Deceased , Modern

Robert

Bavier, Sr.

18821967

Robert Bavier Sr. (Bob), a life-long sailor, distinguished himself in American sailing with his contributions, records, and innovations in many of the early Bermuda races (1907-1936) and as the tactician on Weetamoe in the 1930 America’s Cup Trials.

Highlights as a pioneer and innovator in the Bermuda Race from 1907-1936:

  • First skipper to win the Bermuda race with a Marconi rig in his yawl Memory in 1924.
  • First skipper to finish first, three times in a row, in 1923, ’24 and ’26.
  • First owner to have a boat designed specifically to the Bermuda race rule with his ketch Dragoon in 1926.
  • First skipper to win in a single-masted boat with Rudy Schaefer’s sloop Edlu in 1934.
  • First skipper to gain five major race trophies (First to Finish or First Overall).

 

A Brief Timeline of Robert N. Bavier’s Sailing Career

  • 1902 – Won 27 out of 32 races on the 26-foot New Rochelle One-Design class
  • 1904 – Sailed in the first long-distance race for smaller boats, a 330-mile race from New York City to Marblehead, Massachusetts on Frank Maier’s 36-foot yawl, Fanshaw
  • 1907 – Was sailing master of Maier’s 49-foot schooner, Hyperion, in the Bermuda Race, finishing only five hours behind the 85-foot Dervish and placing second in Class B
  • 1910s – Skippered other peoples’ New York 40’s and 50’s, winning the King’s Cup, Queen’s Cup, and Astor Cup, dominating both classes on Long Island Sound
  • 1923 – As the Bermuda Race re-emerged after World War I, Bob was part of a select group of six men to design rules, foundation, and mission for the race
  • 1923 – First to Finish in the Bermuda Race, sailing Memory, the first Marconi-rigged boat to be entered in an ocean race (the rig was custom-made by Bob himself)
  • 1924 – First to Finish and First Overall in the Bermuda Race on Memory, now outfitted with innovated designs such as a light-weather trysail, safety lines, and a “dog kennel” over the companionway
  • 1924, 1934 –Skippered first Nathaniel Herreshoff-designed boat, Memory, to win 1924 Bermuda Race, and the first Olin Stephens-designed boat, Edlu, to win in 1934
  • 1925 – Elected Commodore of the Cruising Club of America
  • 1926 – Cruising Club of America and Royal Bermuda Yacht Club became Bermuda Race co-sponsors and still are
  • 1926 –First to finish the Bermuda Race in his 66-foot ketch, Dragoon, designed and built specifically for the race. Bob became the first Bermuda Race skipper with three First-to-Finishes in a row
  • 1927 – While sailing on Dragoon off the coast of Maine with his young family and crew, survived the famous hurricane of August 1927, while other boats and crewmen were lost at sea
  • 1928 – Developed an allowance for the resistance of a propeller that was adapted for the Bermuda Race rating rule
  • 1929 – Had designed and built the eight-meter boat, MAB, to vie for the Seawanhaka Cup against the Scots; he voluntarily withdrew mid-summer upon realizing his light-air boat was not up to the challenge
  • 1930 – Tactician in Weetamoe’s afterguard during the 1930 America’s Cup trials, just missing out to Enterprise, who went on to win the Cup
  • 1931-1932 – One of the founders of frostbite racing on Long Island Sound, winning frequently in his dinghy, Snowball
  • 1932 – Bought an Atlantic Class boat, sharing skippering duties with his young son and daughter, and won the Long Island Sound Championship
  • 1933 – Sailed Horace Havemeyer’s Mouette in a special race for 12 meters, beating out renowned Olin Stephens in Iris
  • 1934 – Skippered Rudy Schaefer’s sloop, Edlu to first overall in the Bermuda race, making Edlu the first single-masted boat to win that race
  • 1936-1937 – Raced X Dinghies in Biscayne Bay, Florida, winning frequently
  • 1936 – Part of a New York Yacht Club committee that selected the famous Sparkman and Stephens New York 32 as their Auxiliary One-Design Class
  • 1937-1939 – In the early years of the International One-Design Class, was among 25 of the most successful and knowledgeable group of skippers of the time; Bob won five straight races at Larchmont Race Week, a feat which so astounded his competitors that they chipped in and bought him a prize to commemorate the achievement
  • 1946 – In his last race of importance, at the age of 64, won the New York Yacht Club run from Edgartown to Newport by the widest margin ever recorded at that point in a NYYC Cruise event
  • 1962 – Sailed his last race on the Chesapeake Bay with his daughter, Margery, and family

 

Excerpts from Robert N. Bavier, Sr.: A Sailing Pioneer, by Kelsey Donald:

On the 1930 America’s Cup Trials:

The next summer [1929] was one of the most intense seasons of Bob’s entire racing career.  He was approached by Junius S. Morgan, grandson of J. P. Morgan and Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, to devote his summer to the defense of the America’s Cup.  Bob agreed and fully dedicated himself to the task, selling his boat MAB, as well as a six meter he was in the process of building, in order to put all of his focus on the Cup and the boat Junius selected to try for it.

