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Marion reaches out to Bermuda

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‘The Marion-Bermuda Race offers blue water racing in an approachable way to both veterans and newcomers alike and the Corinthian spirit encourages great camaraderie among the participants’.

— Robert Mason, former Commodore, RHADC.

Six hundred and forty-five miles north of St David’s Head floats the starting buoys of the Marion — Bermuda Race, a contest for yachts of certain types that began in 1977, the year that Apple Computer incorporated and snow fell in Miami and the Bahamas, to fill this sail with some irrelevant winds. The Race is run, or rather sailed, biennially in the uneven years, whereas the Newport — Bermuda Race, of more antiquity, occurs every two years in the even ones. Thus for the Yachting Tourism economy, Bermuda is fortunate to be at the winning end of two significant ocean races, bringing considerable benefit to sailors and landlubbers alike on this mid-Atlantic atoll. Tourism authorities perhaps should take more interest in the races, not the least because getting the sailing tourists to Bermuda takes place with little or no expense from government.

For the Marion Race, there are no less than eleven major committees of volunteers that come into the channel to make the event a success. These include overall management, selection, inspection, compliance, trophy and the committee of the ‘International Jury which has full responsibility to hear and decide protests and questions brought to it with regard to the conduct of the race’. In a number of years, over a hundred yachts have taken part in the Race, most with a crew of six or more, to which, from a presence in Bermuda, may be added family and friends who fly to the Island to greet and be with the competitors once they cross the Gulf Stream and are moored in the placid waters of Hamilton Harbour off the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club.

The latter name reflects one of the salient features of the Marion-Bermuda Race, for it was to be a contest of non-professionals, as originally conceived by its founders, Bermudian Geoffrey Bird and the American David Kingery, both of whom have now made their last sail. The race is thus referred to as a ‘Corinthian’, being ‘the nautical term for an amateur yachter’ (ugly word that one), not to be confused with another definition as ‘a man about town, especially one who lives luxuriously or, sometimes, dissolutely’, which could not be said about any of our ‘yachters’, past or present, the public should be assured.

Another unique feature of the Race is that the Corinthians are allowed, if they so wish, to forego modern technology and use celestial navigation methods of old but forever perfectly valid, provided that the hand-held mechanical equipment is available. The final item which makes the Marion-Bermuda Race a mould apart from other oceanic sails is that the vessels themselves must be cruising yachts, not racers like a Maxi, and ‘must have an enclosed cabin and be fitted out for comfortable cruising, including permanent bunks, a permanently installed and enclosed toilet, and permanently installed cooking facilities suitable for use at sea’.

So this is a race for caravans rather than Corvettes, which makes it of great appeal to more ordinary yachting folk, who are as much interested in the voyage of the means, as they may be in the achievement of the ends. However, as Liz Stott wrote last July in Yachtsandyachting.com: ‘don’t let “Cruising” lead you to believe it’s “easy”. It’s still a 645-mile ocean race where competitors are crossing the Gulf Stream and dealing with its often-extreme weather nuances and challenges’.

One of the three sponsors of the Marion to Bermuda Race is the Blue Water Sailing Club, which was founded in 1959 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, to provide general yacht cruising, not only on the American scene but on more far flung coasts such those of Turkey or the British Virgin Islands. The other hosts are the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club at Bermuda and the Beverly Yacht Club, the latter located in the place that gives the race its other name, namely, Marion, Massachusetts, though the Club was originally founded in 1872 in Beverly in that state.

The town of Marion is founded on Native American settlements, now thought by archaeologists to date back some five thousand years. Located on Sippican Harbor, the town for a while was one of the richest whaling centres in the United States in the nineteenth century, with some 20-odd vessels making over a hundred successful voyages to whaling grounds in the Pacific and southern Atlantic. Perhaps its best-known seaman was Captain Benjamin Briggs, who disappeared without his ship, with his wife, child and crew, on a voyage to Genoa in 1872. The now famous

Mary Celeste was later found perfectly intact and under sail to the east of the Azores, but without a soul on board. One author now opines that the brig was abandoned due to the leakage of some of its major cargo of alcohol and the effects of a ‘seaquake’, but the International Jury is still out on that one, as it is on the mysterious sinking of the

Mary Celestia, blockade-runner, in our waters in 1864.

It may be possible to suggest that due to the invention hereabouts of the fore-and-aft ‘Bermuda Rig’ that competitive small vessel racing began here in the waters of the Great Sound over a century and a half ago and continues to this day across the community. By their participation in the Marion to Bermuda Race, Bermudians continue to take part in one of the finest maritime sports in existence and boat names well known here are to be found in the records of the Race. In the first race in 1977, one of the winners was Allan Doughty’s

Asteroid and in later years appeared Paul Hubbard’s

Bermuda Oyster, Warren Brown’s

War Baby, Kirk Cooper’s

Alphida and Robert Mulderig’s

Starr Trail, among others.

So in racing to Bermuda, all of the yachting folk are not only carrying a major piece of local heritage, which powers their vessel across the temperamental Gulf Stream, but they are sailing into history as records are made and broken, and prizes and trophies are allocated to the top achievers. While there can be few landfalls to match that of Bermuda or greetings that equal the hospitality of the local people, still we humbly welcome old friends and new of the Marion — Bermuda Race 2013 to these shores as cousins all in the long and honourable maritime tradition of ‘the search for speed under sail’.

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

Pipe Major David Frith of the Bermuda Islands Pipe Band takes part in the traditional sunset ceremony for the Marion Race at the RHADC.
The cover of the 2001 Marion-Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race gives the full title and intent of the contest.
A plate for the 1981 Marion Race is one of the many commemorative items produced over the years.
E.M. ‘Teddy’ Gosling in his boat Whistler of Paget took part in the first Marion Race and the training ship, Spirit of Bermuda, will take part in the 2013 event.

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Published June 15, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 15, 2013 at 1:24 am)

Marion reaches out to Bermuda

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