Pirates and the Newport Bermuda Race

Published on June 15th, 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. Prior to the scratched June 19 start, Scuttlebutt is celebrating the race’s history by sharing the stories… here’s one from Mark Baxter:

Back when I was an invincible 19 to 21 year old, I did two Bermuda races aboard Lynn Williams’ Dora IV (S&S 61 Tenacious / War Baby). The 1974 race was stormy and I vividly remember the contrast between the rock star sailmaker that spent most of the race lashed to the rail puking while several of the long time amateur crewmembers smoked cigars and drank scotch in the cockpit as we bashed along.

More importantly, I remember testing the new Lirakis safety harness I had purchased just before the start of the race.

Dora had hanked on headsails and as we changed from the #3 to the #4 jib (why is always pitch dark for these?), I was in the pulpit facing aft and undoing the hanks as the sail came down and four others smothered it and dragged it aft. The bow stuffed into a steep wave that washed me to the end of my tether and floated me clear of the deck.

I came down outside the lifelines to leeward, but I had hooked into a padeye to windward and the short tether over the pulpit had me hanging at deck level. Before I knew it, the next wave washed me back up and over to land on deck again.

I still have that harness and tether and I have since been a firm believer in hard points for tethers. Had I been on the jacklines now mandated for hooking on, I’m sure I would have been far worse off. But back then I was 19 and invincible and we won our class.

My second trip to the Onion Patch was in 1976, again onboard Dora IV. After a foggy start, we were hard on the wind in 8-14 knots for most of the race and mostly pleasant sailing. On the second or third evening, there was an all hands call from the cockpit, and we all rushed up to find not an emergency, but the spectacular sight of the Tall Ships fleet running from Bermuda to New York for the Bicentennial celebration of the United States.

We must have had a dozen ships pass within half a mile of us with everything set. I’ve seen several near shore parades of sail, but to see a fleet sailing in mid ocean is a completely different experience that I still see clearly in my mind 44 years later. Yes I am a pirate, 200 years too late.

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