May 25, 2021
The Herreshoff Rendezvous
To continue the celebration of the Herreshoff Marine Museum’s 50th anniversary, we investigate the origins of the first Rendezvous & early regattas.
An Owners’ Community Builds a Museum Collection
Text by Dave Guertin; Photos by Paul A. Darling
Ten years after the Herreshoff Marine Museum was founded with the donation of THANIA (HMCo. #248), the museum’s sails were filled once more with the establishment of the Herreshoff Rendezvous. This was the first significant gathering of Herreshoff yachts and owners in Bristol under the auspices of a relatively young museum. From near and far, boat owners came to compete against one another, share their stories, and demonstrate a strong sense of faithfulness to Herreshoff boats under their watch.
“We decided that we ought to not only have museum boats at the pier but we ought to make use of it,” stated Halsey C. Herreshoff, who had recently donated a portion of the former Herreshoff Manufacturing Company waterfront to the museum. “The idea developed in about 1980 that we should try a regatta, and we called it the Rendezvous.”
Rendezvous ’81 took place on August 22nd and attracted 72 Herreshoff boats and 475 participants. As reported in the Herreshoff Marine Museum’s Chronicle, No. 6, Fall 1981, “not only was this the largest collection of Herreshoff boats that has ever returned home to the site of their construction, but probably a larger number of such historic craft to ever assemble simultaneously in Bristol Harbor.” According to the article, “automobiles jammed Hope Street from Union and Walley Streets as townspeople and members witnessed the spectacle of the yachts sweeping by the mark close to the museum pier at the mid-point of a race twice around Hog Island.”
Twelve impressive boats competed in Class A, including three Fishers Island 31s; KESTREL (HMCo. #1061), owned by Edmund Tarbell, TORCH (HMCo. #1153) owned by Toby and Ben Baker, and TOPS owned by Topper Mack. The largest yacht in the class was BELISARIUS (HMCo. #1266), the unmistakable 56’ light green yawl owned by Captain Charlie Reed. John Lockwood’s Newport 29, DOLPHIN (HMCo. #727) earned 1st place, and was presented the W. Butler Duncan Trophy, an award won by the Herreshoff America’s Cup defender, CONSTITUTION (HMCo. #551), in 1901.
Twenty-two S boats competed for the Pardee Trophy, won by John Migliaccio’s WISTFUL (HMCo. #912). John restored and launched his boat to compete in the Rendezvous, setting an example for other owners to join this newly banded Herreshoff community. In Class B, the Buzzards Bay 25 ARIA (HMCo. #738), sailed by Paul Bates, took the A. Sidney DeW. Herreshoff Trophy. The museum not only recorded race results from Rendezvous ’81, it documented some of the more interesting and unplanned activities of the weekend, such as, “If anyone thought it was an Irish pennant dangling from the impeccable MASHNEE (HMCo. #569), it was, in fact, the means by which skipper Ken Mahler’s swimming cat gets back aboard.”
Toby Baker stated recently, “It was 1981 when we saw Les Goodwin who was in town for the Skippers’ Meeting and to visit with some friends. As we were leaving, we noted that he did not have a boat to sail on. It was not long before he had joined our crew. The wind was light, and a strong incoming current made it tough to make the weather mark. Les and I were up on the foredeck. This was Ben’s race, but we sensed that he was pinching and just losing speed. In a “stage whisper”, Les commented to me that “many races are lost trying to make the weather mark!” Apparently, this reached the cockpit. TORCH eased off, picked up speed, and we were underway again.”
The Rendezvous produced tremendous goodwill between the museum and Herreshoff owners that, over time, many historically important yachts were added to the museum’s collection.
By Friday evening of Rendezvous ’84, BELISARUIS, NEITH, MANSHEE, DOLPHIN, and TORCH helped frame an incredible sunset over Bristol harbor. Seventy-one Herreshoff boats and 450 people took part in this next successful museum event. Van Brown had arrived with their family’s yacht NEITH (HMCo. #665), which had recently undergone a meticulous restoration that became the standard bearer for years to come. The highlight of the Rendezvous was a 70th-anniversary match race between the Newport 29 Class yachts, MISCHIEF (HMCo. #728), and DOLPHIN, who took first place. Once again, the Rendezvous was responded to with great enthusiasm. At the awards ceremony, Dean Woods presented his restored Buzzards Bay 15, WOODWINDS, as a donation to the museum. According to the Chronicle No. 12, Fall 1984, “this special summer weekend provided a focus and new impetus for the mission of the Herreshoff Marine Museum.”
Toby Baker continued, “The 1984 Rendezvous was a fitting family event. Again, it was Ben’s race. He and Deb were married in 1982. Our mother, Polly, who had originally ‘found’ TORCH with Bucky Barlow, was up by the shrouds. It was later that Fall that we sailed TORCH back to Bristol where she remains today. Ben and I were so happy to have TORCH from 1968 through 1984. Looking at the list of previous owners and their tenure, we thought we would be the final ones. We had been working with Halsey in trying to strengthen her, especially around the mast step and chainplates. We had known of his trying to build the new museum. Reality hit us, and we thought that this was indeed where she would spend the rest of her days, where she started, surrounded by many friends, and living to pass the torch on for others in a new way.”
