Eight Bells: Talbot Wilson (1944-2022)

August 11, 2022

By Barry Pickthall

Photographer, journalist and PR expert, Talbot Wilson captured this iconic shot at the windy start of the 2012 Newport Bermuda Yacht Race, with the legendary S&S 52 Dorade setting its chute in the foreground and Castle Hill in the background. Talbot Wilson/PPL photo

Talbot Wilson (11/23/44 - 07/16/22), who masterminded so much of the public face of the Newport Bermuda Race for almost 3 decades, died on July 16, 2022, aged 77 years. He advised the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and Cruising Club of America in press, public relations, and event management from 1990 through the record-breaking entry for the 100th Anniversary race in 2006 until his retirement after the 2016 event.

Talbot played much the same role for the Marion to Bermuda Race, the annual King Edward VII Gold Cup match racing series, and other major sailing events in Bermuda including the Women’s World Match Racing Championship.

Talbot Wilson, 1944-2022, former Media Director of the Newport Bermuda Race

The sailor, journalist, and PR guru grew up in New Orleans where he first developed an insatiable taste for yacht racing. He gained a Masters in English at Auburn University and either through fate or circumstance found the perfect vocation, combining his word skills with his chosen sport. As his daughter Katie Roberts recalls, “It was a passion that caught hold and drove practically every choice he made in life.”

Wilson and his family made their home in Pensacola, where he cut his teeth in marketing and promotions at the advertising agency Dodson, Craddock & Born.

John Winder, current Media Team Co-Chair within the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee, says in tribute: “Talbot did an amazing job for the race over 26 years. He was super at bringing people together, had an encyclopedic knowledge of the event going back to the first race in 1906, and his press releases stood out as informative, knowledgeable and always very readable."

Off St. David's Lighthouse in the 2014 Newport Bermuda Yacht Race, Talbot Wilson was on hand for the sunrise finish of George Sakelleris' Shockwave—the line-honors boat and winner of the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Trophy that year. Talbot Wilson/PPL photo

Brian Billings, Commodore of the Royal Bermuda YC from 1994-1995 says: “Talbot was very much involved with all the international events held in Bermuda. Talbot worked with me in saving the Onion Patch 3-boat team event, wrapped around the Newport Bermuda Race. The series thrived during his tenure when similar events like the Cowes-based Admiral’s Cup and Sardinia Cup series were dropped from the international calendar. “

Talbot Wilson’s greatest achievement perhaps came with the Centennial Bermuda Race in 2006 when his media drive and wide-ranging contacts within the sailing world helped to draw a record 265 entries.  Billings recalls: “It proved to be one of the most memorable events with New Yorker Peter S. Rebovich and family crewmembers in the veteran Cal 40 Sinn Fein sweeping the board to win the St David’s Lighthouse Trophy.”

That boat’s provocative name had caused some concerns during previous races, particularly in Bermuda, where the Sinn Fein movement was viewed more in terms of terrorism than the Irish Independence party now governing Northern Island. Princess Anne’s arrival in Bermuda to present the 100th anniversary prizes only heightened those concerns, but any issues that might have resulted from the maverick skipper rubbing shoulders with British Royalty were swept aside with a few quiet words from Talbot before the prize-giving.  And when Rebovich and his crew repeated their win 2 years later, the mood had changed completely, with the Sinn Fein team feted for their back-to-back success.

Princess Anne presents the St. David's Lighthouse Trophy to Peter Rebovich, skipper of the Cal 40 Sinn Fein from Metuchen NJ, after the 2006 Newport Bermuda Race. Barry Pickthall/PPL photo

Talbot had a nose for good news stories, which he nurtured from an early stage. There was the time Sir John Vereker, the Governor of Bermuda, joined Dr Colin Couper’s crew on the Bermudian Swan 46 entry Babe, winning their class and finishing 3rd overall in 2008. This was Sir John’s first ocean race, and he was ecstatic about their performance, coming ashore at the Royal Bermuda YC proudly wearing a cap bearing his crew nickname 'Rail Meat.' The story made the papers right across the world.

Another surrounded the salvage, restoration, and eventual division win for the all-women crew aboard Lea de Haas’ former Admiral’s Cup yacht Synergy. The yacht had sunk at her mooring in St Maarten in 1999 and remained underwater for 19 days during which time the coral seabed had ground a great hole through the hull. Undeterred, Hass devoted 2 years to fully restoring the wreck and was rewarded with victory in the Finisterre Cruiser Division in the 2006 Centennial Race. It was a surprise result to all but Talbot—having followed the yacht’s restoration and crew preparations for the race, he had their story chapter and verse complete with pictures, ready to send out the moment Haas and her crew had crossed the St David’s finish line.

Synergy, the 49-foot wooden Frers design built for the 1971 Admiral's Cup series, sank in St Maarten in 1999 and looked like this after 19 days on the reef. Lea de Haas/PPL photo (above). She was restored and won the Finisterre Cruiser Division in the 2006 Centennial Bermuda Race with all women in her crew—owner Lea de Haas celebrates (below). Barry Pickthall/PPL photo
PPL PHOTO AGENCY - COPYRIGHT RESERVED 2006: NEWPORT BERMUDA RACE - Prize giving: Lea de Haas, the Dutch skipper of the Frers 49 'Synergy' gleefully receives the Carlton Mitchell 'Finisterre' trophy for best corrected time in the Cruiser Division, from the Princess Royal, Princess Ann. Barry Pickthall/PPL photo

John Nichols, Commodore of the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club, says “Our sport of sailing greatly benefitted from Talbot's skill sets as both writer and marketing specialist, as well as his great passion for the sport. His ability to write a great story was accompanied by the skill of a great raconteur, and the recounting of many a tale accumulated was always welcome at the dinner table.”

Talbot is survived by his second wife, Virginia who also played an important role within the Bermuda Race media team, son John Wilson, daughter Katie, and five grandchildren.

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