The Marion-Bermuda Race was founded by two remarkable men: William David (”Dave“) Kingery and Geoffrey Richard (”Dickie“) Bird. In the summer of 1972 Kingery and his family arrived in Bermuda having spent a full year sailing from their summer home in Marion, Massachusetts to and from Tahiti aboard their 50’ Columbia sloop KERAMOS. Kingery, Bird, and their families met on the docks at the RHADC marina, quickly becoming close friends.
In January 1976 the Birds joined the Kingerys aboard KERAMOS for a cruise through the West Indies. It was on that trip that the two founders outlined the general principles of the first Marion-Bermuda race. Kingery was a member of the Beverly Yacht Club and on the Board of Governors of the Blue Water Sailing Club. Dickie Bird was a prominent member (later Commodore) of the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club. They jointly proposed plans for a Marion to Bermuda race to the RHADC, the Blue Water Sailing Club, and to members of the Beverly Yacht Club. Support was promised from all three clubs. Ever since the first race in 1977, the Marion-Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race has had the continuous support of the two clubs at each end, and enthusiastic volunteers from the Blue Water Sailing Club. The BWSC also organizes the renowned Marion-Bermuda Safety at Sea Symposium held on behalf of the race each spring prior to the race.
The first Marion-Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race in 1977 was a great success. There were 104 yachts at the starting line attesting to the need for an event comprised of offshore vessels manned by cruising crews. 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 Herb Marcus’s SILKIE took 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 ”Did Not Finishes“. SILKIE again 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 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 came in. The winners reached to the finish from the west, but most of the fleet beat into repetitive thunderstorms. CARIOCA and FLEETWING were dismasted. 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 the fleet of 149 yachts was becalmed around the starting line. 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.
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.
The start of the 1989 race suffered several postponements due to the lack of wind. However, once the race was underway, 163 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 elapsed time course 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 numbered 117 yachts. They cleared the starting line without incident on a beautiful day headed for Bermuda. As the fleet entered the Gulf Stream a storm blew in from the northeast It had a reported radius of 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 for many hours, the boats 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, 66 awards were bestowed on grateful participants. Bermudian Kirk Cooper in ALPHIDA was first to finish. Corrected time honors went to Richard Carleton’s Class E Pearson 36 ORION,
The dawn of June 15, 1993 brought another beautiful day in Marion. However, by the time the 115 entries had arrived at the starting area, the Buzzards Bay sou’wester had kicked in with winds estimated to be twenty knots. In addition, the entire Bay was shrouded in thick fog. Aside from a collision requiring the retirement of two vessels, the Race Committee was able to send the fleet on to Bermuda without further incident.
On Monday evening ALPHIDA repeated its 1991 performance, claiming line honors. ALPHIDA set a new Marion-Bermuda course record for the shorter course. WAR BABY still holds the record for the long course.
The Award ceremony was held outdoors under sunny skies at the Hamilton 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 bunched together. As the wind filled in, virtually a new race began for the next three hundred miles to St. David’s Head.
Dick Leather’s COLUMBINE crossed the line claiming 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) as well as The Best ‘Tude Award (Best Attitude).
1997 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Marion Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race. On the 20th of June 84 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 using celestial methods, a 3% bonus was given to their time allowance. Interestingly, about 75% 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. 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 were held on Saturday at the Princess Hotel.
On June 18, 1999, the twelfth Marion Bermuda Race got underway. This year’s fleet numbering 103 vessels (equally divided into six electronic or celestial classes) had 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.
TEMPTRESS took line honors followed shortly by SCARAMOUCHE. Most of the fleet sailed into Bermuda on Wednesday followed by the balance all finishing on Thursday. Overall winner on corrected time was DAKOTA, a Swan 46 skippered by Doug Ely.
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 of FLIRT, SWIFT and VIGILANTE.
The thirteenth biennial Marion-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, retirements accumulated 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 again held at the Princess where over 40 trophies were awarded. SOLICE, skippered by David Owen, 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.
The fourteenth race started Friday June 20, 2003 with 78 boats clearing the starting line without incident in a northeast wind of about ten knots. What a glorious sight those vessels electing to carry the newly-permitted asymmetrical spinnakers presented to the spectator fleet as they blasted down Buzzards Bay.
After clearing the gulf stream, the fleet with favorable weather and a brisk southwest wind rapidly closed on Bermuda. At 1613 on Monday Robert Mulderig’s 72-foot sloop STARR TRAIL took line honors, narrowly failing to beat the standing ALPHIDA 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 slow 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 Hamilton Princess Hotel. Forty-five trophies were presented as a conclusion to one of the fastest races on record.
In 2005, Marion-Bermuda added satellite tracking as a safety feature, and a new method to give real-time progress reporting to folks on shore. In addition, a multi-hull class for catamarans and trimarans was added. There were seven multihull entries, and five finished in what turned out to be a relatively slow race in light air. Despite the conditions, heart surgeon Lars Svensson crossed the finish line in his Open 60 trimaran HEARTEASE LAURUS ROC approximately 12 hours ahead of the next finisher. This despite having started in Buzzards Bay 24 hours after the monohulls and recovering a man overboard enroute. HEARTSEASE had to use her engine to retrieve the wet sailor.
Multihulls and monohulls did not compete head-to-head, being separated by class and subject to entirely different handicapping schemes. After the initial success in 2005, multi-hulls competed again in 2007 and 2009, but then interest faded.
