June photo and Newport Bermuda Race

Published on June 17th, 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 Robert Morton:

I have sailed 19 Bermuda Races, starting with the gale in 1972, but the most memorable for me was 1982. That year the June page of the Leutwiler Sailing Calendar was a picture of Brigadoon III close reaching with her muticolored spinnaker.

My friend, Hunt Ramsbottom, figured that was a good omen and that June 1982 would be Brigadoon III’s month, so we should do the Bermuda Race.

Brigadoon III, an S&S 56 footer originally built by Jack Potter as Equation, was the first S&S design by Olin Stephens after Intrepid, so she was the first ocean racer with a skeg and rudder separated from the keel.

I was working on a big project on the west coast and couldn’t take the time to prepare the boat, but Hunt volunteered to take care of all the logistics needed, and to organize a crew.

So, we decided to go ahead, and Hunt did a great job. Key members of the crew were watch captains George Kirk and Geoff Ewensen, navigator Don Elliot, foredeck man Mike Brennan, and the boat captain, Tommy Reardon.

As Hunt predicted, the month started quite well for Brigadoon III. We won our class in the feeder race from Stamford to Newport, and then won the Onion Patch Series of races on Narragansett Bay prior to the Bermuda Race. So, we were raring to go for the race to Bermuda, but everything was postponed for two days due to a large storm passing over the race course.

Finally, the day of the Bermuda Race start proved to be a beautiful sunny occasion with a nice sou’wester blowing off Castle Hill. The starting line was set up perpendicular to the course, so it was a reaching start, favoring the windward end by a huge margin.

We lined ourselves up perfectly, right on the line, and sailed on starboard tack toward the committee boat with complete control over all the boats that were to windward and behind the line.

As the seconds ticked down to the start, we timed it perfectly and were right at the committee boat, with the spinnaker ready, just as the gun went off. So, we started the race first, boat for boat in our class, and never gave up that position.

The Bermuda Race is really three races in one; the first third sails across the Continental Shelf in typical New England weather; the second third is the Gulf Stream, where you have to play the currents correctly and the wind can be quite strong; and the third is the distance from the southern edge of the Gulf Stream into Bermuda.

In the 1982 race, the first third was pretty steady, with a 10-15 knot sou’wester that we sailed either with a double head rig, or a flat spinnaker. One of the keys to the outcome of our race occurred on the second afternoon, as we were approaching the Gulf Stream.

We were close reaching on starboard tack with the #1 jib, just behind Siren, a more modern S&S design that owed us about six hours. As the afternoon wore on, we kept being headed, so that in the end, we were sailing hard on the wind, parallel to the Gulf Stream; but about 30 miles north of the Stream with no current.

Don Elliot and I had a long discussion at the chart table and decided to tack, even though we wouldn’t be making any progress toward Bermuda on the port tack. But our thought was that at least we could get to the Stream, and then tack back to starboard with a push from behind.

That decision worked extremely well, because in the end, we beat Siren into Bermuda, boat for boat, by about six hours!

As we got toward the Stream, the weather started to deteriorate, and the second night, while we were in the Gulf Stream was a really tough beat. But we made the necessary sail changes and kept the boat moving well. As dawn arrived, we were down to a reefed main and a #3 jib, close reaching next to a Swan 60 named Gone with the Wind.

She was about the same size as Siren, and also owed us a considerable amount of time. However, a close reach in a breeze was Brigadoon III’s strong point and we were able to sail with her boat for boat which gave us a good gauge as to how well we were going.

As the morning wore on, the breeze started to ease a bit and we could see that Gone with the Wind was gaining on us slowly. We talked about going up to the #2 jib for quite some time, until finally, George Kirk, a great sailor, and a staunch New Englander with a distinct Massachusetts accent, exclaimed “STORM’S OVA, let’s go to the big jib!”

Well that’s what we did, and we started crawling back and eventually sailed over Gone with the Wind as we close reached toward Bermuda. From that day forward “STORM’S OVA” has been the rallying cry for all the Brigadoons since and I’m sure we have often carried way too much sail as a result.

But it really worked that time, and as we got closer and closer to Bermuda the weather turned beautiful and we were close reaching in about 20 knots of breeze on a bright, sunny warm day. It was absolutely perfect sailing conditions for Brigadoon III.

We had two rallying cries that came from Geoff Ewensen, our token Aussie on the crew. As we rolled along, with Geoff behind the helm, he would yell out, in his Australian accent, “Eight and a quarter, to please your daughter!” or “Eight and a half, to make you laugh!”

Pretty soon everyone who drove that day would be yelling it out and we really kept the boat going fast all morning and afternoon.

That day was something we will all never forget. We started to get the feeling that we were on the verge of achieving a lifelong dream; winning the biggest ocean race in the world! As the day went by and we got closer to Bermuda, it became apparent that Nirvana, the scratch boat in the fleet, with my friend Mike Keyworth as skipper, hadn’t finished yet. She owed us approximately 12 hours, and we were only 50 miles from Bermuda with a time to finish of something less than six hours!

I always think of that afternoon in terms of the Whitney Houston song, One Moment in Time, where we were “racing with destiny/All of our dreams were a heartbeat away/and the answers were all up to us.”

It was just a beautiful day; a deep blue ocean, covered with white caps; a great crew, all working together; and a fantastic boat. We knew, if we just held it together, it would mean our lives would never be the same. That day represented what life is all about and how ocean racing reflects the greatest parts of life.

Well, we did hold it together, and in the late afternoon as we approached Bermuda and rounded Kitchen Shoals, the wind started to ease up a bit. Not wanting to give up any time, we changed to our #1 Genoa, but as we trimmed the sail in, the clew blew out!

However, Mike and Tommy were right there, and we probably had the #2 back up in less than a minute. We sailed the remainder of the race with no incidents and finished just before sunset.

When we arrived at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club around 10 pm that night we were greeted by a huge crowd. It was obvious there were not many boats tied up to the pier, and we could see on the scoreboard over the club porch that we were winning at that time. But we had to wait until noon the next day to know we had actually won!

There were two divisions in the race that year, based on the rule that you sailed under; either MHS or IOR. The winner was the boat that won her class by the largest margin.

We won MHS by more than 50 minutes over Acadia, a McCurdy & Rhodes 65-footer. Carina won IOR by 34 minutes. Therefore, we were declared the winner. We also won the DuPont Trophy for the best combined score for the races in Newport and the Bermuda Race.

Then the fun began. In Bermuda, we celebrated with a great crew dinner at the Hog Penny Pub off Front Street, then went out and purchased blue blazers and white pants to wear to the prize giving ceremony at the Government House.

Back in Newport, the Mayor proclaimed July 21st as Brigadoon III day and we had a huge reception at the Newport Yacht Club, with the boat open to the public. Those were certainly exciting times for everyone involved, and something we will always treasure.

Scuttlebutt wants to share your great tales from the past, and to encourage you, the prize chest is expanding with race gear and Scuttlebutt hats for the favorite stories. Submit your memorable moment to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com.

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