Bermuda Alliance for the first time >> Scuttlebutt Sailing News

Eric Irwin and Mary Martin

by Barbara Mack
Time has passed since the 2018 Newport Bermuda Race, and despite the challenges of the pandemic, 160 boat owners have already committed to racing in 2022 – preparing their boats, building teams and racing locally if not further. Eric Irwin and Mary Martin from Alliance J / 122 did it … here is their story:


Mary learned to sail when she was around 12, setting out on a Pearson 26 with an uncle and father along the Merrimack River and offshore near Newburyport, Mass. She went to Massachusetts Maritime Academy and after graduation began working at the Naval Undersea. Warfare Center in Newport and purchased a 30-foot Albin sloop, Absolut.

Over the next 20 years, Mary spent time sailing in Narraganset Bay, the Sakonnet River, and around Block Island.

Mary started racing in 1999 when a friend was forming a team on her J / 24 for the Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Regatta. “It was my introduction to running, and I got hooked right away,” recalls Mary. “I really like the physical and mental challenges and the teamwork aspect; you just tend to learn to sail faster when you have a racing prospect.

Mary continued to run on J / 24s and Rhodes 19s from Naval Base Newport. She then switched to a J / 30 and later to a J / 109, sailing for many years with Bill Kneller, a friend and mentor with whom she still sails today. Mary continued to develop her experience as a J Boat racing a J / 105 at the Beverly Yacht Club in Marion, Massachusetts and a J / 99 in Newport.

Eric’s first sailing opportunity came from a friend who was competing in a catamaran race on Lake Erie the month before he started at the Naval Academy in 1982. At the Academy he learned the sailing basics and got involved in the offshore sailing training program, completing Charleston-Bermuda-Newport cruises on a Swan 44 and Edgartown-Boston-New York City on Navy yawls who have participated in the Centennial of the Statue of Liberty parade in 1986.

In the early 1990s, while stationed in Groton, Connecticut, he started racing with the Mystic River Mudheads and then became very interested in one-design racing in the 2000s, including the J / 24 and J / 105. One of his main mentors became Andy Berdon, who owned a J / 109, Strider, followed by a Marten 49, Summer Storm.

“I learned to overtake with Andy, and that was the key to my development in ocean racing,” he says. “We have done several Stamford-Vineyard and Vineyard-Block Island races together, and I got a solid idea of ​​how to push the performance of the boat.”

Thanks to a friend of Mary’s, Eric enrolled in the Armed Forces sport sailing program to compete in international sailboat races. The International Military Sports Council was established after World War II to encourage friendly international competition and offers a dynamic racing program.

With this opportunity, he set up a series of military racing teams to compete in J / 24s in Bahrain, HPE25s in Rio de Janeiro, Ynglings in Norway and 470s in Qatar. Through this work, he met many international coaches and distinguished sailors while continuing to develop his one-design skills and his offshore experiences.

In recent years he has competed in three Newport Bermuda races (2014, 2016 and 2018), with the 2018 race being on Summer Storm. He also finished the Transatlantic Race in 2015 on Jacqueline IV, a Hinckley SW 42.

Mary and Eric met while racing aboard a J / 109 in 2015 and have raced extensively together in one-design fleets and PHRF buoy races, as well as near-shore distance races. However, they both felt the urge to have their own racing boat and to deepen their experience in the offshore world.

In the summer of 2020, after numerous disruptions due to COVID-19, including the cancellation of the Newport Bermuda Race and many more, they began to discuss owning a boat that could be sailed. and ran close / offshore.

It was a “crazy COVID” moment, they say. Mary had just sold her second boat and Eric had long dreamed of owning his own boat. Being able to share the costs, work and joys of owning a boat was the key to their conversation. This sparked some research and discussion with their sailing network to find a 38-41ft boat that could be very competitive while still being a comfortable cruising boat.

By October 2020, they had settled on a 40ft J / 122, Alliance, a boat well equipped for both crewed and double handed offshore racing. Since they are both familiar with J Boats, the J / 122 came out naturally from a design, configuration and performance standpoint.

