February 18th, 2018 marks the 80th Anniversary of the Storm Trysail Club. The founding of the club began during the 1936 Bermuda Race when a group of sailors set off on the schooner Salee. The ’36 race was bad, one of the worst in the history of the event. Many boats withdrew, but others elected to challenge themselves and tough it out. During that horribly rough storm, one sailor on another boat was ejected from his windward bunk, smashed face-first into the leeward bunk, spat out his freshly dislodged teeth, got his foulies on, and at 4 a.m., took his trick at the helm. As the storm built in intensity, Salee’s mainsail blew out, and the crew was forced to set the storm trysail — a small, triangular and heavily constructed sail generally used in only the direst of conditions.
That winter, as the crew of Salee gathered around a bottle of rum (and possibly more than one) and talked about their shared memories of the race, this hardy group was inspired to form a new club — The Storm Trysail Club — open only to those sailors who had proved capable of handling themselves offshore in the worst weather imaginable. Dues were initially set at a bottle of rum a year.
From these rough and tumble beginnings (literally) The Storm Trysail Club has grown to over 1,000 members. Each member, from the first to the latest, has been selected for their experience offshore, their willingness to share their experience and knowledge with others, to be a good shipmate and a tough competitor, as well as being someone who knows how to have fun.
While many sailors are familiar with rum, very few know that the Storm Trysail Club helped introduce Mt. Gay Rum to the United States in the early 1950’s. Back then, many of those who sailed in the Bermuda Race would bring bottles of booze back in their bilges as it cost only 25¢ to 50¢ a bottle. Frequent and informal tastings proved that a Barbados rum nobody ever heard of (except racing crews) won the prize for “Best-Tasting”, so from about ’52 on all the bilges were loaded with Mt. Gay.
Oftentimes the stores of rum were raided during the delivery home, but suffice it to say that any remaining bottles that made it to shore were rapidly depleted, thus leaving a thirst for more. A number of Storm Trysail members (who will remain nameless to protect the tattered remnants of their reputations!) conspired to find an importer and distributor to bring Mt. Gay to our shores. As it turned out, one of the Club’s members at the time had a father who was a Director of McKesson Liquor – a big importer, and the then-owners of the “21 Club” in NY agreed to be the distributor. All that was needed at that point was to develop the market demand.
To successfully accomplish this, the Commodore of the Storm Trysail Club – Paul Hoffmann – wrote the following letter on Storm Trysail Club stationery to every major 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 6 in the crew, average, all thirsty…
PAUL HOFFMANN, Commodore
P.S. Please have a goodly supply of MT GAY RUM on hand as that is our favorite brand.
The distributor’s salesman was then provided with a kit that included a presentation of Mt. Gay personalized for each commodore. The product itself did the rest of the marketing job at that point and that was enough to capture a small, but loyal audience that has grown by leaps and bounds ever since.
So the next time you are drinking Mt. Gay – or just wearing one of those ubiquitous Mt. Gay hats – you can thank the Storm Trysail Club. Better yet, pour yourself a glass tonight and toast our 80th Anniversary.