The race and saga began at Bermuda
HERITAGE MATTERS by Dr. Edward Harris
She was beautiful and beautifully built, with full-length planks glued on edge, and seams so invisible the topsides shone like the side of a porcelain bathtub. — Cornelius “Corny” Shields, 1936.
This year, 2012, marks several significant anniversary years in the short history of Bermuda, which spans a little over five hundred years, as far as human knowledge is concerned. Without the invention of the square rigged vessel of European origins, it is likely that Bermuda would have been unknown to the world for less than five centuries, for its discovery was predicated on the ability of ships to transit the global oceans, as opposed to the inland seas, such as the Mediterranean, the transiting centre of the Roman Empire.
Thus Bermuda is associated with that major invention in sailing technology that allowed a number of European nations to create global empires that used the highways of the ocean seas as their main mode of communication, until the creation of passenger aeroplanes in the 20th Century. So in 1505 began the saga of Bermuda’s maritime history and its necessarily oceanic connections, having but the sea as backyard and hinterland, vale and mountain.
This year is also the anniversary of another maritime story, partly Scandinavian, which is encompassed in a new book published by the IOD Word Class Association entitled The Saga of The International One-Design: A celebration of 75 Years. Alessandro Vitelli, Herbert J. Motley Jr. and Dana Jinkins are the authors of the book, which is dedicated to our own Beverley Wayne (Jordy) Walker ‘who sailed on to new horizons shortly before Christmas 2010 [and] was an icon on the Bermuda sailing scene’. The authors went on to write that ‘without Jordy there is little doubt that there would not be an International One-Design Class in Bermuda today, and some of us would argue, around the world’.
The saga behind the accolades for Walker, and in the book for the IOD Class of racing yachts, began in Bermuda in 1936 and appropriately, being a saga, involved a Scandinavian, the eminent boat designer and builder, Bjarne Aas, and an American, the inimitable Cornelius (Corny) Shields Sr. In 1935, the Bermudian brothers, Eldon and Kenneth Trimingham commissioned a new ‘six-metre’ racing yacht from Aas in Norway and readied it to compete in races with other six-metres the following spring at Bermuda; the spanking new vessel was called, as one may not diverge from the story, Saga. A vessel of ‘unparalleled beauty and brilliant performance’, the Saga, skippered by the Triminghams, cleaned up in the races at Bermuda in 1936, leaving its competitors in its presumably elegant wake.
For some time, Corny Shields had it in mind that a new class of racing yacht should replace those used by American yacht clubs and repeatedly said that ‘if he was going to be beaten on the water, he wanted to be beaten by a better sailor, not by a designer’. Coming to Bermuda for the 1936 races, Corny found a boat for his concept: ‘The minute I saw Saga, I fell in love with her. I thought she was the most beautiful boat I’d ever seen. I loved her shape, her sheer, her dainty transom and her long straight counter. It was terrible. All I could think about on the way back to the stages were the lines of that darned boat’.
The previous year Shields had received a set of drawings from Bjarne Aas, who had it in mind that there should be a new type of ‘One-Design’, that is to say a class of boats built to the specifications of a single design, and not individual designs constructed to the ‘International’ or ‘Universal’ Rules. The Aas design, based on a shortened six-metre, or Saga, would become the now-famous ‘International One-Design’ (IOD) and Shields’ sighting of Saga at Bermuda convinced him and his fellow Long Islanders that between that boat and the Aas design that they had found the answer. Thus, the following year, 1937, the first IODs appeared on the water in the United States and Bermuda and a new class of racing yacht was born, 75 years ago.
Fleets of IODs are found today in Norway, Bermuda, Chester (Nova Scotia), Fisher’s Island and Long Island Sound, Marblehead, Nantucket, Northeast Harbor (Maine), San Francisco, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Based on Corny Shields’ precept, sailors appear at the races in these places and compete using the local IODs: as they are all the same design, it is the skill of the sailor that makes the difference.
Enter another Eldon Trimingham, a son of the Saga yachtsman, and we can put the IODs and Bermuda into another historical perspective, and celebrate Bermuda as the origin and home of the fore-and-aft sail arrangement, the ‘Bermuda Rig’, which the IODs wear so beautifully. In 1990, Eldon wrote an article in the Bermuda Journal of Archaeology and Maritime History entitled ‘The Development of the Bermuda Rig’, based on his supposition and research that ‘that peculiar rig’ (as described by Lady Brassey in the 1880s) was invented in these islands. Were he with us today, Eldon would likely agree with the concept that the saga of racing yachts, including the IODs, began here with the Bermuda Rig and lately we have manuscript evidence of 1674 showing the ‘Bermoodes Saile’ as one of the nine sail types of the world, in existence before that date. The race for racing yachts can thus be said to have begun here in the mid-1600s.
So Bermuda’s other connection with the 75th anniversary of the International One-Design might be stated in Eldon the younger’s words of two decades ago: ‘Nevertheless, when Bermudians look at the massive America’s Cup challenger New Zealand or the simple Finn dinghy and consider the influence that Bermuda, out of all proportion to its size, has had on the development of small boat sailing, they should feel a justifiable pride.’ We would hope, in that other place, that Jordy Walker, very much the heart of the IOD movement through most of his life, would second Eldon’s racy statement.
* Copies of the book, The Saga of The International One-Design: A celebration of 75 Years, may be obtained by contact Sacha Simmons at firstname.lastname@example.org
Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Executive Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to email@example.com or 704-5480.