of the deep? If they make a voyage
from Larchmont to Cow Bay in a 10 knot breeze, it is the event
of their lives, an experience they never forget and never want
These comments on the pages of his
magazine did wonders for promoting
the concept of racing small boats beyond the horizon.
After the Hampton Roads Race, which had attracted
nine yachts, owners turned to Day for something more ambitious.
They wanted “a
real ocean race, one that would take them well offshore and into
blue water.” The Rudder editor needed little encouragement
to push for a new event.
The Brooklyn Yacht Club organized the start
and encouraged participation. English yachting enthusiast Sir Thomas
Lipton provided the £100
Cup for the winner. The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, under the leadership
of Commodore Ambrose Gosling, organized the finish line and assessed
their members £2.00 each for post-race entertainment. And the
race to Bermuda was born.
The criticism within the press was vociferous
and the public campaign led some to send memorial wreaths and undertaker’s
cards to crewmembers that planned to enter the race.
Despite this, three yachts, Lila, Gauntlet and Tamerlane appeared
for the start in Gravesend Bay at 3pm on Saturday May 26, 1906.
Soon after, Lila suffered rigging damage and
was forced to return, accompanied by Tamerlane whose crew set out
again for Bermuda the following Tuesday. This 38ft yawl owned by
Commodore Frank Maier of the Eastern Yacht Club also carried editor
Day onboard. He reported in the July issue of Rudder, of an uneventful
passage that took 5 days, 6 hours and 9 minutes—an average
of 5.22 knots.
According to Alfred Loomis, Gauntlet did not see the mishap and
went on to be caught in a gale in the Gulf Stream, making a very
stormy passage and being blown far to the east of the rhumb line
to the islands. Lila gave up on her second attempt in the stream
and went home.
Frank Maier's 38' yawl Tamerlane with Thomas Fleming
Day in command won the first Bermuda Race in 1906. Photo from "The
Malibar VII, one of Alden Yachts long line of Bermuda Race contenders,
took first place in the 1926 race sailed from New London. this was
the first race co-organized by the CCA and the RBYC. Courtesy Alden
In 1907 restrictions were relaxed and professionals were allowed
to sail, but amateurs formed the afterguard. With twelve boats at
the start in Gravesend Bay, Dervish won the large class and Lila
took the small class. Thomas Day powered to Bermuda in a motorboat.
After a successful race in 1907 with twelve
yachts on the line, the 1908 race started from Marblehead with
five. Dervish won her class again. The 43.5 foot waterline length
Verona won her class and beat the larger 56-foot Dervish across
the line at St. David’s
Bermuda by ten hours on elapsed time.
Five boats started once again from Gravesend Bay in 1909, Amorita,
a 79-foot schooner crossed first in 3D:6H:19M but was beaten on corrected
time by the schooner Margaret.
The WWI Years
The years leading up the war and the war years
forced so many big yachts to be laid up that only two yachts, Harold
62ft Herreshoff schooner Vagrant, and Demarest Lloyds’s 50
footer Shiyessa made it for the start of the 1910 race and the event
It was a match race to Bermuda where Vagrant caught a wind shift
just north of Bermuda and nipped Shiyessa on corrected time by forty-eight
minutes. This was the last Bermuda Race until after WWI.
The idea of racing small boats to Bermuda
was not revived until 1920 when the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club began
attempts to restart the series. Although a race was announced for the spring of
1920, Bermuda’s Royal Gazette says that the race would be postponed
until at least June of 1921.
The next mention in the Gazette in April 1922 is of the possibility
of a race between New York and Bermuda that summer. Eldon Trimmingham,
then Vice Commodore of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, went to meet
New York Yacht Club as the representative
of the club’s Board
of Governors to promote the race, but could not obtain sufficient
For 1923, the RBYC Sailing Committee found support from Yachting
magazine and some prominent yachtsmen like John Alden. A group of
the new Cruising Club of America sailors led by Herbert L Stone,
editor of Yachting, took up the challenge and the race was reborn.
Start in New London
Out of the thirty-two entries that had been
received in 1923, twenty-three yachts came to the line off New
London, Connecticut. Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, the New Haven Yacht
Club and Yachting Magazine donated cups for the three classes.
Paul Hammond, vice-commodore of the Seawanahaka Corinthian Yacht
Club gave one for the first yacht finishing with an all-amateur
Alfred Loomis writes in Ocean Racing, “In all this [the 1923
race] the Cruising Club of America took no official part, although
when the day [for the start] came its membership migrated to Bermuda
almost en masse…all but one of its six members embarked in
five different racing boats.” The one who stayed behind started
The Royal Gazette says that Herbert Stone
mentioned that the boats were manned almost entirely by amateurs,
making this Bermuda Race the first ocean race of any kind not dominated
concept that continues to this day.
