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HAT TRICK FOR 'FINISTERRE'

July 04, 1960
July 04, 1960

Table of Contents
July 4, 1960

Yesterday
Double M
Bermuda Race
  • In much the same weather as the 1958 race, but with flatter calms after the start and more violent storms at the finish, Carleton Mitchell and his matchless crew (shown at right) mane uvered the 38-foot 8-inch yawl to an unprecedented third consecutive victory in the Bermuda race. In doing so, they beat a record fleet of 135 of the finest yachts in ocean racing today. Here is Mitchell's own story of "Finisterre's" drive to the island, written from notes and entries made by the author during the 635-mile passage

Spectacle
Track
Food
Boxing
Horse Racing
Motor Sports
Shooting
Acknowledgments
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over
Pat On The Back

HAT TRICK FOR 'FINISTERRE'

In much the same weather as the 1958 race, but with flatter calms after the start and more violent storms at the finish, Carleton Mitchell and his matchless crew (shown at right) mane uvered the 38-foot 8-inch yawl to an unprecedented third consecutive victory in the Bermuda race. In doing so, they beat a record fleet of 135 of the finest yachts in ocean racing today. Here is Mitchell's own story of "Finisterre's" drive to the island, written from notes and entries made by the author during the 635-mile passage

The 1960 Bermuda race was not one race, but two—the first, a 500-odd-mile extension of Long Island Sound weather, with light, baffling breezes rippling the ocean, the second, a leg of about 150 miles, with screaming squalls and turbulent seas. For the 135 crews involved, the first part was a battle to keep moving by shifting light sails, the second a battle to keep moving by lugging the heaviest canvas aboard.

This is an article from the July 4, 1960 issue Original Layout

Finisterre was almost left at the post in the dense fog which shrouded the starting line. Three classes had started before we discovered the race was on. Twenty minutes before our gun, all but two men of the crew were peacefully snoozing below with no jib on the-stay.

It was an inauspicious beginning. Painfully, Finisterre crept around the stern of the anchored escort vessel in the wake of fellow starters, was forced about by another boat on starboard tack, finally broke away and was swallowed by fog, alone on the ocean, with only bubbles alongside for company and these not receding very fast. To keep moving, we shifted from light genoa to ballooner to spinnaker, back and forth. Occasionally the fog would lift, and other boats would temporarily appear, ghostly and insubstantial.

So it went, through Saturday night and Sunday and Sunday night. Radar reflector hung (prayerfully) in the mizzen rigging, we crept across the New York steamer lane like turtles crossing a highway. Our main hope was to be able to stay with the competition in the light reaching conditions—decidedly not our weather. One entry in the mileage column of the log was an uncompromising zero, with "stopped, no steerageway" under REMARKS.

The fog finally burned away Monday morning, and with it went a bit of breeze Finisterre had carried through the night. We caught boats ahead and then stopped and watched spinnakers come up over the horizon behind—colorful bubbles of nylon, bright against the sky. In the afternoon the log recorded 30 other boats in sight. As newcomers arrived parallel with the becalmed fleet, they, too, stopped, until practically all of class E and some of class D were in company-front formation like soldiers on parade. Two days after the race began it was a more even start than the one effected off Brenton Reef Lightship.

When the breeze struck in again we resumed our struggle to keep up. Gray Goose was ghosting beautifully, as was Criterion We thought we recognized the redheaded spinnaker of Fun on the western horizon. But principally we fought to hang on to Golliwogg, which we regarded as our prime competitor. Dramatically, she had appeared ahead at dawn, at first mistaken for another boat, as we had not seen Collie Ratsey and his fine crew since Saturday at the dock in Newport. It was like our meeting in the 1958 race, except this time the situation was reversed: now Golliwogg was ahead of us by a scant margin in light reaching conditions where she excelled.

Meanwhile, Navigator Chick Larkin was taking water temperatures each half hour to determine when we reached the Gulf Stream. According to information supplied before the start by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Stream was shaped like a gigantic horseshoe, the western section flowing south and east toward Bermuda, while the other half bent back toward the north. Between 4 and 4:30 in the afternoon the temperature jumped nearly 10 degrees, and we entered the Stream 44 miles west of the rhumb line—in the most favorable section, we hoped.

Still the weather remained calm. Through Monday night and all of Tuesday, the boats in our class sailed tactically against each other, gaining and losing in the fluky breezes. Happily, we managed to keep even, finally going ahead of Golliwogg before sunset.

At midnight came the basic change in the race so far as Finisterre was concerned. Dick Bertram, Bobby Symonette and Ed Kelley of the port watch had ghosted magnificently to catch many boats in the early hours. We of the starboard watch—Bunny Rigg, Corry Cramer and I—came on deck and took over with bare steer-ageway, which promptly vanished as torrential rain killed the faint air and collapsed the spinnaker. Slowly Finisterre began to turn in a circle, wholly out of control. We lowered the spinnaker and set a balloon jib. When the breeze came back it was east of north. Deliberately we gave up covering our competitors and went back to our usual strategic policy of sailing the shortest course in the wind of the moment, disregarding weather forecasts, in this case southwesterlies, which could favor vessels keeping to the west. Having received an estimated set of 33 miles to the south and 23 east from the Gulf Stream, Finisterre was still some 20 miles west of the rhumb line. We then started back, laying a course to intersect the line 100 miles from Bermuda.

