Tragedy

But the real tragedy had already occurred aboard Hamrah. The previous day she was at about 46°N 40°W, lying in fourth place, close reaching under a double-reefed main and a staysail in a Force 8. Charles Tillinghast Jr. was at the helm with the owner sitting alongside him. A wave broke over the cockpit, and the owner was swept off to starboard. Charles yelled for the crew to come up on deck, and began to gybe. The owner’s eldest son, Richard, jumped over with a safety line. Twice they managed to get within a few yards of the two swimmers; they got a life preserver to them, but they failed with the life raft. Then, on a second gybe, the main boom broke. By now, the father, in full oilskins was tiring and the crew set the mizzen to gain some control of the yacht, while the younger son, Henry, launched a dinghy, and reached his brother, but the father was already gone. The small boat swamped and started drifting away from Hamrah, whose crew were trying to set sail and keep a weather eye on the men in the water - but now only three men were still aboard the yacht. When at last all was sorted, they sailed back and forth for five hours but found no one. Finally, they hove to for fifty hours while the gale blew itself out. Tillinghast, only twenty-one at the time, then sailed the boat back to Sydney, Nova Scotia, and was subsequently awarded the Blue Water Medal by the CCA for his seamanship and meritorious efforts.

Further south, Vagabond and Stoertebeker were both nearly hit by ocean liners, but Stormy was approaching the Pentland Firth. On 24 June Plugety intercepted a radio message from Vamarie telling family that they expected to arrive in Bergen on 26 June. Vamarie could only be a few miles ahead. Near the Orkneys, Rod thought that he saw the distinctive wishbone rig. Meanwhile, on board Vamarie, a lookout spotted a yawl, but could not believe that it was Stormy. Thus began the final sprint in moderate visibility but a good breeze.

The Winner

On 27 June, Vamarie crossed the line, nineteen days, sixteen minutes and forty-eight seconds out from the start - her crew confident that they had won "That couldn’t have been Stormy near the Orkneys - look at our daily runs, we’ve done days of 210, 215, 219 miles!" But at midnight, just as they were finishing a victory dinner at the Hotel Norge, they received a message. "Drink to the health of Stormy Weather, the winners". In nineteen days five hours, thirty-two minutes, and twenty-one seconds, Stormy had used just five hours of her forty-seven-hour handicap allowance. Mistress arrived two days later taking third place, Vagabond on 4 July, and Stoertebeker closed the race after thirty-five days at sea.

Stormy’s victory was duly celebrated by crews, owners, journalists, and public on both sides of the Atlantic. Rod Stephens had prepared a fast boat and had skippered a great race in conditions that were generally difficult, with enough fog, wind, and cold to last everyone a lifetime. Stormy and her crew deserved to win. The only slightly discordant note was set by William Atkins, editor of Motor Boat, who favoured Mistress’s more southerly route to Rod’s more competitive, but possibly more dangerous, route amongst the ice floes.

Fastnet

Stormy left Bergen with the King’s Cup, and for a week or so cruised along the Norwegian coast, and through the canals of Holland, heading for the Isle of Wight, a day or two with Uffa Fox and the start of the Fastnet. Rod had sailed on the winning Dorade in both 1931 and 1933, and fully intended to win his third victory. Ken Davidson and Ducky Endt had to return home, and were replaced by the owner, Philip Le Boutillier, and Stuart T. Hotchkiss, the navigator of Vagabond, for a start at Yarmouth on 7 August at three o’clock.

Out of seventeen starters, thirteen were British including the old Ilex, the 50' Nicholson yawl newly rigged as a cutter; Trenchemer a 72' yawl designed by Olin Stephens, but somewhat modified during her building in Scotland; Kismet III a 75' Fife-designed Fifteen-Metre with a rig specially cut down for this race; Foxhound a very recent and very beautiful 63' Nicholson cutter. There were three French boats: Georges Fortin’s Brise Vent which had raced in 1931; Adrien Verlack’s schooner Hygie, and Isis, owned and designed by Georges Baldenweck. Stormy was the only American entry.

There was a good breeze from the southwest, with a few calm patches, but forty-eight hours after the start Foxhound, Kismet III, Stormy Weather, Carmela, Rose, and Ilex had already passed Land’s end. The wind veered into the west-northwest and the fleet was faced with a hard beat to the Fastnet Rock. After three days and three-and-a-half hours, Foxhound was first around, followed, twenty-two minutes later, by Kismet III, then Trenchemer and Stormy neck and neck, then Ilex some five hours later. Close-reaching back, Foxhound, possibly with a faulty compass, fell too far off the wind and allowed Kismet to take line honours in Plymouth at the end of a voyage that had lasted four days fifteen hours and one minute, part of which she had completed with her mainsail torn clear in half. Trenchemer came in one-and-a-half hours later for second place, but could not save her corrected time on Stormy Weather who crossed twelve minutes later for a convincing win - she had six-and-a-half hours of her handicap in hand.

Although some of the British press displayed a severe case of "sour grapes" when they bemoaned the quality, and perhaps quantity, of Stormy’s sails, Yachting World gallantly noted that, "By winning the Fastnet Cup in such a convincing manner, [Stormy Weather] has demonstrated her right to be the champion deep-sea yacht of the world". And went on to add, "At the same time she is undoubtedly of a type which is well suited to the requirements of ordinary cruising."

Thus, Olin and Rod Stephens had made it three in a row and had even disproved Weston Martyr’s statement that "the best way to win the Fastnet was to shoot Sherman Hoyt with the starting cannon"! And, in the world of ocean racing, pitting men and boats against the elements, one yacht stood out on both sides of the Atlantic - Stormy Weather, named for a song.



 

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