Bermuda’s Official Travel Resource Book Now
Article

How the Newport Bermuda Race Was Born

Launching a formidable competition on the open sea every other year, the world's oldest ocean race has a colourful history. See how it all began.

A Race Inspired by Rebellion

"The danger of the sea for generations has been preached by the ignorant." -Thomas Fleming Day

Whether this was an act of rebellion or one of great optimism, the first Newport Bermuda Race was launched on these words. In 1906, the feisty editor of the island-based The Rudder magazine, Thomas Fleming Day, challenged the current widsom that an ocean race would prove deadly for amateurs in boats less than 80 feet long.

Day was determined to prove the doubters wrong and founded the first Bermuda race. In May of 1906, Day set out with just three boats, all under 40 feet. The Gauntlet, the smallest boat in the race's history, had a 20-year-old woman sailor, Thora Lund Robinson.

Rumour had it that funeral wreaths were delivered to the boats so the sailors would be prepared to make a decent burial at sea.

Critics predicted disaster. Rumour had it that funeral wreaths were delivered to the boats so the sailors would be prepared to make a decent burial at sea.

The Day of the Race Dawns

Credit: Barry Pickthall

There were hard-thrashing waves, winds like stonewalls and 635 nautical miles to cover during that first race, but an ocean trip from Brooklyn to Bermuda proved possible. And it was a great teaching lesson. Races like these built better sailors and better boats, making the old saying truer than ever, "Calm waters does not make a good sailor." Day himself was the first to cross the finish line in the 38-foot yawl, Tamerlane.

Since 1936, the race has been started at Newport, Rhode Island. Previous starts in addition to Brooklyn, New York, were Marblehead, Massachusetts; New London, Connecticut; and Montauk, New York.

Much hard-charging racing has occured since then. Think 48 races, 5,025 boats and 50,000 sailors, plus racing through a gale in 1972. But the Newport Bermuda Race remains the ocean contest to take part in, and to cheer on across the finish line at St. David's Lighthouse.

Day himself was the first to cross the finish line in the 38-foot yawl, Tamerlane.