Of Gales and Storm Trysails


The birth of The Storm Trysail Club dates to the 1936 Newport-Bermuda Race, the gale that battered fleet and the winter that followed. A beat to windward in 40-knot winds and big seas, the ’36 Bermuda Race is widely considered the roughest before 1960. Nearly 20 percent of the fleet retired. The exact time the Storm Trysail Club was founded would be the moment when the mainsail aboard the schooner Salee blew out beyond repair less than 300 nautical miles from Bermuda. A storm trysail – a triangular sail used in place of a mainsail for heavy weather sailing – was set for the long sail back to Montauk on the eastern tip of Long Island.

The winter of 1936-’37 saw various members of Salee’s crew and other blue-water racing sailors assemble from time to time at the New York apartment of Geoffrey Smith. The founders were a mixed crew: Henry Devereux, a future commodore, was a naval architect; Robert DeCatro, a journalist; Geoff Smith worked for Texaco Oil; James Thornburn came from Wall Street; Henry Sears, a boat builder; Ed Raymond, a sailmaker; Dick Goennel, was in advertising sales.

Through salutations and libations among that group, the Club grew. As the group had weathered the previous Bermuda Race, the Club’s name was arrived at easily. A simple burgee featuring a red storm trysail was designed, and dues were set at a bottle of Myers’s rum. No efforts were made to recruit new members but one or two drifted in occasionally, and a half-dozen informal dinners were held at the City Island Club and at a small French restaurant on 48th Street in Manhattan. The first annual meeting was held on February 8, 1938, and with 22 members in attendance a constitution was ratified. A year later the membership had grown to 33 and dues of $3.00 per year was approved.

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