Despite a tremendous range of boats and sailors in the Newport Bermuda Race, the class and division winners always seem to have some special quality and drive that pulls them to the front. For Grundoon, success in this race was merely the latest chapter after 50 years in the family. By Chris Museler
Jim Grundy’s Columbia 50 Grundoon, winner of Class 4 and the St. David’s Lighthouse Division (see results), has been in his family since she was commissioned in 1968. He has sailed in this race many times with his father, including the notorious 1972 race when a storm wreaked havoc on the fleet. He even had a 75-footer designed and built for the race named Bella Pita. Winning this year was the culmination of three generations’ efforts and inspiration.
“My father raced her until the 1978 race,” said Grundy, who raced this year with his sons Sam and Josh, and daughter Gwendalyn. His father was in poor health some years later when Grundy came down to check on the boat that February and found her sinking at his parents’ dock in Oxford.
“There was ice up to the bunks,” recalled Jim. “I chopped up the ice, pumped her out, and took her to Charlie Smith’s boatyard on the Eastern Shore. I said to Charlie, ‘I’m ashamed of this.’”
What commenced was a massive restoration complete with a full removal of the deck. The next year, while his father was in the third stages of Alzheimer’s disease, with the boat gleaming like new, Grundy gathered his children to sail Grundoon to his parents’ dock.
“I called ahead and asked my mother to bring Dad to the end of the dock,” said Grundy, as he was telling the story from the deep, mahogany-trimmed cockpit of Grundoon on Wednesday. “He looked through his tired, sheepish eyes and recognized about half of us. He looked up and asked, ‘Is this my boat?’”
Grundy sat his father down in one of the protected “grandfather” seats next top the helm that Columbia 50s are famous for. They started slowly tacking out the Choptank River. Grundy asked his father to take the help but the elder Grundy said he couldn’t. “Maybe he knew he could do it but was afraid he wouldn’t be able to,” said Jim.
In a master stroke, Grundy walked away from the helm and his father took the wheel. “You started to see his eye color change,” Grundy recalls. He sailed that boat all day like it was 20 years ago. He passed away a week later.”
Grundy said that singular experience made the restoration worth it. “This week is just the icing on the cake.”
Grundoon had another refit in 2017 in preparation for this year’s race. Deciding to withdraw from starting the 2016 race with Bella Pita left Jim and his family hungry. They optimized the 50-year old boat for it’s weakness, under 10 knots, with the help of naval architect Harry Dunning, also Grundoon’s navigator. With a new carbon mast, sails designed for the predominant reaching conditions of the race and 1,000 pounds taken out of the boat, Grundoon wound up making the Grundy’s proud.