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Left: in 1906 Thomas Fleming Day was editor of the iconic sailing magazine The Rudder when he started the Bermuda Race. Two of the event’s best-known boats: the S&S 38ft centreboarder Finisterre (above, left) – ‘the fat little monster’ – won three races and the 73ft Stephens masterpiece Bolero, which still competes today. As well as mining every scrap of data (right), navigators still fly out pre-start to check the Stream’s precise track

widely separated bodies of water. Some veterans of the 1924 Bermuda Race founded a long-distance race on Lake Huron, in the state of Michigan. Another, the English yachting writer Weston Martyr, went home and helped found the Fastnet Race and the Royal Ocean Racing Club. The first Fastnet, in 1925, was of course won by the converted 56ft French pilot cutter Jolie Brise which still competes today. Later, while competing in the 1932 Bermuda Race, her crew accomplished one of the most famous feats of seamanship in yachting history when her owner, Bobby Somerset, brought her (under sail) alongside a burning schooner, Adriana, and saved 10 lives, losing only the brave American who held station at Adriana’s helm and jumped a few seconds too late.

Design development

The race challenged owners and designers alike to improve the breed of sea-going yachts beyond traditional working vessels like Jolie Brise and the gaff-rigged fisher- man schooners of John Alden. The 1924 Bermuda Race was won by a Herreshoff yawl, sporting the cutting-edge tall sailplan that Americans call the Marconi rig. In the 1930s the young yacht designers Olin Stephens and Philip Rhodes, guided by the rating rule that the Cruising Club of America developed for the Bermuda Race, also created a distinctive American style of ocean-sailing yacht exemplified by the well- known and successful Dorade, Bolero, Kirawan and Carina.

The race’s post-war revival in 1946 attracted 31 boats to the starting line, which by then had settled down perma- nently at Newport. Ten years later there were 89 boats, and in 1966 there were 167 entries. The star of the show was Carleton Mitchell’s heavy, beamy, Sparkman & Stephens 38ft centreboard yawl Finisterre, winner of three consecutive Bermuda Races in 1956, 1958 and 1960. ‘The fat little monster,’ as Mitchell called her, did well in calms because she was sailed well (‘Her skipper and her crew maintained an almost


magical degree of concentration to keep her moving in light airs,’ said Olin Stephens). But her real strength was upwind in a hard blow. Her chief comp - etitor in the windy 1960 race was the Eng- lish RORC Rule sloop Belmore, skippered by Commander Erroll Bruce (one of several Royal Navy entries). Belmore had passed 50 boats in heavy squalls near Bermuda, and yet she still lost to Finisterre. ‘To be a better man at the game than Mitch is a high standard,’ Bruce said. With that, Mitchell and Finisterre stopped rac- ing and went cruising. Today the Carleton Mitchell Finisterre Trophy is presented to the winner of the Cruiser Division. This has always been an international race. The Onion Patch Series is a multi- team event modelled on the old Admiral’s Cup, that for many years attracted teams from Britain, Europe, South America and Canada. Today only 10 Bermuda Race crews are typically from outside North America with another 10 from Bermuda or Canada. But loyalty to the race is strong; approximately 70 per cent of the entry will have raced more than two races, and 60 members of the Cruising Club of America have sailed 15 or more races. The 1960s and 70s experienced a lengthy revolution against heavy-displace- ment boats beginning with the first modern fin-keel stock boat, the fibreglass Cal 40, designed by Californian Bill Lapworth. Initially scorned by traditionalists as down- wind specialists, Cal 40s quickly demon- strated the sort of all-round ability that is rewarded in most Bermuda Races and that, under modern rating rules, has carried this class to victories for decades. The Cal 40 Sinn Fein, sailed by Peter Rebovich and a young crew that included his two sons, won the race’s largest divi- sion, the St David’s Lighthouse class (racer- cruisers with mostly amateur crews) in both the light-air 2006 race and again in the 2008 race, a 600-mile upwind thrash. The Sinn Fein crew had done eight Bermuda Races and finished in the top three in their class in seven of them.

Whenever Sinn Fein’s name comes up someone always speculates about what Princess Anne of Great Britain said to Pete Rebovich when she presented him with the 2006 Lighthouse Trophy. ‘She was warm and generous,’ he told me. ‘Anyway, the boat had that name when I bought her back in 1972. I wanted a boat I could sail with my sons and I liked the name because it means “we ourselves…”’ This spirit carried them through the boat’s subse- quent near-destruction in a hurricane, and then a rebuilding programme that brought Sinn Fein back to the starting line in 2014 when she finished third in class.

Focus on the sailors

The Bermuda Race is dedicated to the principles of safe sailing and fair racing. The course is ‘not one for novices’, says the Notice of Race. All boats are inspected, all crew lists are reviewed, and a portion of each crew is required to attend a safety at sea seminar. As for fair racing, race chairman AJ Evans says this: ‘It’s the only such race in the world that focuses the competition on the sailors and their skill more than the boats, their designers or owners’ bank accounts. ‘It doesn’t have an overall trophy, although the Lighthouse is considered the grand prize. And we level the playing field by dividing the race into carefully consid- ered divisions, plus we tightly control the participation of professional sailors. ‘No matter what anyone says, there is no science-based handicap system that can fairly rate the differences dividing a fleet like ours. We just trust the Offshore Rac- ing Rule to do its best. Our format, com- bined with ORR, gets the most people sail- ing and promises everyone a fair shake.’

Don’t quit

Three-time Lighthouse Trophy winner Carina was built by the Nye family to the Cruising Club of America Rule in 1969 and proceeded to win the race in 1970. Under a new owner, Rives Potts (who sailed with Ted Turner in the 1979 Fastnet), in 2010 and 2012 she won the trophy again. In

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