Keeping its history alive
Published on March 25th, 2020
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
I did the 1984 Newport to Bermuda Race and it was misery. Great crew, but punishing from the start. Massive wind and waves, followed by neither, with current swirls sending us backwards.
So wiped by arrival, with no hotel rooms on offer, I slept on deck to avoid the interior disaster. By 2am, a rain burst turned bad to worse. I took the first flight home… I’d had enough.
I was only 22 years, and prior to this outing, my offshore miles were mild California courses, mostly offwind toward warmer climes of Mexico. Yes, I was soft, but only knew what I knew. These east coasters… they did too.
While glad to have checked that box, I’ve never been back, but have since recognized the impact of this race on the sport.
The very first Bermuda Race in 1906 was an act of rebellion, as the Establishment believed that it would be insane for amateur sailors to race offshore in boats under 80 feet. Thomas Fleming Day, the feisty editor of The Rudder magazine, vehemently disagreed, insisting, “The danger of the sea for generations has been preached by the ignorant.”
Certain that an ocean race would be enjoyable and safe – and also develop better sailors and better boats – Day founded one on his own. The Brooklyn Yacht Club started the race in New York Bay, and down on the island paradise, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club finished it off St. David’s Head.
Critics predicted disaster. It was rumored that funeral wreaths were delivered to the three boats (all under 40 feet) so the sailors would be prepared to make a decent burial at sea. The smallest entry then (and in Bermuda Race history) was the 28-foot sloop Gauntlet. She was notorious for her size, and also for her crew because it included a woman, 20-year-old Thora Lund Robinson.
The naysayers were all proved wrong, with the 52nd edition of the 635nm course planned for June 19 before the coronavirus outbreak required its cancellation. I had no plans to do the 2020 race, but nobody is either, and while I tend not to get regatta gear for races I don’t do, I see this as a loophole in my standards.
So I just went shopping at the Regatta Store to support this great race, keeping its history alive for future generations that don’t know any better.