Once they found the right boat, they had to choose a name. “I was looking at the history of the navy and the names of the warships for which there were two suitors,” says Mary. “I also found out that a Naval Academy sailboat named Alliance was competing in the 1979 Fastnet Race and they survived; they also won the transatlantic race that year.

“Our diversity in our skills and our sailing experience will be the key to our success with Alliance Racing now,” says Eric. “We have naturally migrated to the division of the many tasks and tasks required to own, organize, run and navigate Alliance and it is working well. ”

Eric builds on Mary’s experience as a boat owner and appreciates her great research skills to find various things needed for the program. “When we were looking for the right boat, Mary identified each boat we looked at and helped me connect to my sailing network to learn more about each one,” Eric recalls.

On the maintenance side, he enjoys working on the hull and mechanical systems and has the right experience to optimize the performance of the boat, while Mary focuses on the necessities of ensuring the quality of life on board and studying the weather and routing details for translate speed into results. “Details matter in competitive racing programs, and we also develop team skills through our choice of crew,” they note.

Mary and Eric determined their crew’s choices for the 2022 Bermuda race early on, so they had plenty of time for team development and preparation. For fully crewed offshore races, a crew of 7-9 seems to be best on a J / 122. Currently they are planning a crew of 8 and have tapped into their sailing network to recruit and develop team members.

In this process, they sought a diversity of skills with electronic systems, driving, navigation and tuning, as well as those with medical knowledge and offshore experience in general.

One of the goals of our program, they say, is to give the opportunity to young seafarers to gain experience while leveraging the tenacity of the young and also worked to balance the personalities within this exciting and committed team.

“The crew is essential to get you to your first start,” notes Eric, “and we have a number of forcing events scheduled, like the Stamford-Vineyard Race along the way to progress. ”

This race, in particular, gave rise to several lessons learned by the team, ranging from water management, livability and waste management (minimization and storage), to the definition and definition watch captain expectations and watch routines. Additionally, Mary and Eric have adjusted their roles to ensure they balance co-ownership, ongoing duties, and crew development.

There is no shortage of training opportunities for the team, as many programs now offer virtual offers.

“We are researching videos and webinars of all types on ocean racing, weather and safety, such as the Storm Trysail Leadership Forum and Sea Safety webinars, First Aid / CPR and North U courses, from setting the sails and tactics to the weather, with great program from Peter Isler, ”said Eric.

They also studied Dave Dellenbaugh’s racing program and hired Chelsea Carlson from Sea-Tactics as a weather advisor.

“Part of our philosophy is that we are all amateurs, that we learn together and provide opportunities for capable young sailors,” advises Mary. “We are committed to having a mixed team and we really focus on individual development, taking all safety and practice seriously. ”

They also evolve regularly through the requirements of the boats. “A while ago we did a full review of all the safety equipment on the boat and took our measurements,” says Eric. “In addition, one of our crew and I completed the 3-day Marine Emergency Medicine course. ”

Their work with Newport Bermuda Race Ambassador Jay Gowell has also been fruitful.

“The Bermuda Race is not like any other race where you just have to participate, pay your fees and show up,” Jay explains. “You actually need to get an invite, so it’s especially difficult for people who’ve never done it before, and it’s important to start the planning process early. Eric and Mary have a lot of experience and they said to me, ‘OK, we want to do this in two years. What do we need to know? ‘”

“It’s great to work with someone like Jay who has a long history with the Bermuda race and who has extensive knowledge of the preparation process; someone who can answer questions and help make sure we’re on the right track, ”says Eric.

“We have found that the sailing network is phenomenal for sharing knowledge and advice,” adds Mary. “This is the perfect time to prepare for the next season and we are delighted to reach the start line.”

They will have lots of company when they reach the start line on June 17, 2022. In mid-November, Alliance is one of 10 J / 122 entered in the Race, and two are called Alliance!

Source: https://bermudarace.com/first-time-alliance-to-bermuda/


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