Above photo: Rhinelander and his crew have had Bella J docked in the Caribbean since they completed the Newport to Bermuda Race. They’ve since competed in the Caribbean 600, Antigua Race Week, Heineken Race Week and the Antigua to Bermuda Race.
Ray Rhinelander, a Newfoundland-based, lifelong sailor, has been taking on increasingly difficult races over the course of 2023 aboard the Bella J.
Rhinelander grew up in an Air Force family and never had any permanent home growing up, but his heritage on his mother’s side inextricably tied him to sailing and to Newfoundland. His grandfather, Joey Rogers, plied in a trade synonymous with Newfoundland’s yesteryears — sailing to the Caribbean to trade salt fish for molasses in order to make rum.
“So, there is a little bit of seafaring history in the family on my mother’s side,” said Rhinelander.
While he had been sailing dinghies since he was 15, Rhinelander’s first professional foray into the sailing world was when he participated in the biennial Marblehead to Halifax race in 2009, not long after he bought Bella J.
“At the time, it seemed to be quite an adventure,” said Rhinelander. “I was bringing together all my friends and cohorts to race the boat — all kinds of characters. We really enjoyed the race. It was mostly downwind. At the time, Halifax’s parties and hospitality were second-to-none… It was really an eye-opener, considering you’re in a 43-foot boat and you think you’re the biggest boat in the club. You get down there, and you’re the smallest boat in the club.”
Bella J used to be called the Tom Cod. It was originally owned by Tom Woodford, a long-time sailing advocate in N.L. and an active member of the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club. After his passing, Rhinelander bought the ship from his estate in 2009 and renamed it in homage to both the boat itself and his daughter.
“With his passing, I was able to purchase it from his estate… It allowed me to go from Conception Bay racing and coastal racing to open water racing,” said Rhinelander. “Bella is beautiful in Italian. J — It’s a J-boat, and my daughter’s first name is Jessica.”
Rhinelander tries to surround himself with a variety of crewmembers that have a love for the water like him and enjoy the excitement of the sport. Much of his most recent crew is made up of women, a point he takes pride in.
“It’s made up of a large complement of ladies,” said Rhinelander. “The whole premise of male-dominated sports is hokum. If you put a lady down at the wheel and it’s blowing 40 knots and there’s water coming over the bow, they relish that kind of condition. They’re able to stick it out with the best… I’ve met the most incredible sailors over my years, and I have no issues with anyone, male or female, on board.”
In July 2022, he and his crew made their way to the Caribbean during the Newport Bermuda Race, a biennial 635 nautical-mile journey from Rhode Island to Bermuda.
“We had fairly challenging weather conditions with the Gulf Stream, but every day gets warmer. The water gets warmer, the air temperature gets warmer. You go from Newport, and by the time you get to Bermuda you’re in the subtropics, and it’s just a lovely place to go,” said Rhinelander.
From there, they decided to participate in three separate races while Bella J was in the area. Their main race was the Caribbean 600, a 600-mile offshore race that takes participants around Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and Guadeloupe.
“It rounds eight or nine of the most incredible, beautiful islands in the Caribbean,” said Rhinelander.
What he didn’t initially know was the reputation the Caribbean 600 had.
“Three days before the race, the commodore came down and had a quick chat with me. He indicated and made sure I was quite aware that of all those in the Caribbean, it was probably one of the most difficult races myself and the team would ever have exposure to, and he was right. It didn’t blow over 20 knots for any particular time, 13–15 foot waves, 120 nautical miles beating into these waves… It was very, very hot. We were dehydrated, sleep deprived, and we had eight people on board. And we did very well. We came in fifth.”
Rhinelander and his crew also participated in Antigua Race Week as well as Heineken Race Week in St. Maarten, which he described as one of the most incredible around-the-buoy races he’s ever participated in.
“Some of the most incredible boats and teams from around the world congregated there for this year’s Heineken,” said Rhinelander. “Million-dollar boats, million-dollar crews. They’re professionals at the highest end of racing. We did very well. It took us a while to get our feet on the ground, but once we got the boat going, we started knocking up a couple of seconds and thirds. I think we came sixth in our division.”
After their Caribbean adventures, capping off with the 935 nautical-mile Antigua to Bermuda race in May, Rhinelander and his crew will be bringing Bella J back to Canada to race in the summer months. In the last year, he and his crew were taking baby steps toward larger and larger races, and now they plan on a more leisurely race as they circle back around to Marblehead to Halifax.
“That’s going to be a nice little relaxing race for me now,” said Rhinelander. “But we’re all looking forward to that.”