in his “Today” interview.

“The Coast Guard statement was inaccurate and, in fact, implausible,” said Johnson. “The boat could not possibly have been a participant in the race, which started on June 18 – three days after the accident – more than 1,000 miles west of the location of the accident.”

The Bermuda Race Organizing Committee twice tried to have the inaccurate Coast Guard report corrected through On Scene’s online comments form, without success. Following Laurence Sunderland’s statement on the “Today” show, the committee, working through different channels, succeeded in having the Coast Guard retract the report.

On July 8 the Coast Guard issued the following statement at “Corrections & Amplifications. The Newport Bermuda Race 2010 commenced on June 18, 2010 and On Scene is happy to report that all race participants successfully completed the race without incident. The On Scene Weekly SARSAT Rescue Report dated Wednesday June 23, 2010 incorrectly stated that the sailing vessel associated with the June 15th SARSAT Rescue was participating in the Newport Bermuda Race 2010 when high winds caused the vessel to lose its mast. Many thanks to the On Scene subscribers who pointed out this inaccuracy.”

Meanwhile, the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee was urging Lawrence Sunderland to retract his charge. According to a July 10 posting on Abby Sunderland’s blog,, her father’s remark about the Newport Bermuda Race was based on the erroneous USCG report.

“I hope this settles the matter,” Race Chairman Johnson said after reading Sunderland’s statement. “Now we can move on and prepare for the next Newport Bermuda Race in 2012.”

In 47 Bermuda Races since 1906, 4,860 boats and nearly 50,000 sailors have raced through 3 million miles of blue water. In that time, two boats have been lost – one due to an onboard fire in 1932 and the other wrecked on Bermuda’s reef in 1956. The only life lost in the race’s history was in the 1932 fire.

For more information about the Newport Bermuda Race, go to

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]


At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I imagine this information was not pertaining to the Bermuda Race at all, but the 2003 Bermuda 1-2 race, in which Everest Horizontal lost her keel bulb on the return leg and her crew was rescued by a passing cruise ship. The boat was later recovered, dismasted, and towed back to Bermuda by her owner, Tim Kent, who had completed the Around Alone earlier in the year. One of the other boats in his class in the ound the world race was Wild Eyes, formerly BTC Velocity, sailed by Alan Paris of Bermuda.

I'll bet this is the story that the Sunderland's heard about the "Bermuda Race".

A pity to not get your story straight, though they are correct that it can and will happen even in the North Atlantic in the summer. That said, tempting fate in the southern ocean in the winter is just careless, and there is no excuse.

At 7:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other problem I have with the Sunderland's story is her statement to the press that "When I got outside, there was nothing there".

I suppose all the shrouds, all the halyards, all the sheets, the vang, the boom, etc., all snapped at the same time and the whole mess just sank to the bottom.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home