Eight Bells: Dev Barker
Published on June 21st, 2021
B. Devereaux Barker III, 82, of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts died on June 16, 2021.
Barker was an active racing and cruising sailor who found himself in the middle of an emotionally charged protest situation as Chair of the New York Yacht Club’s Race Committee during the 1970 America’s Cup. The aftermath of the incident lingered for many years and had a profound impact on how protests in yacht races are decided.
Barker was able to survive a bout with prostate cancer 12 years ago, but the disease returned earlier this year. He made the decision to end treatments in March. He was under Hospice care at his home in Manchester-by-the Sea when he peacefully passed away. He leaves behind a long history of serving the sport of sailing in a variety of capacities.
The 1970 America’s Cup collision between the Australian challenger, Gretel II, and the defender, Intrepid, at the start of the Race Two on Sunday, September 20, 1970 was a momentous event in sailing. The racing had been delayed by fog, lack of wind, and requested lay days by the competitors over the preceding seven days. The wind was light on the somewhat misty Sunday afternoon when Barker decided to start the race.
As Intrepid approached the starting line at full speed, Gretel II was to leeward and ahead but sailing slowly. In an effort to prevent Intrepid from starting, Gretel II’s helmsman, Martin Visser, luffed beyond head to wind.
The starting canon had gone off, and under the Racing Rules of Sailing at the time, a leeward boat was obligated to sail no higher than a close-hauled course before crossing the starting line after the gun had sounded. It was a clear violation of the rules.
But, the situation escalated for several reasons. Amazingly, Gretel ll passed Intrepid in the 24.3 mile race. The Australian syndicate head, Sir Frank Packer, a newspaper publisher and television network owner, decided to use the press to make his case.
Barker was in the uncomfortable position of being Chair of the Race Committee, and simultaneously the Chair of the Jury. On-the-water protests are rare in the America’s Cup with the most recent protest prior to 1970 occurred in 1934. After an exhausting hearing where all the facts were presented and both film and photographic evidence reviewed, Barker’s committee disqualified Gretel ll from the race.
The howls of disgust were deafening. The New York Times’ sports columnist, Robert Lipsyte, wrote a scathing article calling Barker, “the standard bearer of a dying, repressive order.” The Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference wrote, “We urge in the interest of highest American sportsmanship the second race be called – no race – and be rerun.” Barker received a lot of ugly messages.
The Rules were clear. Barker’s committee made the correct decision. One could argue that Gretel ll should have withdrawn from the race for the infraction. Australian John Bertrand was a sail trimmer aboard Gretel ll and wrote in his book, Born to Win, “Our after guard did not know the rules any better than we had known them in race one. (Visser) went too far and luffed the sails beyond close hauled, which was against the rules. I was the port sail trimmer.”
The real issue was the perceived conflict of interest of the race committee also being the jury in the case of a protest. After the 1970 incident, the America’s Cup, and by extension all major championship, would entrust an independent jury of certified judges to adjudicate any complaints that take place during a yacht race. In 2013 he self-published a short book on the topic, “Gretel II Disqualified: The Untold Story of a Famous America’s Cup Incident.”
Barker was born on November 8, 1938. He grew up sailing in Marblehead, MA and as a teenager he became the Commodore of the Pleon Yacht Club, America’s oldest youth sailing club which is run by under 21 year old officers and members.
After graduating from Harvard College he went to work for “Yachting” magazine. He served two years as an officer in the US Navy. He joined the New York Yacht Club in 1961 and became Chair of the Race Committee in 1968 at the age of 29.
He won the Newport to Bermuda Race as a crew with Ted Hood in 1968 and was a crew on the 12 Meter Easterner in the America’s Cup trials of 1958. He went on to graduate from Harvard with an MBA and spent his career working in the insurance industry.
Barker was Chair of the America’s Cup Selection Committee for five years for the Herreshoff Marine Museum. He has served on many boards and philanthropic enterprises.
Dev Barker is survived by his wife, Jilda Breed Barker (married in 1963), his five children, B. Devereux Barker IV, Sara Barker Levesohn, William Lake Barker, Holly Gardner Barker, and Breton Lamont Barker. – Gary Jobson