The passage had been in relatively light air and 26 entries withdrew due to the slow conditions. Thomas Bock and his US Naval Academy crew aboard the N/M 49 MAMELUKE crossed the line first in four days, five hours and 58 minutes, nearly one day slower than the ALPHIDA record set in 1993. Gus McDonald from the Harraseeket Yacht Club in South Freeport, Maine won the overall trophy in PANACEA, a Hinckley Pilot 35.
Seventy-three yachts turned out in 2007, the 30th anniversary of the race. Like 2005, the fleet had a relatively slow and uneventful passage to Bermuda. The Cherubini 44 SILHOUETTE won on corrected time, the first of seven trophies won by David Caso and his crew, including three first-in-class wins. Preston Hutchins in MORGAN’S GHOST, a NYYC Swan 44.
The 2009 race was a great one, but the finish line belonged to one boat. Martin Jacobson sailed his British Virgin Islands-registered Swan 44 Mk II CRESCENDO to First-to-Finish, First Overall, and First in Celestial. Not since GABRIELLA in 1979 (following SILKIE in 1977) had a yacht won the race on both elapsed and corrected times. CRESCENDO also won First in Class, was a co-winner of the team trophy, and Jacobson’s celestial navigator Jeremy Whitty won the Navigator’s Trophy.
The winds recorded by competitors in 2009 are among the highest ever reported for the Marion-Bermuda Race. Boats in the 2009 race reported peak gusts as high as 50 knots. The 1979 race also was rough, but there are no surviving reports of 50 knots like the breeze experienced in 2009.
One of those larger boats ever to race in Marion-Bermuda came to the starting line in 2011. LILLA is a Briand-designed 76 cutter owned and campaigned at the time by Simon De Pietro. His wife Nancy was among the race crew. The race began with 49 yachts at the line. A front passed through over the Bay that morning. The wind built into a strong sou’wester reaching 20 knots sustained.
As is sometimes the case in the Marion-Bermuda Race, a weather pattern like a frontal passage will create, in effect, two races. In 2011, most of the fleet was behind the front and eventually ran into a dead calm ”wind hole“ south of the Gulf Stream. The leaders had a strong breeze all the way to St. David’s Head and the finish. For the rest of the fleet, behind the frontal passage, the Bermuda high settled back in, and the fleet literally ran out of wind. Ten boats were forced to retire from the race due to a lack of wind and motored in to Hamilton.
LILLA rode the frontal system all the way to Bermuda. She arrived in 2 days, 20 hours, 58 minutes and 45 seconds, smashing the elapsed time record set by ALPHIDA in 1993 by nearly 10 hours. Race conditions were perfect for a big cutter like LILLA and she was well-sailed to a First-to-Finish and a First Overall, a feat accomplished only by SILKIE (1977), GABRIELLA (1979) and CRESCENDO (2009). Among other prizes, LILLA also won the Bermuda Ocean Cruising Yacht Trophy, a highly prestigious trophy awarded to a yacht that races well in both the Marion-Bermuda Race and the Newport to Bermuda race in its cruising class.
Sail training vessel SPIRIT OF BERMUDA made her first appearance in the Marion-Bermuda Race in 2011. Her design was inspired by the Bermuda sloop. In the 2011 race, and when she returned for another go in 2013, she carried a group of Bermudian youth who had the time of their lives sailing the powerful and graceful schooner 645 miles from Marion to Bermuda.
Bermuda’s Governor His Excellency George Fergusson sailed aboard SPIRIT in the 2013 race. In that race, Massachusetts Maritime Academy entered a dominant boat called SHINDIG, an Andrew 68. Equipped with coffee-grinder winches and a 7’ diameter wheel, the boat was sailed by 12 amateurs, primarily cadets with only limited big boat sailing experience. But the boat was fast. SHINDIG roared out of the bay under poled symmetrical chute. They won first overall with a time of 3 days, 14 hours and 40 minutes. On corrected time, Ian Gumprecht in ROUST, a Sea Sprite 34, won the overall trophy. Gumprecht also won Class C, first double-handed boat (with crewmate Mark Swanson).
The 2013 pattern was repeated in the 2015 Marion-Bermuda Race. Massachusetts Maritime Academy again entered a fast boat and again, they won line honors. MISCHIEVOUS is a Meriten 65 sailed by the cadets over the 645-mile course in 3 days, 5 hours and 12 minutes, second only to LILLA. An Alden Mistral 36-footer named TI from Falmouth, Maine (and just about the smallest boat in the fleet) won overall honors. Sailed by Greg Marston and members of his family, TI also won the Navigator’s Trophy for the best performance by a celestially-navigated yacht.
For the first time, the Bavier award for exemplary seamanship was awarded not for an act during the race, but for an event on the return. In 2015 the trophy went to SPARKY, skipper Rob McAlpine and his crew for exceptional performance in helping a foundering yacht on the return trip.
Organizers scheduled the 2017 race start for one week earlier in June than past races. The reason was that Bermuda was hosting the America’s Cup Regatta, and the finals were to begin on June 17 in the Great Sound. With the earlier start, the Marion-Bermuda fleet could arrive in time for participants to enjoy the America’s Cup events in Bermuda.
The new Hinckley Bermuda 50 JAMBI was first to finish, but the overall winner was SELKIE, a 32.5-foot Morris Ocean sloop sailed by Chip Bradish in the celestial class. It was a light wind race, but the competition was intense and the outcome not clear until nearly all yachts had finished. Trophies were presented at the RHADC in a fine ceremony and reception on the harbor front.
Mark J. Gabrielson
A comprehensive illustrated history of the Marion-Bermuda race was published in May 2017. The book is titled Corinthian Resolve - The Story of the Marion-Bermuda Race and is available on Amazon and in nautical bookshops.