Ask any icebound sailor in mid-February what he considers the best imaginable spring tonic, and 10 to 1 he'll tell you Bermuda International Race Week. This May Day dose of seaborne vitamin D, the sunlit essence of which radiates from Artist Edward Kasper's paintings on these pages, has been the recommended pick-me-up for frostbitten sailors from Boothbay, Me. to Cowes, England for half a century.
A local regatta, not to be confused with the biennial ocean race from Newport, R.I. to Hamilton, Race Week is an annual event devoted strictly to the small-boat sailor, the diehard who gets his kicks in short but merciless round-the-buoys competition.
Held each year on or around May 1 by the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club—a gracious institution with an antediluvian air—the regatta is open to five classes on an invitational basis, although just about anyone with a boat can have himself invited.
This year the fleet will include three centerboard classes—the walnut-size Finn monotypes, International-14 dinghies and the sporty 5-0-5s—and two keelboat classes: the I.O.D.'s and the graceful 29-foot Dragons shown on these pages. The Dragons, many of which are locally owned, are likely to be manned by Bermuda's finest sailors, who are blithely free of worry about how to get their racing craft from, say, New York to Hamilton.
The shipping problem can be a blessing for vacationing skippers, however. Many load their boats and themselves on the big Cunarder S.S. Franconia and thus get the additional fun of 36 hours at sea aboard a luxury liner as it drops the dregs of winter astern and picks up summer just beyond the Gulf Stream.
A few boats arrive at Hamilton months in advance. These are the ones owned by sailors rich enough to commute to Bermuda during the winter for weekend practice. Less affluent competitors may economize on both freight and food, thanks to special shipping rates and the open doors of Bermudian hosts who sometimes house three and four visiting crews at a clip.
Once racing starts, an armada of 75 or more boats will slide out each day to the often-whitecapped Great Sound, invariably an ardent battlefield. But after the final gun, sun hats and zinc oxide come off, squishy Top-Siders are shucked and sodden clothes are hung out to dry as the racing sailors wriggle into respectable jackets and ties for parties that form as much a part of the Race Week scene as the sailing.
Prizes for the various events ring with the names of royalty, British and Bermudian. There is the King Edward VII Gold Cup for match racing aboard International One Designs, the Amorita Vase for International team racing, the Princess Elizabeth Trophy for International 14s and the Brownlow Eve and Kenneth F. Trimingham trophies for Dragon championships.
While skippers and crews hunt for their own brand of bargain silverware, their wives, who understandably regard Race Week with affection, do some searching for different trophies: cashmere sweaters, British tweeds, china or any of a hundred prizes to be found arrayed in tempting displays along Hamilton's Front Street. The more athletic sailing widows rent bicycles or head for the tennis courts. Some simply pillow themselves in beach sand, stirring only when the dipping sun signals races' end and party time. Says Frances Walker, the wife of internationally famous sailor Dr. Stuart Walker and an attendant at Race Week for years, "We gals love every minute of it down there. It's much nicer when you go to Bermuda as part of the sailing fraternity. You stay with friends and, because you're sailing people, there's an entrée tourists don't often have. Besides, you know, there's that beautiful weather."