Fast boats, close racing, and good sportsmanship

Published on May 10th, 2015

When the Newport Bermuda Race began in 1906, the best time was set by Frank Maier’s Tamerlane, completing the 635nm course in just over five days at a 5.3 knot average. That mark has been reduced over the years, with George David’s Rambler in 2012 setting the best race time of 39:39:18 at a 16 knot average. Progress!

Race historian John Rousmaniere shares some of the memorable stories…

1956: Bolero Breaks the Record (8.8 knot average speed)
From 1938 to 1962, the first boat to St. David’s in eight of the 10 races was one of the powerful Sparkman & Stephens near-sisterships of about 72 feet LOA—Baruna, Bolero, and Venturer. The duels between these big sleek yawls was accompanied by a hearty sportsmanlike spirit. After Bolero was first to finish in 1950 and anchored off Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (the marina was built later), Baruna owner Henry Taylor sent this generous note to her owner, John Nicholas Brown:

“Ain’t it a grand and glorious sensation to cross the finish line first and get the wonderful welcome which they give you off St. David’s Head, and then to be anchored alone in your glory in Hamilton Harbor?”

In the windy 1956 race Bolero and Venturer were bunched as they attacked the elapsed time record of 71 hr., 35 min. (8.8 knots ave. speed) set in 1932 by Frank Paine’s Highland Light. Commanded by a new owner, Swedish sailor Sven Salen, Bolero’s largely amateur crew had their challenges. When the headstay turnbuckle snapped, the crew ran jib halyards out to the bow. Bolero caught Venturer in the final 25 miles, and, blasting out of the fog, finished in a time of 70 hr., 11 min. (9 knots). Venturer also broke the old record.

New elapsed time records were set in 1974 by Huey Long’s ketch Ondine (9.4 knots) and 1982, when Marvin Green’s Nirvana (10.2 knots).

The 2016 race begins June 17. More stories here.

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