This page describes the evolution of sailing boats throughout time and how Bermuda’s boats have inspired designs like the IOD and the Hydrafoil.
Let’s have a look at this timeline…
The Bermuda Sloop (1670 – 80)
Bermuda Sloop was designed. “Diffusion of the sloop design seems to have penetrated into Bermuda in the late 1670s or early 1680s. It is impossible to determine how much of the hull design was influenced by the Dutch and Jamaican vessels observed in the Caribbean and how much of it came from the traditional twin-masted boat design that had evolved on the islands during the mid-seventeenth century.
Bermuda sloops, recognized for their speed and grace, were the colony’s prime export. Little is known about them or the industry that built them. “Although the origins of the Bermuda sloop remain shadowy, it is certain that it underwent a period of development and refinement lasting from its introduction into the islands until the end of Queen Anne’s War, or roughly from the mid-1680s until 1714.”
Enslaved men provided the labor needed to build and operate Bermuda’s shipping fleet. They served to minimize the capital needed to construct sloops and the operating expenses needed to sail them.
HMS Pickle, a Bermuda Sloop – was built in Bermuda in 1799, most likely from Bermuda Cedar, was a Bermuda Sloop. Originally named Sting. Sting, and later HMS Pickle was used in the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleonic Wars, and in the Battle of Trafalgar to send news to London of the victory and death of Lord Nelson. The sloop set off on October 26th and took 9 days to reach Britain after facing a gale off Cape Finisterre. HMS Pickle was known for it’s speed and smaller size.
Man Behind the Boat – Venturilla
Seafarers Tour West Coming in May
The Bermuda Pilot Gig (1700)
There is no known date when Gigs were first used. However it is documented that ships approaching Bermuda were met by the sight of several onrushing Pilot Gigs locked in a grueling and often dangerous race to deliver a qualified pilot to the deck of the ship. That team would thus earn a piloting fee for safely delivering the ship through Bermuda’s treacherous reefs. The crews onboard these local boats were primarily enslaved black people who were clearly skilled mariners, with the pilots recognised as particular masters of the sea.
Pilot gigs were long, narrow boats crewed by six oarsmen, a coxswain and a pilot and rigged with two or three loose-footed, leg-of-mutton sails and a jib. Gigs were built for speed and could reach up to 14 knots, essential when racing other gigs to incoming ships under Bermuda’s competitive piloting system. Unlike the pilot sloops, gigs could be hauled up in shore locations with quick access to the open sea and near prominent hills, which served as lookouts. West end spots included Conyers Bay, Spring Benny’s Bay and Boat Bay. In the East End, gigs were kept at St. Catherine’s Beach, and Red Hole below the St. David’s Lighthouse.
The industry seems to have emerged naturally from Bermuda’s seafaring people who, aboard their sleek and maneuverable row/sailboats, were regularly engaged in fishing, whaling, wreck rescues and salvage, transportation and even some recreational racing.
The crews onboard these local boats were primarily enslaved black people who were clearly skilled mariners, with the pilots recognised as particular masters of the sea.
Man Behind the Boat – James ‘Jemmy’ Darrell
Seafarers Tour East Coming in May
The Bermuda Fitted Dingy (1880)
Advent of Sail Racing in Bermuda – With the buildup of the Royal Naval Dockyard on Ireland Island, the idle navy and army officers, most ex-Public School boys, introduced a number of team sports to the colony. The officers soon took to employing the local work boats for sail racing. These large sloops, with their crews, were hired for weekends, and sloop racing became very popular in Bermuda throughout the century. In time, sloops were designed and built specifically for racing, though they still relied on large, hired crews.
First Dinghy Race – By 1880 there was great concern that the need for professional crews in sloop racing was making the sport too expensive, and that its development was stagnating, as a direct result. Dinghy racing was developed as a cheaper alternative. When the Bermuda Dinghy first appeared is uncertain, but the design is scaled down from the earlier sloops, rather than appearing to be an evolution of the dinghies and small boats previously used for more mundane purposes. The first race was held on 26 August 1880. A number of types of smaller boats were raced in different classes. The dinghies were restricted to amateur crews.
The IOD (1935)
IOD (International One Design) was designed – In 1935, while racing in Bermuda, Cornelius Shields saw Eldon Trimingham’s 6-Meter yacht “Saga”. He was so taken with the boat that he had ‘Saga’s’ designer Bjarne Aas from Fredrikstad, Norway, design a similar boat, although slightly lighter and with a taller rig, with the intention of starting a class of true international one-design boats. The design of the boat is what is known as a Bermuda sloop, or a Marconi sloop, being single-masted, and Bermuda rigged.
The Comet (1937)
First Comet owned in Bermuda – The Comet is a small, fast, and easily manageable boat designed by C. Lowndes Johnson of Easton, MD, in 1932. However, it wasn’t until 1937 that Elliott “Nick” Swan purportedly owned one of the first in Bermuda. 1941, members of the West End Boat Club started building their own Comets.
Man Behind the Boat – West End Boat Club Founders
The term Marconi rig was first applied to the tall Bermuda rig used on larger racing yachts, such as the J class hydrafoil used since 1914 for the America’s Cup international yacht races and today for the SailGP series, as – with the many supporting cables required – it reminded observers of Guglielmo Marconi‘s mast-like wireless antennas (Marconi’s first demonstrations in the United States took place in the autumn of 1899, with the reporting of the America’s Cup at New York). Although sometimes treated as interchangeable with Bermuda rig generally, some purists insist that Marconi rig refers only to the very tall Bermuda rig used on yachts like the J-class.