Back in 1956 when this magazine was a mere sprat of two years the expert listed on the masthead as Special Contributor for Boating was a young yachtsman named Robert N. Bavier Jr. As SI's captive expert, Bavier had the job of picking a boat to beat in the biennial Bermuda race that year. After weighing a powerful field of contenders, he settled on a beamy but graceful little yawl named Finisterre, designed by Olin Stephens and owned and sailed by Carleton Mitchell.
Mitchell and Finisterre won that Bermuda race handily, and the next and the next. Meanwhile, Mitchell himself succeeded Bavier as the SI boating department's valued special contributor. In that capacity two weeks ago he picked Robert N. Bavier Jr. at the helm of the Olin Stephens-designed 12-meter Constellation as the probable victor in the current America's Cup Series. On pages 30-39 of this issue Mitch tells how his prediction was borne out.
When Mitchell predicted Bavier would steer Constellation to victory in the cup races, however, he was not returning an old favor but exercising the sound judgment formed in a lifetime devoted to yachting and writing about it. Born in New Orleans in 1910, Mitch took to the sea—more accurately, Lake Pontchartrain—when he was 8 years old, and he has been sailing ever since. "I have an affinity for the sea," admits Mitchell. "It fulfills a deep need within me. I get the same feeling from the sea that some men must get from mountains or that a farmer gets from the land where he has lived for generations. The sight of it, the sounds of it, the feel of it, even the smell of it—the ocean fills all my senses. I have been frightened of it, yet the fear is bound up with admiration for the power that frightens me."
After 40-odd years there are few bodies of water left that Mitch has not sailed on, few ports he has not visited and written about. He has developed a remarkable facility for expressing his love of the sea and this—as much as his knowledge of the subject—is what makes him so valuable to SI's readers. Mitch can write about the tactics of match racing, the hardships and heartbreak of a long beat across a stormy sea, or the idle delights of a lazy cruise in waters drenched with the sun, all with equal authority.
Says Mitchell: "Conrad and Melville wrote imaginatively. They used the sea as a backdrop for fiction. Our time doesn't produce any situations or any authors like that: men versus the sea, sailors who had to face the sea to make a living. That was the feeling of hardship and privation that they wrote of. Today most of us who sail do it because we want to. I write," says Mitchell, "as I sail, because I want to."