Sean O’Connell joined the Storm Trysail Club March 17, 1955 which put him front and center of many of the club’s adventures until his death in 2012. Sean served as Club Historian and wrote a series of “Musings” about the club in 2004. We recently discovered them in Past Commodore Dick Neville’s files in Annapolis. Over the next few issues of the Commodore’s Column and Storm Trysail Club Newsletter we will be publishing excerpts from Sean’s Musings. If you have any photos, mementos or memories about the Club that you’d like to share, please send them along!
– Ron Weiss, Communications Chair, and Lee Reichart, Editor
The Birth Of The Booze, Or How Mt Gay Got Off The Dime – by Sean O’Connell
Back in the early 50’s anybody who sailed went in the Bermuda Race – that’s all there was. And when they got to Bermuda they found that booze smuggled back in the bilges cost like — 25 to 50 cents a bottle — rum, that is, because they made it there or in nearby islands, and there were no taxes – NO TAXES.
And a Barbados rum nobody ever heard of except racing crews won the Best-Tasting prize, so from about ’52 on, all the bilges were loaded with MT GAY!
And the Bermuda Race was only every two years, (to allow for the Annapolis — Newport?)
Anyway a bilge load of MT GAY only lasted for about a week, so something had to be done. We had to find an importer/distributor to take on this unknown — small market – cheap — rum.
Bacardi was the only rum of any consequence, with a little Puerto Rican and a couple of rums like Appleton’s, and Myer’s, and Gosling’s, mostly darks, or lights, but nothing in the middle, or golden, so it boiled down to either Appleton’s or Mt Gay, and Mt Gay won.
So now how do we get it sold in the US?
We had a member at that time, a fellow by the name of CHARLEY BERTRAND, you could look it up, he either died or resigned from STC, and lo and behold wasn’t his father, Jack Bertrand, the head guy of McKesson & Robbins Liquor Division, ho, ho, ho! So we leaned on Charley and his old man to get the stuff here legally, and we had to get a US wholesaler to take on this no-win task.
So I used to have lunch at a fancy restaurant on about 46th or 47th called the “21 Club”. (21 numbers west of 5th Ave.) owned by a couple of brothers by the name of Kriendler. So we put all these things together, and Charley Kriendler agreed to be the distributor.
Now, how do we get people except for the boat bums to buy the stuff?
Aha! (STC member) Paul Hoffmann was Commodore, and on club stationery we wrote the following letter to every yacht club from Maine to Florida.
Dear Commodore _____;
We expect to be cruising in your area this summer and would appreciate a rundown on the facilities, ashore and afloat at your club. We expect anywhere from ten to thirty sailboats, with about 5 or six in crew, average, all thirsty.
… blah blah blah …
PAUL HOFFMANN, Commodore
P.S. Please have a goodly supply of MT GAY RUM on hand as that is our favorite brand.
Next, we made sure that the “21 Brands” salesman had a kit, including a presentation both of MT GAY personalized for each commodore, and by god it worked!!!
The product itself took over at this point, and it tastes good enough to capture a small, but loyal audience in the rum market ever since.
Everybody connected with the MT GAY scam, or ‘THE BIRTH OF THE BOOZE’ is dead but me and Isbrandtsen and he won’t squeal!
IF IT WASNT FOR THE STORM TRYSAIL CLUB YOU WOULD NEVER HAVE HEARD OF MT GAY RUM.
Further deponent sayeth not.
The birth of The Storm Trysail Club dates to the 1936 Newport-Bermuda Race, the gale that battered fleet and the winter that followed.
The first generations of American ocean racers believed the best test of a boat was whether she could blast her way safely across the Gulf Stream bound for Bermuda and then house her crew once she got there.
With the end of World War II, a great many letters were written to round up the scattered membership and the Club was slowly reassembled.
In 1964, Commodore Jakob Isbrandtsen and NY Herald Tribune yachting reporter Everett B. Morris were jointly instrumental in urging The Storm Trysail Club to establish Block Island Race Week.
By the end of the 1960s, the time had come for the Storm Trysails Club to expand beyond its roots in New England.