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Thomas Day: Promoter of offshore racing

Published on November 14th, 2019

Since its launch in 2011, the National Hall of Fame has enshrined 81 heroes of the sport, with its induction ceremonies offering an opportunity to witness these outstanding individuals. The Class of 2019 was the ninth such occasion, with Thomas Day among the latest inductees.

Receiving the award for Day, who died over 90 years ago, was yachting historian John Rousmaniere. Here was his acceptance speech:

Two of the selectees this year are magazine publishers, and so it’s a point that in effect, writing has propelled this sport, sustained this sport, and often revived this sport.

Alongside fellow inductee Herb Stone with Yachting Magazine, Thomas Fleming Day at Rudder Magazine was described as one of the dominating figures in yachting of his time. Day died in 1927, so his time was long ago, but it was the very birth of our sport.

Day, a sailor, writer, race organizer, and very vivid character, was born in England in 1861 and immigrated with his family to New York City, where he lived all his life, in a small apartment with a lot of books in it.

His first sailing was in skiffs on the Hudson River and then he later came into deepwater seafaring that inspired him to write about boats and edit America’s first national sailing magazine, the Rudder. He had several firsts, and founding Rudder was one of them.

In 1906 he created the Bermuda Race, not for tycoons and their 100-foot schooners, but for normal sailors and their normal boats. Asked why this was important, Day replied, “Sailors wanted to get a smell of the sea and forget for the time being that there’s such a thing as God’s Green Earth in the universe.” There is Tom Day.

Four boats started that Bermuda Race, and one quickly broke down and dropped out. Tom Day and the others went into the Gulf Stream, and they took it as it came, finishing without serious incident.

One of those sailors was a woman sailing with her husband, and if the race committee had had their way, she would not have been allowed to sail, but Tom Day spoke up for her, and she sailed. So this extraordinary tradition of engagement between women and sailing or events started right there.

Next year’s Bermuda Race will be number 52, making Tom Day’s Bermuda Race over 100 years old. The organizers expect as many as 250 boats sailed by 2,000 men and women, and this is one of the many reasons why we can agree with Tom Day’s peers that he was the dominant figure in the annals of yachting. Thank you.

Editor’s note: John also provided us a longer tribute to share… click here.

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