The 1923 fleet was caught by a storm, which
simply added to the fascination and folklore that has built up
around this race over the years. All of them made it in one piece,
led by Robert N. Bavier’s
yawl Memory. Judge Coffin, the skipper of Seafarer, summed up the
conditions best in his oft quoted statement, “The next time
I come to Bermuda it will be in a submarine. Then I can be under
water all the time instead of half under all the time.”
The 1924 race began off of Sarah’s Ledge at New London with
fourteen entries. It attracted the important challenge from the English
aboard Northern Light and Jolie Brise. Their skippers, Weston Martyr
and George Martin, so enjoyed the event that they returned home later
that summer determined to set up an Ocean Racing Club in London (now
known as the Royal Ocean Racing Club) and to host an ocean race on
the other side of the Atlantic—the 605 mile Fastnet, which
was run for the first time in 1925.
With the decline to fourteen entries in the last race, due probably
to time constraints and cost, the series became biennial. Sixteen
entries came to the line in 1926; and with a gain of only two from
the previous race, the year was critical for the future of ocean
racing to Bermuda.
Although its members were active in the races, The Cruising Club
of America did not formally participate in running the 1923 or 1924
races because it was founded in a protest against racing. The club
agreed to co-host the 1926 Bermuda Race despite being roundly admonished
by some of its membership who believed the Club should be doing what
its title suggests, and not promoting racing.
The progressives won that argument and the
Cruising Club continues to this day to coordinate the race in partnership
with the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. Loomis points out in Ocean Racing
that bad weather in this year would have been a “solar plexus blow” to
the race. “But,” Loomis continues, “the weather
god was kind; the Cruising Club assimilated its critics, and the
crisis passed. The Bermuda Race has rightly been regarded in the
years since as a fixture which only a war can disrupt.”
The Bermuda Race continued to prosper under the
partnership between the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and the Cruising
Club of America as the race sought a permanent starting port. In
1928 the start was from New London with twenty-four yachts, in 1930
it saw 42 yachts start from New London again.
In 1932 the depression diminished the fleet to 27
entries starting from a new line off Montauk Point. The start in
1934 was moved back to Sarah’s Ledge since the Point was far
from last minute supplies. The fleet increased to twenty-nine.
Start Moves to Newport
In 1936 the Cruising Club and Royal Bermuda agreed
to move the start to Newport, Rhode Island to avoid the unpredictable
winds and the strong tides of Long Island sound. Despite the Depression,
a record breaking fleet of forty-four yachts including nine international
entries came to the line. Unfortunately, ten boats, also a record
number, failed to finish as a storm hit the fleet in the stream with
40-50 knot winds.
With ten boats dismasted in 1936, the CCA undertook
a review of safety regulations and led the way to establishing many
of the rig and equipment regulations in place today in the ISAF Offshore
Safety Regulations. The CCA also introduced a revised handicap
system in 1938 and advised the yachtsmen to install modern radios
for safety. In 1938 the US Coast Guard Cutter Cayuga accompanied
the fleet as a further precaution.
The change to Newport proved popular and 1938, in
the shadow of WWII, there were still forty-three yachts entered.
The first series of Bermuda Races had ended because of WWI. This
was the last Bermuda Race of the series between the wars.
unusual spinnaker start in the 2004 Newport Bermuda Race Class 6.
Photo Daniel Forster
Racing resumed again in 1946 and with it came the
entrance into the modern, post-war series. The Race Committee revised
the rules to require four or more crew per yacht and to require that
the “master” and navigator be amateurs and that the finish
line could be crossed in either direction.
Royal Bermuda Yacht Club decided to celebrate the
resumption of the race by offering a sterling silver replica of Gibbs
Hill Lighthouse to the overall winner of the race. Thirty-four yachts
started in two classes. The sixteen-inch lighthouse replica went
to the yacht Gesture, sailed by Howard Fuller. She sported one of
the new nylon spinnakers and a fancy radio direction finder on her
A revised version of the CCA rating rule introduced
in 1949 brought a new record fleet of fifty-four yachts to the line
in 1950. The fleet was divided into three classes to encourage more
small boats to enter. Olin Stephens helped sail his design Bolero
to line honors in 3D:3H:32M.
Although Mrs. Robinson, the newlywed wife
of Gauntlet’s owner,
had sailed in the inaugural 1906 race, women were not officially
eligible to race until 1952. The class A entry Bloodhound had three
women aboard including a lady navigator, Mary Blewitt. She guided
Bloodhound to second place on corrected time.
