John Rousmaniere, May 2014
The 635-mile biennial Newport Bermuda Race is the oldest regularly scheduled ocean race, one of very few international races, and also one of just two of the world’s scheduled races held almost entirely out of sign of land. Founded in 1906, the Bermuda Race is held for the 49th time in 2014, when the race starts on June 20.
Approximately 170 boats sail the race every year. The average crew has ten men or women. The race starts off Newport, R.I., in front of many spectators, on the third Friday in June (which this year is June 20th). It takes more than two hours to get all those boats started in their six divisions and 17 classes.
Depending on the weather and the currents in the Gulf Stream, and the boat’s size and speed, the race takes two to six days. The first boat arrives at the finish line at St. David’s Light on Sunday or Monday, and the smaller boats arrive between then and Wednesday or Thursday.
The race is demanding. The rules say, “The Newport Bermuda Race is not a race for novices.” The race is nicknamed “the thrash to the Onion Patch” because most Bermuda Races include high winds and big waves (a combination sailors call “a hard thrash”), and because Bermuda was once an agricultural island where large onions thrived.
While the race is not dangerous, it demands good seamanship, great care, and a boat that is both well built and properly equipped. The boats must meet stringent equipment requirements and undergo inspection, and the sailors must be experienced and undergo training in safety.
Since 1926 the race has been run by the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. The race is managed by the volunteer Bermuda Race Organizing Committee of members of the two clubs.
There are six divisions, each for a type of boat. The race has no single winner (only division winners), yet the winning St. David’s Lighthouse Division boat is regarded as the race’s top boat.
- St. David’s Lighthouse Division, for normal multi-purpose cruising-racing boats. This division is the largest at approximately 90 boats. There are limits on the number of professional sailors in these boats, and only amateurs are allowed to steer.
- Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division, for all-out racing boats. These are lightweight boats sailed largely by professional sailors. About 12 boats usually enter this division.
- Cruiser Division, for boats that normally cruise, not race, sailed by amateur crews. The Cruiser Division usually has about 30 boats.
- Double-Handed Division, for boats sailed by two sailors. Approximately 20 boats usually sail in this division.
- Open Division, for racing boats with cant keels, which tilt from side to side, making the boat more stable and able to carry more sail. About five boats usually sail in this division.
- Spirit of Tradition, for traditional boats, most recently the Bermuda Sloop replica Spirit of Bermuda.
- Total races (1906-2012)—48.
- Total entries—5,025 boats with approximately 50,000 sailors.
- Total miles sailed (approx.)—3,200,000 miles of blue water.
- Largest fleets—265 (2006), 198 (2008).
Typical participation by region:
- Non-North America, 8 boats
- Bermuda, 2 boats
- Canada, 7 boats
- New England states, 75 boats
- Middle Atlantic states, 60 boats
- Deep South states, 10 boats
- Midwestern states, 7 boats
- West Coast states, 5 boats
In 2014 the race introduced regional prizes for the top boat from these regions: Chesapeake Bay, Deep South, Great Lakes, West Coast, and Canada. Prizes are also presented to the top Bermuda boat and the top boat hailing from outside North America.
Trophies and other prizes (more than 100 in all) are presented by Bermuda’s Governor at a ceremony at Government House, overlooking Bermuda.
The race was founded by Thomas Fleming Day and The Rudder magazine in 1906. After a period of inactivity from 1911-22, it was revived in 1923 by Herbert L. Stone and Yachting magazine. Since 1936, the race has been started at Newport, R.I., which is 635 nautical miles from Bermuda. Previous starts were at Brooklyn, N.Y., 668 miles (1906-07, 1908-10); Marblehead, Mass., 675 miles (1908), New London, Conn., 660 miles (1923-30, 1934); Montauk, N.Y., 628 miles (1932).
First Bermuda Race, May 1906, Brooklyn to Bermuda. There were three starters between 28 and 40 feet in length. The winner of the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy was Tamerlane, 38-foot yawl owned by Franklin Maier, skippered by Thomas Fleming Day.
Bermuda Race progeny: The race inspired the Fastnet Race in England, the Port-Huron to Mackinac Race on the Great Lakes, and the Off Soundings Club (among others).
Accidents: Boats lost: two (Adriana, fire 1932; Elda, grounding 1956). Lives lost, one (in the fire).
- Largest, 100 feet: Amorita, 1909, and Speedboat (2008, 2010)
- Smallest, 28 feet, Gauntlet, 1906
- First built for the race, Zena (Bermuda), 1907
- First race winner with Marconi rig, Memory, 1924
- Last race winner with gaff rig, Malabar X, 1934
Fastest race: Rambler, 39 hr., 39 min., 18 sec. (ave. 16 knots), 2012
Slowest race: Venturer, 121:13:12 (ave. 5.2 knots), 1960
Largest winner: Margaret, 93 feet, 1909; (modern) Boomerang, 80 feet, 1996
Smallest winner: Burgoo, 37 feet, 1964
Most victories, skipper—
- 3 (tie)— John Alden in three Malabars (1923, 1926, 1932), and Carleton Mitchell in Finisterre (1956, 1958, 1960)
- 2 (tie)— Robert N. Bavier Sr., Memory (1924) and Edlu (1934); Richard S. Nye, Carina (1952, 1970); Peter Rebovich, Sinn Fein (St. David’s Lighthouse Division 2006, 2008); Rives Potts, Carina (St. David’s Lighthouse Division, 2010, 2012)
Most victories, boat—
- 3—Finisterre (1956, 1958, 1960), Carina (1970, and St. David’s Lighthouse Division, 2010, 2012)
- 2 (tie)—Baruna (1938, 1948) and Sinn Fein, Peter Rebovich (2006, 2008)
- 3—Finisterre (1956, 1958, 1960)
- 2—Sinn Fein(2006, 2008), Carina (2010, 2012)
Non-U.S. winner: Noryema, U.K., 1972
Freshwater winner: Scaramouche, Chuck Kirsch (Sturgis, Mich.), 1974
Most first to finishes, skipper: 4, George Coumantaros in two Boomerangs (1984, 1990, 1992, 1996). Most first-to-finishes, boat: 3 (tie): Baruna, (1936, 1946, 1948), Bolero (1950, 1954, 1956), Boomerang (1984, 1990, 1992).
Most wins by a yacht designer: Olin Stephens, 14 (1934-1994)
Winning skippers who also won America’s Cups – Harold S. Vanderbilt, Ted Hood
Most races by a sailor:
- 30—Jim Mertz, (every race except two, 1936-2004)
- 26—George Coumantaros
- 24— Edward Greeff and Edwin Gaynor
Most races by a boat under one owner:
- 16, Emily—Edwin Gaynor (1978-2008)
- 15, Prim—Gibbons-Neff family (1954-82, 2008)
Most races by a boat:
- 20, Carina – Richard S. Nye and Rives Potts (1970-2012)
- First, Thora Lund Robinson, Gauntlet, 1906 (the first race)
- First woman skipper, Queene Hooper Foster, Sephedra, 1986
- Highest placing woman skipper, Sheila McCurdy, Selkie, 2nd, 1994 and 2008
Oldest winning skippers:
- 74—DeCoursey Fales, Niña, 1962
- 72— George Coumantaros (1996) and Peter Rebovich (2008)
Youngest winning skipper: Kyle Weaver, Constellation, 1992 (22)