One of the best parts of working at Soundings is getting to know our contributors. These professionals are not only talented reporters, they’re people who are very comfortable and content around boats and write from a place of experience.
In this issue, Wendy Mitman Clarke penned the story “True Blue,” a feature that celebrates the iconic Newport Bermuda Race, one of the oldest regularly scheduled ocean races in the world, and one of a limited number that take place almost entirely at sea. It’s an event that many recreational boaters dream of doing one day. It had been on Clarke’s bucket list too, until she did it.
The event was founded 116 years ago by a sailor who wanted to prove that amateurs could safely race offshore. To this day, the majority of boats are still crewed by amateurs, often friends and family. That’s how it was for Clarke, who participated in the 1994 race after her husband, Johnny, found her a place as a trimmer on a J/44. The boat was a family project, which she liked, but some of the crew had no offshore experience and weren’t very competitive.
“I really didn’t mind,” she says. “I just wanted to do the race. I had done Annapolis-Newport several times, but I always wanted to do a Bermuda Race because in my East Coast sailing world, it is the race, one of the great ocean classics.” In addition, she and Johnny had been married in St. George’s in 1991, but she still hadn’t sailed to the Onion Patch, which she felt was the only really satisfying way to get there.
“The ride wasn’t too bad, though the Gulf Stream was predictably rough. At one point we were kneeling on the top of the cabin, patching a tearing sail with sticky-back between soakings. And then the rudder bearings failed so the rudder was banging around. My husband, a brilliant mechanic, and another crewmember fabricated a jury-rig that basically hung the rudder from the backstay to prevent it from dropping out of the boat.”
Funny stuff happened too. The boat’s owner had provided the crew with PFDs that inflated automatically when they got wet, which would be helpful if anyone went overboard. “As soon as we hit the Gulf Stream those PFDs were popping open all over the boat, including at the foot of the companionway and around people’s necks,” says Clarke.
When her crew showed up at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club in Hamilton after the finish, close friends were waiting on the dock with Dark ‘n’ Stormies, yelling, “What took you so long?” In her excitement, Clarke jumped into the water and swam over to celebrate with them.
“After that race, life intervened in the form of back-to-back babies and then full-time cruising, so I haven’t done another Newport-Bermuda since,” she says. “But writing this story has got me thinking that it’s well past time.”
This article was originally published in the June 2022 issue.