When the record entry of some 130 boats lines up off Newport, R.I. for the start of the Bermuda Race this week, virtually every sailor will have his eye on Carleton Mitchell's Finisterre. To an old rival like Colin Ratsey (shown at right aboard his yawl Golliwogg) the sight will be neither unfamiliar nor cheering. In 1956 Ratsey and the rest of the Bermuda skippers charged down to the island faster than any of them had ever before covered the 635-mile passage, only to discover that Mitchell had gone just a little faster.
In winning, the 38-foot 8-inch Finisterre became the smallest boat ever to win the Bermuda Trophy, a piece of silverware that ocean racers cherish above all others. She also earned some loud boos from rivals, who thought that her time allowance was too big.
"Some of these boats," grumped the owner of a long, tall sloop, "are beginning to win on mathematics."
Then it was 1958, and Finisterre, carrying a slightly increased rating, took the trophy again, the only boat to win two in a row in the 54-year history of the race. This time there were no boos. There was, however, a tendency to speculate on how Mitchell managed to do it. It was a point worth pondering.
The Bermuda Race—any deep-water race, for that matter—is so shot full of luck, confusion and false weather forecasts that there is no way of telling who is going to win. In 1948, for example, Henry Taylor's Baruna missed Bermuda altogether, then turned around and still managed to take first place.
In 1954 Dan Strohmeier on Malay went so far afield looking for wind that he arrived at the finish resigned to a position well back in the ruck. "Who won?" Strohmeier shouted to a committee boat, just after crossing the line.
"Malay," came back the answer.
While there may be no sure way to win a race, there are a number of ways to avoid losing. For even granted the element of luck, ocean racing is a game of mistakes, and the boat making the least mistakes is likely to win.
Mitchell, whom most of his rivals concede to be the best planner in racing today, is a man who remembers mistakes, particularly those he makes himself. He lost a transatlantic race in 1952 when he left his course to go wind hunting—and found instead a fiat calm. In 1957 he threw away the Annapolis race by tacking downwind in the hope of picking up more speed while his rivals slid steadily—and victoriously—down a straight course to the finish. After each of his losses, and after every one of his many victories as well, Mitchell jotted down his mistakes on scraps of paper. Then he entered his conclusions in a notebook entitled "Learned the Hard Way." This notebook is Mitchell's own abbreviated bible of ocean racing, a collection of purely personal reminders of the things that make a boat go in any ocean, in any weather. A selection of these notes is presented here. For ocean racers they may be a guide to future victories. For casual cruisers they contain valuable tips on preparing a boat for sea and for handling her when she is out on the water. And for landsmen, there is an indication of the effort, the persistence and the relentless attention to detail that have made Carleton Mitchell the winningest ocean racer of modern times.