The wind worked on around, shifting back and forth across the rhumb line, and with each shift we went to the tack favored by five degrees or more. During the afternoon of Wednesday, Finisterre crossed the rhumb line some 150 miles from Kitchen Shoals Buoy, hard on the wind and not able to lay a straight course for the mark. Instead we were forced unwillingly to the east of the line—but we clung to the favored tack.

It was about 9 Wednesday night when the really drastic change in weather broke around Finisterre. Forecasts shortly before had promised winds southwesterly at 10 knots. Neither sky nor barometer indicated anything more, although it was known a frontal system was moving across the course of the fleet and squalls could be expected. So when the wind began to increase, we clung to our largest genoa, easing the main in the harder puffs. Soon overpowered, we came down to the No. 2 genoa and reefed the main by rolling in a few turns. The wind freshened and rain jetted like water from a fire hose. Still the wind increased and the No. 3 genoa was broken out. More turns were taken on the roller reefing gear, further reducing the mainsail. Finisterre was carrying the minimum sail of her racing career. Yet it was too much. The harder squalls tore spindrift off the rapidly mounting wave crests, which blended with the rain to form stinging, blinding sheets driving horizontally across the deck. Blobs of phosphorescence glowed high on the mainsail. The lee deck was a cascade of rushing water, for Finisterre never ceased driving ahead.

Finally, we burrowed into the fore-peak to drag out the No. 2 jib—small, high cut and very strongly made, brought along for such an emergency. Running off before the wind, it was set and more turns were taken in the main. Now the rail was buried only by the very hardest gusts, savage blasts which may have exceeded 50 knots. Every sail change was made as smoothly as during the calms. At such times seamanship is a primary factor in a boat's performance, and as skipper I would like to pay the highest tribute to the crew. They, in turn, have complete confidence in the boat and her gear. There is even a peculiar psychology aboard which welcomes such conditions: "Finisterre weather," it is happily called.

Dawn was awesome. Great gray seas came rushing out of the murk, cresting savagely. Driving along to windward, Finisterre at times porpoised almost clear, to slam into the oncoming trough through solid sheets of spray.

As the sun lifted, the sea became a beautiful brilliant blue laced with the white of wave crest and streaks of foam and topped with glittering spindrift. Mel Gutman handed up mugs of hot cocoa through the companion-way, while the watch below breakfasted. To make the world seem even brighter, the wind began to haul toward the west, allowing us to come closer to fetching the corner of Bermuda. At 5:30 we had been steering 150°, approximately 40° low of course. By 7:30 we had been let up to 175°, and by 9 were laying course, leaving in our wake a large yawl hove to under trysail and forestaysail.

By 11 the crew began shaking out the reef in the mainsail, soon hanging a forestaysail under the No. 2 jib. Later we went to the heavy-weather reacher, a ballooner high cut to ride above the bow wave yet strong enough to stand in heavy winds—a special sail we had developed for the St. Petersburg-Havana race. Now it was ideal, giving Finisterre drive in the dying wind.

With dusk, the lights of Bermuda were in sight. Chick Larkin had brought us to a fine landfall. Other sails were converging on Northeast Buoy. We could recognize no one and had no way of knowing how the rest of the fleet had fared. For the final few miles all hands were on deck, working as hard to save seconds as during an afternoon race around the buoys.

Passing Kitchen Shoals Buoy we hardened up for the finish, plainly in sight. Carrying the heavy genoa in the lee of the islands, Finisterre was moving her best but seemed to crawl. Then we tacked and tacked again. Bobby Symonette on the stern struck off a white flare, the committee boat put a brilliant searchlight on our sail number, photographers' flashbulbs popped and we were across. I sagged against the wheel, utterly exhausted, still wondering how well we had done. A motor launch came alongside and a voice hailed in the broad Bermudian accent: "Congratulations, Finisterre. You've done it again!"

PHOTOWINNING CREW lines rail of Finisterre in Hamilton Harbor, Bermuda, after sailing up from finish line off St. David's Head. From left: Skipper Carleton Mitchell, Richard Bertram, Chick Larkin, Bunny Rigg, Bobby Symonette, Corry Cramer and Mel Gutman. Ed Kelley had gone ashore before photograph was made.MAPWILLIAM BERNSTEINPHOTODISABLED "DONCHERRY," carrying Bermuda Governor Sir Julian Gascoigne, lost her mast during a violent squall. In all, half dozen yachts were badly crippled by storm.

BERMUDA COURSE

Chart prepared by Navigator Chick Larkin shows that "Finisterre" entered Gulf Stream for first time 44 miles west of rhumb line. Large dots indicate boat's position each day at noon

Frustrated by fog and light winds, "Finisterre" started slowly. Fog held for two days

START
NEWPORT

JUNE 19

JUNE 20

Woods Hole prediction for Gulf Stream flow

"Finisterre" passed through Gulf Stream current three times, got 56-mile boost toward finish at Bermuda

JUNE21

Wind shifts, heralded by rain squalls, caused "Finisterre" to split from rivals

JUNE 22

JUNE 23

Savage winds hit in early evening, but "Finisterre" shortened sail, kept driving

FINISH
BERMUDA

RHUMB LINE

FOR PLACES OF THE OTHER FINISHERS IN BERMUDA RACE, SEE PAGE 61