John Rousmaniere looks back
Published on March 8th, 2016
Author of 30 books about history and sailing including The Annapolis Book of Seamanship, Fastnet, Force 10 and A Berth To Bermuda, John Rousmaniere is one of the creators of safety at sea seminars. WindCheck Magazine recently sat down with John to discuss his life in sailing, the Newport Bermuda Race, lessons learned from tragedies on the water, and being safe out there.
Where did you grow up?
I was raised in Cincinnati, and I have six brothers and a sister. We moved east to my father’s boyhood home of Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island when I was 10. My father had sailed very successfully as a kid, so we started sailing as soon as we got there. I had a Blue Jay that I raced for four or five years, and we’d charter a boat and go cruising every summer.
What attracted you to history, and the history of yachting?
Rousmaniere is an old French name that means “redhead,” and my ancestor was a horse wrangler in General Rochambeau’s army that marched from Newport to Yorktown and won the American Revolution. He married a Newport woman and had a son who married an Easton, so I’m descended from the founders of Newport.
We had a lot of sailing books, so I just started absorbing information. My father knew lots of great sailors, including Olin and Rod Stephens. I met them when I was young, and that’s how I got into the history as well as the technical part. The New York Yacht Club had a junior regatta, and I won a race when I was 14. They had the prize ceremony in the Model Room. That was 1959, and our speaker was Briggs Cunningham, who’d just won the America’s Cup. I knew Briggs because we sailed Atlantics against him.
As we sat in our little blazers in that spectacular space, Briggs said, “Boys and girls, it’s wonderful to win the America’s Cup, but I have to say that it’s terrible that we won by such big, 15- to 20-minute margins…the best thing that could happen to the America’s Cup would be for the Americans to lose it and the British to win it.” The Commodore almost fainted dead away, and I thought to myself, “This is really interesting!”
Read on for the rest of the interview.