The First Bermuda Race - 1906
By John Rousmaniere
Adapted from John Rousmaniere. A Berth to Bermuda: 100 Years of the Word’s Classic Ocean Race (Mystic Seaport: Cruising Club of America / Mystic Seaport, 2006)
The oldest regularly scheduled ocean race began over 100 years ago with the then radical idea of amateur sailors’ racing normal boats in the ocean. The Bermuda Race was the brainchild of Thomas Fleming Day, editor of America’s most influential boating magazine, The Rudder.
Day was a prophet of the troublemaking, noisy variety. His favorite target was anybody who claimed that the sea was inherently unsafe. “The danger of the sea for generations has been preached by the ignorant,” he shouted. The problem wasn’t with the sea, and it wasn’t with the average sailor. No, the problem was with the blue-blazer crowd in the yacht clubs. He railed against the “crowd of weaklings and degenerates,” those “gray-headed, rum-soaked piazza yachtsmen,” those “men who had never been to sea except in the Coney Island boat, and then probably were seasick.”
What, Day demanded, “do these miserable old hulks, who spend their days swigging booze on the front steps of a clubhouse, know about the danger of the deep?” “What does the average yachtsman know about sea sailing? Absolutely nothing! Then let him hold his tongue.”
Pretty wild stuff. Day calmed down a little when the subject turned to why people should want to go to sea in the first place. Amateur seafaring, he said, is a healthy thing to do. More than healthy: seafaring improves character. “A noble art makes noble men,” Day insisted, “and there is no nobler art than seamanship.” And besides better people, a long ocean race would develop better boats. Besides that, the race would be an escape from the dullness of shore life. “Sailors,” he said, “wanted to get a smell of the sea and forget for the time being that there is such a thing as God’s green earth in the universe.”
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