Marion to Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race

Memory Lane

watercolor art of Bermuda harbor

In 1975, W. David Kingery was very busy with various sailing activities. He was a member of the Beverly Yacht Club, on the Board of Governors of the Blue Water Sailing Club, and interested in doing a single-handed race from England to Newport. To qualify for the race, David chose to do a single-handed voyage to Bermuda and on this trip was struck with the concept of organizing a race to Bermuda for cruising yachts and family sailors.

Having successfully completed the Bermuda trip, he discussed his idea with Dickie Bird of the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club and then with Leo Fallon, Commodore of the Blue Water Sailing Club, and with various members of the Beverly Yacht Club. Support was promised from all three clubs; the 1977 Marion-Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race began with supporting clubs at each end and an additional staff of enthusiastic volunteers from the Blue Water Sailing Club.

The first Marion-Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race in 1977 saw 104 starters cross the line. The going was slow in light southwesterly winds and most of the expectant officials at the finish line thought CHEE CHEE would cross first. But her position was not accurate and SILKIE appeared to take line honors, first on corrected time and first short-handed.

The next race in 1979 saw 128 starters plunging into 25-knot southwesterly winds. The struggle with nature caused two dismastings and 14 DNFS. SILKIE took the short-handed trophy while GABRIELLA took first to finish and first on corrected time. A new Family Trophy was created and awarded to ASTEROID.

In 1981, 143 yachts crossed the starting line. Not far into the race, the wind picked up and by halfway had turned into 45 knots of howling trouble. Thirty-eight boats did not finish mainly due to gear problems and lack of wind. SATAN’S MERCY sank close to the Gulf Stream and the crew was rescued by WINDBURN whose crew then elected to carry on with the race. Calms near Bermuda shortened food supply for the expanded crew and she powered into Bermuda. Fifteen others were so late finishing that the Race Committee was not at St. David’s to take their time. SLY MONGOOSE took line honors, EDELWEISS first on corrected time, SILKIE took short-handed again while the Family Trophy went to LEGEND.

In the 1983 Race, Ron Noonan’s WILDFLOWER from Class G won first overall. Herb Marcus again took honors sailing short-handed in SILKIE and ASTEROID won the Family Trophy.

In 1985, light air from the south dogged the fleet almost down to Bermuda where on Wednesday morning a massive southwesterly started honking. The winners reached into the end zone from the west, but most of the fleet beat into repetitive thunderstorms. CARIOCA and FLEETWING were dismasted with FLEETWING finally abandoned. Twenty-two boats withdrew during this final insult, but PIRATE stole the show on corrected time not far behind CHARISMA’S first to finish. SILKIE again took the short-handed trophy and LEGEND was awarded the family prize. The Bavier Trophy was awarded to CARIOCA and the Air-Sea Rescue Team of the U.S. Naval Air Station.

On the morning of Friday, June 19th, 1987, a fleet of 149 yachts was becalmed around the starting line. Sailboats of different size and shape awaited their time just outside of Sippican Harbor. The many boats with spectators, including Sir John Swan, Premier of Bermuda and an avid cruising sailor, waited for the start down Buzzards Bay. An early sultry wind continued to freshen throughout the afternoon, with most classes starting in a smoky southwesterly of 25 knots. All classes got away cleanly with no premature starts, no fouls and no protests reported to the committee.

The 59-foot Class A cutter RUNAWAY took line honors on Monday night, completing the race in 80 hours. RUNAWAY benefited from the strong winds in the frontal weather system that produced the fastest Marion-Bermuda Race ever. LEGEND, the winner of First Overall, took the Class B silverware along with the Family Trophy. LEGEND’S crew of Kevin Carse, his wife, Lorraine, two sons Kevin Jr. (18) and Thomas (16), Kevin’s brother George and a family friend, Bob Gulomb, credited their win to long experience in sailing to Bermuda, especially across the tricky Gulf Stream.

The start of the 1989 Race suffered several postponements due to the lack of adequate wind. However, once the race was underway, one hundred and sixty-three vessels, the biggest fleet in the history of the Marion-Bermuda Race, cleared the starting line and headed for that pleasant rendezvous in Bermuda. On Monday, Warren Brown’s WAR BABY of Bermuda crossed the finish line after 72 1/2 hours at sea, breaking the previous record.

Corrected time honors went to John Elliot’s 34 foot Class F sloop YUKON JACK, followed closely by BWSC Commodore Jim Hayes’ 40 foot Class E sloop SHAMBLES. Of the 145 yachts that finished the race, 45 shared in the awarding of 69 trophies at an indoor ceremony at the Princess Hotel.

