Icons and the Newport Bermuda Race

Published on June 10th, 2020

While the 52nd edition of the Newport Bermuda Race was cancelled in 2020, there remain 51 editions of memories that have come from this 635nm course. Scuttlebutt is celebrating this history by sharing the stories … here’s one from Richard du Moulin:

The Bermuda Race is my favorite sailing event, having only missed two since 1966. My friend John Browning has only missed one, so he has 26 to my 25, putting us both in the “top five” historically speaking.

But the record is firmly held by the late great Jim Mertz of Rye, New York. Jim passed away at age 94 after accumulating 30 Newport-Bermuda, 12 Marion-Bermuda, and 42 return trips!

As a young junior sailor from the Long Island side of Long Island Sound, I had the pleasure of staying at Jim and Leggie Mertz’ home in Rye for Larchmont Race Weeks. “Leggie” (Allegra) was the sister of Arthur Knapp. What a sailing family!

Jim was always my hero, especially as the years went by and the Bermuda Race became a fixture on my calendar as well as his. I fondly recall finishing a Bermuda Race, and after docking at the Royal Bermuda YC, heading for the shower where standing at the sink next to me, shaving with a big smile on his face, was Jim Mertz, age 92, having just completed his 30th race.

As an old friend I turned to Jim and said: “Jim: congratulations! You must be very pleased!” Jim turned to me and quietly said: “Rich, I live for this Race.” I hesitated and then asked: “Jim: if you don’t mind, how do you get a ride to Bermuda at your age? Isn’t the owner concerned you might die on the voyage?” Jim laughed and responded: “Rich, can you keep a secret? I own half the boat and only require my partner to take me on one race every two years.”

Eighteen months later Jim passed away, and his biggest regret was missing his 31st Newport-Bermuda Race. His daughter Allegra asked me to be one of his eulogists, one of the great honors of my life.

A few months later on the next Bermuda Race, Jim’s boat partner David Schwartz-Leeper took half of Jim’s ashes and dropped them at the finish line. I took the other half on board my “Lora Ann” and on the way home from Bermuda, dropped them in the Gulf Stream to commemorate Jim’s 42 trips home.

UPDATE: Capt. Nancy DeVries contacted us to correct the total of return deliveries from 42 to 41, as she reports that after the 2005 race, she brought the boat back to Rye, NY. “When I asked why he wasn’t returning the boat himself, instead of hiring me, he related that his family told him, at age 94, he could sail on the race to Bermuda or the passage from Bermuda to home, but not both. Of course, he choose the former.”

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