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.
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.