Entries for the 1991 Race on June 21st again indicated a full fleet - attesting to the need for an event that is comprised of only offshore vessels manned by cruising crews.

Entries for the 1991 race were down from the record ’89 fleet, probably reflecting the recession. However, on June 21st one hundred seventeen vessels cleared the starting line without incident on a beautiful day headed for Bermuda. Coincident with the fleet entering the Gulf Stream was the arrival of a storm from the northeast, purportedly having a radius of some 300 miles. With winds gusting to near hurricane force, the stream quickly became a maelstrom of confused seas running between thirty and forty feet. After struggling through many hours of hell, the fleet emerged from the stream into relatively quiet waters. A tribute to the preparations and seamanship of the participants was the fact that there were no major mishaps.

At the trophy presentations in Bermuda, sixty-six awards were bestowed on grateful participants. Corrected time honors went to Richard Carleton’s Class E Pearson 36, ORION, followed very closely by Morris Kellog’s Class F Shannon 43, BLUE MAGIC.

The Bavier Seamanship/Sportsman Trophy was awarded to Francis Checkoski for his outstanding performance bringing his vessel safely into Bermuda.

The dawn of June 15, 1993 brought another beautiful day in Marion, heralding the start of the ninth Marion-Bermuda Race. However, by the time one hundred and fifteen entries had arrived at the starting area, the typical Buzzards Bay Sou’wester had kicked in with winds estimated to be twenty to thirty knots. In addition, the entire Bay was shrouded in thick fog. Aside from a two vessel collision requiring the retirement of both vessels, the Race Committee, through Herculean efforts, was able to send the fleet on to Bermuda without further incident.

The fleet’s passage down Buzzards Bay tested the navigational skills and the mettle of all participants. Several groundings and near misses were reported, but by nightfall all had cleared Sow and Pigs. The passage through the Gulf Stream and on to Bermuda presented a near idyllic sail, from all reports.

On Monday evening the Bermuda vessel, ALPHIDA, skippered by Kirk Cooper repeated its 1991 performance, claiming line honors. However, this year in spite of light winds off Bermuda, ALPHIDA set a new Marion-Bermuda course record for the shorter course. WAR BABY still holds the record for the long course.

Again the Trophy Award ceremony was held outdoors under sunny skies at the Princess Hotel. Presiding over the affair was RHADC Commodore Vic Garcia with the Honorable Sir John Swan, Premier of Bermuda, handling the presentations to sixty-seven sailors. Corrected time honors went to Ron Noonan’s Class G WILDFLOWER. This represented a repeat of first overall for Noonan as well as his third First in Class Award.

June 16, 1995 marked the tenth running of the Marion-Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race. Seventy-seven entries cleared the starting line in perfect weather for a fast sail down Buzzards Bay. Two vessels, however, experienced rigging problems and were forced in for repairs. By dusk, all the racers had cleared the bay and were headed for the Gulf Stream.

Upon arrival at the Gulf Stream, the conditions were truly uncharacteristic. For over sixteen hours, a dead calm persisted while the entire fleet drifted off to the east. The arrival of wind found the fleet completely together, leading to the start of a virtually new race for the next three hundred odd miles to St. David’s Head.

Dick Leather’s COLUMBINE crossed the line at 2220 on Tuesday to claim First to Finish honors. Thirty minutes later, Phil Hutchinson’s VERITAS reached the line. In the succeeding twenty-four hours, the entire fleet roared into Bermuda ready to partake of the hospitality and the festivities.

On corrected time, Carter Cordner’s Westsail 32, KEMANCHA, claimed the overall winner’s trophy denying Ron Noonan’s WILDFLOWER a "hat trick" by less than thirty minutes.

On Friday, the BOACA sponsored the inaugural Friends and Family Fun Race. Fifty boats took advantage of this opportunity to view Bermuda from the water and enjoy the frivolity of the day. At the awards ceremony, Ron Noonan’s WILDFLOWER claimed the winner’s trophy but Nelson Gifford’s SUDIAN was a shoo-in for the largest crew (34 all dressed in pink) and also Best Tude Award (Best Attitude). This fun race is scheduled to become a featured adjunct to future MBCY races.

A much needed rain day forced the awards ceremony indoors at the Princess. However, the affair went off without a hitch. RHADC Commodore Rego presided while the Honorable E.V. Woolridge, Minister of Tourism, ably presented some fifty-seven trophies. The Bavier Seamanship/Sportsman Trophy was not awarded this year. However, the crew of SPINACHE received a certificate of merit for their commendable act of seamanship in stopping to investigate and salvage the log and personal effects from an abandoned yacht in the Gulf Stream.

