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1909 Bermuda Race Trophy snatched from Melting Pot

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‘One idiot wrote an article and printed it in the Evening Post in which he pictured the Gulf Stream rushing over the reefs of Bermuda like the rapids of Niagara Falls.’ Thomas Fleming Day

, Rudder, July 1906

In the western North Atlantic are two of the most remarkable natural phenomena on Earth, namely, the Gulf Stream and the Sargasso Sea. Wedged between those two monuments of international heritage, the latter hopefully soon to be protected (including, again most hopefully, its underwater cultural heritage of shipwrecks) as a type of “World Heritage Site”, is another major natural phenomenon in one of the oceanic volcanoes of the Northern Hemisphere, namely Bermuda, on the top of which at some 15,000 feet we precariously perch on a topography of consolidated sand dunes. Bermuda is indeed a house of sand, or is so constructed upon, though for almost 400 years we have laboured to stabilise such gritty foundations for a life on the “Onion Patch”, by which name racing sailors have often labelled the place. So there you have it: rows of onions on a bed of sand sounds like a geographical recipe in nouvelle cuisine, fresh from a million-year-old geological marketplace, with no preservatives added, excepting blasts of salt from winter gales and summer hurricanes. Including the latecomer but unique onion, nature has bestowed upon Bermuda a beauty almost unparalleled among oceanic islands. Here also arose one of the enduring wonders of the deep in the local invention of the fore-and-aft ‘Bermuda Rig’, yet the essential mainstay, so to speak, of the world of yachting. So to the Onion Patch, being the only available spot in the western North Atlantic, the visionary Thomas Fleming Day, controversial, perhaps delightful, editor of the Rudder magazine, decided in 1906 that there should be an offshore yachting race to Bermuda. The gales of derision from naysayers almost blew Day into the night of the Sargasso Sea. They said it couldn’t be done, but Day fired back comparing the critics to washed-up boats: ‘Newspapermen ought to know better than consult a lot of grey-headed, rum soaked piazza scows. What do these miserable old hulks, who spend their days swigging booze on the front stoop of a clubhouse, know about the danger of the deep?’ Thus it was that the first ocean yacht race to Bermuda took place in 1906. The Race was sponsored in the United States by the Brooklyn Yacht Club and started in lower New York Bay, according to John Rousmaniere in his book for the centenary of the Race in 2006, “A Berth To Bermuda”. At this end, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club agreed to host the event and festivities following the Race and a finish line, yet the goal, was established off St. David’s Lighthouse, which today is represented, along with Gibbs Hill Lighthouse in two of the top trophies of the sailing extravaganza. After a hiatus in the First World War, the Race was restarted in 1923 and continues to this day, the RBYC co-sponsoring it with the Cruising Club of America, the Race now starting at Newport, Rhode Island. The winner of the first Bermuda Race was

Tamerlane, with Thomas Fleming Day, appropriately, its sailing master. Sir Thomas Lipton, a challenger in the America’s Cup competitions, had donated the prize for the occasion, at Day’s behest, and his is a name known to most Bermudians who drink tea. His magnificent trophy is now in the collections of the Mariners Museum at Newport News, Virginia, and is perhaps the finest and most exotic cup ever produced for the Bermuda Race. Three of the figures in the cup hark back to Greek and Roman mythology, with Poseidon/Neptune being the figurehead of a Viking Longboat, sporting a winged Nike on its stern, all supported by Pegasus, the lot intimating speed and victory at sea, the Vikings perhaps being the first to ‘race’ across the Atlantic to North America. The base of the Lipton trophy carries a silver plaque with a view of the City of Hamilton from Fort Hamilton. Another splendid trophy related to racing at Bermuda is the King Edward VII Gold Cup, donated by Sherman Hoyt, who came to the island on the 1924 Bermuda Race. The Cup was original presented by His Majesty for the 1907 Jamestown Exposition Regatta, ‘In commemoration of the first English settlement in America 1607’. Princess Louise, another member of the Royal Family, for whom the hotel is named and who is credited with encouraging the early tourist trade to Bermuda, presented her Cup to the RBYC in 1883; both are presented herein. The ‘Westerfield Cup’, so named for its modern sponsors, was made for the third Bermuda Race and was saved from the melting pot in 2011 by Bill and Ann Westerfield, through the foresight of a silver bullion dealers who thought it might be of interest to Bermuda and not in the interest of heritage to turn it into an ingot. The top trophy for the 1909 Bermuda Race was ‘made by Reed and Barton and was 14 ½ inches in height. It was decorated with a floral pattern in relief and had three handles. In one pane were the crossed flags of the Atlantic Y.C. and the R.Y.B.C. in enamel. It was inscribed Bermuda Race 1909’. Author Robin Trimingham in her book, Under the Calabash Tree, a history of the RBYC, notes ‘a cup of similar design was presented by George S. Runk…to the winner of Class “C”.’ That similar vessel is the Westerfield Cup and that information about Runk is inscribed on one of the panels. On the third panel, an inscription preserves the fact that it was ‘Won by Sch.

Restless Dr. Leedom Sharp’. From available data, it is presumed that Leedom followed his brother into the medical profession, but Dr Benjamin Sharp (their mother was a Leedom) was also, for our heritage interest, the founder of the Nantucket Historical Association and was often referred to as that town’s ‘foremost citizen’. Leedom outlived his brother by some years to write a small treatise on “The Establishment of Immunity Against the Germs of Arthritis and Rheumatism’ in 1929, a pamphlet partly advertised by a modern bookseller under the keyword ‘Quackery’. Sailing another course, ‘George S. Runk, capitalist and yachtsman, died suddenly yesterday [1 July, 1916] at his Summer home, Rocky Crest, on Premium Point, New Rochelle, in his fifty-ninth year’. Neither George nor Leedom had much competition in the 1909 Bermuda Race, which is not to cast aspersions on the first lady to participate in the ‘Thrash to the Onion Patch’, but to note that only five boats took part. George Runk, in the schooner

Margaret, won on overall time, with the Race starting on ‘3 June from the Atlantic Yacht Club, off Sea Gate’. They, along with the inventor of the Bermuda Race, Thomas Fleming Day, would all no doubt be delighted that it is the oldest ocean race still run, including hundreds of women in recent years. The Westerfield Cup of 1909, which connects them all, and they to us, has resurfaced and will be preserved on exhibit at the National Museum of Bermuda as part of a testament to their early yachting enterprise and the creation of the Bermuda Race, even if, it appears, the sea air of the Gulf Stream and yacht racing is no antidote for arthritis, nor panacea for a long life.

Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Executive Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director[AT]bmm.bm or 704-5480

Royal assent: Princess Louise Cup given to the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club in 1883.
The Cup donated by Sir Thomas Lipton for the first Bermuda Race in 1906 (Courtesy of Mariners? Museum)
Saved: The Westerfield Cup, saved from the melting pot, was given by George S. Runk for the winner of Class ?C? in the third Bermuda Race in 1909.
Gold award: The stately King Edward VII Gold Cup donated to the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club by Sherman Hoyt in 1926.