The third Rendezvous of the decade was held on the stormy weekend of August 28, 29, and 30, 1987. Despite the weather, 59 Herreshoff boats and 400 people participated. For the first time, Class A included two New York 40s, MARILEE (HMCo. #955) owned by Alvin Blicker, and RUGOSA (HMCo. #983) owned by Halsey Herreshoff. ANEMONE (HMCo. #647), at that point owned by the museum, also raced in this class with her sister New York 30, AMORITA (HMCo. #635) owned by Jed Pearsall and Bill Doyle. Jed recounts, “My father, Adrian Pearsall, rescued and restored AMORITA himself, and my mother was on-board with us for this regatta. As I recall, it was a very rough day, which prompted my mom, Dorie, to utter one of her famous quotes…’I don’t get it with sailing, I’m either bored to death or scared to death!’” Northeast winds gusting over 20 knots made for some exciting racing for sure, but it did not deter spectators from lining the museum waterfront to watch the boats cross the finish.
Rendezvous ’81, ’84 and ’87 fueled the museum’s energy and growth during this 10-year period. Herreshoff owners not only contributed their prized yachts to the museum’s collection, they joined Herreshoff family members as museum trustees, volunteers, and donors. By Rendezvous ’90, the museum acquired and renovated One Burnside Street, a large commercial building built for Pearson Yachts, for its new “Hall of Boats.” A few weeks before Rendezvous ’90, the New York Yacht Club annual cruise fleet visited this vastly expanded museum with 150 yachts and 600 sailors. This was the first time in 145 years that the Club’s fleet visited Bristol. The new museum building proved to be an ideal home and exhibit for a what had become a world-class collection.
NEITH’s owner, Van Brown, who, along with his father, Jack, supported the construction of a substantial new pier at the museum, offers his thoughts about the Rendezvous:
“Imagine, if you will, a glorious sailing circus set down incongruously in the New England-quaint, bayside village of Bristol, Rhode Island. While famous for being host to the oldest 4th of July parade, but for this one too short summer weekend, it is host to a parade of historic Herreshoff yachts, a staggering spectacle of overwhelming beauty, art, science, and kinship. BOOM! Sometimes the racecourse had big boats and little boats rounding a mark on opposite tacks. BOOM! A finish line set too close to shore and in too little water. Always a surprise and always leavened with laughter. So, to Nat, John, Sidney, L. Francis, Halsey, and all those yacht owners dedicated to the Herreshoff tradition and the Corinthian spirit of racing, placing the love of these fine craft above any silver plate, thank you. When we meet in any port, we are a people for whom no ‘secret handshake’ is necessary to know we are a privileged few to be owned by these magnificent yachts. Our stewardship is marked by their blend of beauty, art, science, and engineering. With no small amount of envy, those not of our fraternity know it as well. Here’s to the Rendezvous. You have made 38 of my 68 seasons special. Thank you.”
Likely holding the record for the most frequent participant, in the greatest variety of boats, noted Herreshoff restoration expert, Andy Giblin recounts the vessels he entered throughout the years, including, as mate and subsequent captain of NEITH, his own Watch Hill 15s PIXIE (HMCo. #887) and WORRY (HMCo. #882), a Fish Class BLUEFISH (HMCo. #790), another Herreshoff 15 EMMA (possibly HMCo. #881), a number of times on the Newport 29 ROGUE, the Buzzards Bay 25 BAGATELLE (HMCo. #736) and most recently on the Buzzards Bay 25 MINK (HMCo. #733). But his most vivid memory surrounds his first visit back in 1984 aboard the New York 30 AQUILLA (ANENOME, HMCo. #647). “I was working for Paul Stubing in Mystic, helping to finish the rebuild of the NY30 AQUILA and I recall barely finishing the boat in time to make the event, leaving the night before and arriving in Bristol just prior to dawn. Which, I guess, is a pretty typical finish to any restoration project. Lots of great memories made sailing with and competing against friends, many of which I met at that event and so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet. There were lots of clambakes too, and some awfully long non-stop sails back to Noank, a few of which were pretty exciting and rank as worthy of being considered ‘sea-stories’ which have been properly embellished over time.”
Rendezvous ’96 marked the 25th anniversary of the museum’s founding. Seville Simonds had just completed a four-year restoration of his Newport 29, ROGUE, and celebrated this achievement by winning first place in her class. Seville invited her former owner, Dan Morrell, who in the 1950s had asked the Herreshoff family to study the Newport 29 half model carved by Captain Nat. ROGUE’s extended and tilted aft transom was shown on the original drawings. “Dan wanted this measurement so he could have Seth Persson build ROGUE, to sail with his nephew. During the awards Halsey invited Dan to join him on the podium and say a few words about ROGUE. Dan was a man in his late eighties and was thrilled with the recognition as the creator of ROGUE, and the sailing victory earned that weekend. He received a rousing round of applause,” recalls Seville.
Now, as we celebrate this Golden Jubilee in 2021, we invite all owners and friends with Herreshoff boats, from the classics to the Bullseyes to newer versions of Herreshoff designs, back to the museum. Join us for the Herreshoff Golden Jubilee Regatta, as this racing event is now called. Come also for a re-imagined Rendezvous. This new cruising event will launch the next tradition of Herreshoff boat and owner gatherings.
NOTE: The New York 30 AMORITA and New York 40 MARILEE, two participants in Rendezvous ’87, will be featured at the first Herreshoff Marine Museum Golden Jubilee event, along with New York 50 SPARTAN, on June 24, 2021 at the New York Yacht Club Newport Station. The Herreshoff Jubilee Regatta and Rendezvous is scheduled for August 26 to 29, 2021. Visit www.herreshoff.org for more information and reservations for all Golden Jubilee events and to share your Herreshoff stories.