1997 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Marion Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race. Over the past ten races some twelve hundred yachts (many repeat entries) have participated in the "premier ocean racing event for bona fide cruising yachts and cruising crews". History has proven that there is, indeed, a demand for this biennial event.

On the twentieth of June eighty four yachts cleared the starting line in typical Buzzards Bay weather and headed for Bermuda. This year’s skippers had the option of utilizing unrestricted electronics. However, for those who elected to navigate the old fashioned way, by celestial, a three percent bonus was given to their time allowance. Interestingly, about seventy five percent of the entries chose to make the passage relying solely on star sights and dead reckoning.

Time honors went to AKKA skippered by Alex Rosenbladt from Atlantic Highlands; N.J. Overall first place on corrected time went to one of the smallest vessels in the fleet, MAJEK, skippered by Abbot Fletcher of Bath, ME. This vessel, over thirty years old, crewed by the Fletcher family, illustrated that a well sailed classic design can compete in any arena.

Friday’s Friends and Family Race drew over forty vessels for a twenty-five mile race around Hamilton Harbor, followed by a waterfront party at the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club.

Trophy presentations took place on Saturday at the Princess Hotel where some fifty sailors were recipients. This event culminated a week of sailing and related festivities with many participants already looking forward to 1999.

On June 18, 1999, the twelfth Marion Bermuda Race got underway on schedule. This year’s fleet numbering 103 vessels, equally divided into six electronic or celestial classes, faced an unusual downwind start with winds of 18 to 20 knots from the northeast. Through a variety of tactics, the fleet negotiated Buzzards Bay and by nightfall was on course directly towards the Gulf Stream.

Tuesday, June 22 signaled the arrival of the fleet in the Bermuda area. TEMPTRESS crossed the finish line at 1111 to take line honors followed shortly by SCARAMOUCHE. The majority of the fleet sailed into Bermuda on Wednesday followed by the balance all finishing on Thursday. On corrected time DAKOTA, a Swan 46 skippered by Doug Ely of Milford, CT, was declared the winner on corrected time.

Friday saw the third running of the BOCA Friends and Family Race over a 25 mile course within Hamilton Harbor.

On Saturday the Hon. David Allen, Minister of Tourism, had the honor of presenting over 40 trophies at a reception at the Princess Hotel. A new trophy, the Ocean Spray Marion-Bermuda Team Trophy, was awarded to the Naval Sailing Squadron represented by FLIRT, SWIFT and VIGILANTE. In closing the presentation, the 2001 race date was announced as June 22, 2001.

The thirteenth biannual Marion to Bermuda Race started 79 boats in a southeasterly breeze on June 21, 2001. By the time the fleet reached the Gulf Stream several boats had succumbed to technical problems, forcing their withdrawal from the race. Once beyond the stream, the fleet fell into a windless environment that turned the race into a drifting match. Over the next few days, frustration resulted in more retirements, bringing the dropout rate to 30% of the fleet.

After five and a half days, Phil Hutchinson’s "Veritas" arrived in Bermuda to take line honors. The balance of the fleet arrived in Bermuda over the next 19 hours.

The awards ceremony was held at the Princess where over forty trophies were awarded. "Solace", a Tachiba 40, skippered by David Owen from Northport NY, received the RHADC "Past Commodores" trophy for the best performance of the electronically navigated yachts, while "Spinache", an Island Packet 35, received the Beverly Yacht Club "Polaris" trophy for best performance among the celestially navigated yachts, as well as First Overall for the entire fleet.

Thus, in spite of the excellent performance by many winning yachts, the 2001 race, which started out with so much promise, ended up as the slowest race in Marion to Bermuda Race history.

Friday June 20, 2003 saw the start of the fourteenth biennial Marion Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race with seventy eight vessels clearing the starting line without incident, with a northeast wind of about ten knots. What a glorious sight those vessels electing to carry the newly accepted asymmetrical spinnakers presented to the spectator fleet as they blasted down Buzzards Bay and headed for the predicted favorable eddy in the gulf stream.

After clearing the gulf stream, the fleet with favorable weather and a brisk southwest wind rapidly closed on Bermuda. At 1613 ADT on Monday Robert Mulderig’s 72 foot sloop STARR TRAIL took line honors, narrowly failing to eclipse the standing record by about an hour. By late Wednesday the remainder of the fleet had all arrived in Bermuda. Of interest, the final vessel to arrive bettered the elapsed time of the winner of the 2001 Race.

Following two relaxing days in lovely Bermuda including the popular Friends and Family race on Friday, Saturday saw the award giving ceremony held at the Princess Hotel. Some forty five trophies were presented as a conclusion to one of the fastest races on record.

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