In celebration of the 75th Annual Edward Cross Comet Race in 2019, and in anticipation of the 2020 Comet International Championship next year, it was decided to establish a website for both the Race and the Comet Class orgainsation in Bermuda.
Bermudians of African descent have been skilled boat builders and sailors for many years. Dr. Kenneth Robinson in his book, Heritage, shares how the first person of African descent came to Bermuda aboard the ‘pinnace Edwin’ 1616 and African Bermudians have been involved in the sea since. African Bermudians have been boat builders, caulkers, makers of sails, boat pilots, and crew since their arrival in Bermuda. The written and oral histories of Bermuda make references to the skill and competency of African Bermudians. Heritage makes cites a reference from the Bermuda Historical Quarterly, where in 1784 it is noted –“They(African Bermudians) aid in building ships and afterwards sail them to the Islands where they are preferred above other boats…”.
It is against this backdrop of maritime history the clubs that are involved in the Comet Class racing was started. Bermudians have sailed Comets for many years, even before the establishment of the Long Distance Race. From the history of West End Sailboat Club (WESC) we learn that Elliott ‘Nick’ Swan probably owned the first Comet in 1937. The history of WESC goes on to state that a few years later, 1940s, a number of craftsmen in the area including: “Elfie Cann, Edward ‘Jack’ Cross, Sinclair ‘Slim’ Lambert, Leon ‘Bully’ Lambert, Canute ’Tutor’ Lambert, Ainsby Perinchief, Arnold ‘Midnight’ Knights and Lumley Burt built or secured their own boats.”
It was decided to have a Long Distance Race by persons like Alfie Cann, Edward Jack Cross, Sinclair ‘Slim’ Lambert, Leon ‘Bully’ Lambert, Canute ‘Tutor’ Lambert, Ainsby Perinchief, Arnold ‘Midnight Knights’, J.W. Maxwell ‘Mack’ Robinson, Lumley Burt, Albert Nervy Symonds and Ossie Philpott. Hosted by the West End Sailboat Club (WESBC), the first long distance race was on May 20, 1944 when 12 boats took part, but it was a windy day with 40 knot winds and only four boats completed the course! With first place honors going to Canute ‘Tudor’ Lambert sailing in Sea Hawk, the course was covered in 1 hour and 13 minutes. The race started at Somerset Bridge, just off the Somerset Bridge ferry dock. The boats headed down North Shore, but rather than go around St. Catherine’s Point, because of stormy-like weather the boats went through Ferry Reach. The bridge was opened for the boats to pass through and finish in St. George’s Harbour. All of the boats stayed in St. George’s overnight and raced back the next day to Somerset. This race drew many spectator boats, along with friends and family and Mr. Jack Burrows would use his boat, the ‘Grasspea’, as the committee boat with flags placed all over the boats. After this race, Mr. Edward Jack Cross made and donated a large cedar cup for the Comets to race for the following year and up to today, we still race for that same cedar cup.
As time went on, it was decided to start the race from Somerset Bridge one year and the next year from St. George’s. The race was then changed to the Queen’s birthday holiday, now National Heroes Day. The fleet grew when Mid-Atlantic Boat Sports Club (MABSC) built six boats between 1944-1946 by skippers like Ellsworth Lovell, Sr., Edward Smith, Drake Laws, Lawrence Hendrickson, Sr., and Colin Clarke, just to name a few. Lots of exciting races took place back in the day when sailing veterans like Howard Lee in “High Yellow”, Ellsworth Lovell in “Highland Queen” and “Black Widow”, Alton Millett in Kitty Hawk and Leslie Burt in “Pearl Harbour”. In 1968, East End Mini Yacht Club (EEMYC) decided to start building boats and formed a club. In those days, all the boats were wooden. In 1970, the Long Distance race was moved from Somerset Bridge and started at WESBC, just off Watford Bridge. Eventually, Colin Clarke and Roddy Foggo brought in fibre-glass boats from U.S.A. and because the fibre-glass boats were much lighter and faster, this caused tension for skippers of the wooden boats.
In 1976, Stevie Dickinson won his first Long Distance race at the age of 16. From 1985, Stevie and Rudy Bailey battled year after year until 2012 and Stevie continued to win until 2017. Malcolm Smith with crew Damien Payne won the 2018 Long Distance Comet Race. In 2001, 27 boats sailed from EEMYC to WESBC and this race continues to be like a Somerset against St. George’s Cup Match rivalry!
Bermuda is a member of the Comet Class Yacht Racing Association and will host the Comet International Championship here in Bermuda in June 2020!