The rules were continually revised and in 1954 the finish line once
again had to be crossed in a southerly direction. That year there
were 77 starters representing the US, Great Britain, Cuba, Sweden,
Bermuda and Argentina.
The St.David’s Lighthouse Trophy
The St. David’s Lighthouse trophy was commissioned
for the 1954 race to replace the traditional Bermuda Trophy. Designed
and crafted of sterling silver in England, this second lighthouse
trophy has become the most coveted trophy in amateur ocean racing.
For first on corrected time, Dan Strohmeier in Malay took home the
first St David’s Lighthouse Trophy ever awarded.
Carleton Mitchell’s famous yacht Finisterre
took home this prize three races running: 1956 over eighty-eight
competitors, again in 1958 against 112 entries, and then in 1960
over 135 entries. The race entry record is 182 boats set in 1982
and tied in 2002.
1962 had to be one of the most unusual of
the post war races. The schooner Nina caught a reaching breeze
all the way to St David’s
and crossed the line less than two hours after Northern Lights which
was first to finish. A large boat had not won the Bermuda Race since
1950 and the last schooner to win was the Alden design Malabar X
in 1932. Nina flew a ‘jenniker’ a cross between a genoa
and a spinnaker, perhaps the forerunner to a modern code zero.
In 1964, the event was integrated into a series
of races dubbed ‘The
Onion Patch Series’ (in deference to Bermuda’s once national
crop), with 3-boat teams representing their countries a multi-race
series. The first series attracted teams from the USA, Bermuda and
Argentina, and became the model for similar events in the UK and
Australia to support two other classics in the sailing calendar,
The Fastnet and Sydney/Hobart races.
Many great sailors and designers have cut their teeth on Newport/Bermuda
Race since. German Frers Sr. encouraged an increasing number of South
American owners to compete in his designs in the 50s and 60s, and
his son German Frers, remains one of the dominant designers with
seven winners to date, including the record-breaking maxi Boomerang
The most successful skipper has been Carleton
Mitchell, whose yacht Finisterre won the race outright in 1956, ’58 & ’60. John
G. Alden carried off the Bermuda Trophy twice in 1923 & ’26
and Dick Nye did the same with yachts named Carina in ’52 and ’70.
The last of his yachts, which won again in 1982 competed again in
the 2004 race, skippered by Rives Potts Jr. from Westbrook CT.
Famous sailmaker and America’s Cup skipper,
Ted Hood, won a notable victory in 1968 with his One-tonner Robin,
but one of the most notable victories of all time came in 1972 when
the British crew on a production Swan Noryema survived a hurricane
to lift the St David’s Trophy ahead of many purpose built racers.
At the time, skipper Ted Hicks put their win down to the foresight
of carrying goggles. “It was the only way any of us could see
anything through all that spray,” he
Shuman drives "Temptress" to the finish off St.David's Lighthouse
in Bermuda. "Temptress", from Newport, RI took 5th in Class 6 and
15th in fleet in the 2004 race. Bermuda GIS Photo
There is another race for line honors. This
has been won in the past by such notables as Huey Long’s Ondine which set a 67
hour 58 minute record in ‘74, and the Australian maxi Bumblebee
IV whose performance against the likes of Ondine and Kialoa II owned
by fellow American Jim Kilroy in the 1980 race was the first stepping
stone towards IOR maxi boat dominance by designer German Frers.
Nirvana, then owned by Bermudan Marvin Green,
sliced 5 hours 29 minutes off the record in 1982 sailing in the
largest fleet to date of 182 entries, and this record stood until
George Coumantaros and his 86ft Frers designed Boomerang II completed
the course in 57 hours 31 mins 30 secs in 1996. Roy Disney’s
Reichel-Pugh designed Pyewacket made the most of the close reaching
conditions to complete the 635 miles in the record time of 53 hours,
39 minutes 22 seconds to set the record which it still holds.
The Newport Bermuda Race now stands with the Fastnet, the Sydney-Hobart
and the Transpac as one of the top four ocean races in the world.
Organized by the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club from 1906 to 1924 with
various US yacht clubs and from 1926 with the Cruising Club of America,
the Bermuda Race has always been a true test of blue-water sailing
skills. The objectives of the race are to encourage the designing,
building and sailing of seaworthy yachts and the development of the
art of seamanship and proficiency in the science of navigation.
colorful scene at Royal Bermuda Yacht Club after the race. The race
has finished here since the first race in 1906 when the Board of
Governors assessed each member £2 for post-race entertainment.
Bermuda GIS Photo
© 2006 Newport Harbor
Guide. All rights reserved.