The yacht in question was a sleek J-boat; she was over 126 feet long and more than 150 feet high.  She was designed by Clinton Crane and skippered by Junius Morgan’s brother-in-law, George Nichols.  Her name was Weetamoe.

Weetamoe was named after a female Pocasset Wampanoag Native American Chief.  A captive once wrote of Chief Weetamoe, “A severe and proud dame she was.”  This sentiment could be aptly applied to Weetamoe as she contended fiercely in the 1930 America’s Cup trials.

Alongside skipper George Nichols, Bob served in Weetamoe’s afterguard as tactician.  They were up against a respectable assortment of other contenders: Whirlwind, Yankee, and Enterprise.  Though it became apparent early on that Whirlwind was out of her league, the other two boats ran a tight race with Weetamoe throughout the trials.

Drama unfolded on and off deck—as the world watched Weetamoe and Enterprise both perform spectacularly, opinions were split over which of the two should be selected to defend the Cup.  Protests were filed after the race results were deemed unsatisfactory to some, and arguments were made over which boat performed better in certain conditions, and which skipper had the better temperament to lead his crew.  Yankee, in good spirit, picked up third place throughout many of the trials.

Bob Sr. had asked George Nichols if he could bring his son along for a fleet race in Buzzards Bay during the New York Yacht Club cruise.    Enterprise, Yankee, and Whirlwind also competed that day.  Robert Jr. later wrote about that sail in Yachting magazine.  “At the age of 12, I was too short or Weetamoe’s wheel was too tall for me to see above its rim.  I stood behind it, grabbed the inner spokes, peered between them and turned the wheel slowly.  The huge J boat responded, bore off gracefully onto a close reach and sped for the harbor at 12 knots while her crew of 30 hands and four in the afterguard watched with bemused and friendly smiles.”  Bob Jr.’s time at the helm was a small foreshadowing to the year 1964, when he would skipper the 12-meter Constellation to an overwhelming victory in that year’s America’s Cup.

Ultimately, Enterprise was chosen by the committee over Weetamoe for her results in the trials and her superior ability to perform in all conditions.  Enterprise had finished first in 13 out of 23 starts, and Weetamoe had finished first on 11 out of 20 starts—she’d also had two disqualifications and one man overboard.

Despite the judging of the committee, a number of sailors still believed Weetamoe to be the superior boat.  Some rationed that George Nichols, though an able sailor, paled in comparison to Enterprise’s Harold S. Vanderbilt, an effective crew manager and team builder.  Nevertheless, Enterprise went on to sail in and win the 1930 America’s Cup.

Years later, Bob Jr. commented, “In the modern era a syndicate would probably have switched skippers when Weetamoe began to lose.”  Bob Jr. himself had been in a similar situation; in 1964 he was elevated to skipper and won the America’s Cup, and in 1974, when he began to lose, he was replaced by another skipper.  “That was simply not done in those days,” he went on, speculating on Weetamoe’s chances for the Cup.  “Had it been, my dad would have been the logical choice.  Yes, I am prejudiced, but I also know he was a superb helmsman and an instinctively great sailor.  I am confident that in his hands Weetamoe would have won.”

 

On the Bermuda Race:

It was no coincidence that Bob was the first skipper to win the Bermuda Race in both a Herreshoff-designed boat, Memory, in 1924, and an Olin-Stephens – designed boat, Edlu, in 1934.  Bob Bavier, Sr. recognized greatness; both designers were, arguably, among the best sailboat designers of their generation, if not all time, and Bob was among those who were immediately drawn to their beautiful (and fast) designs.

Bob left his Bermuda Racing career with many accolades to show for it.  He had been the first to race and win in a Marconi-rigged boat, and he’d been the first to race and win in a sloop.  Bob was the first and only skipper to have three first-to-finish wins in a row, in the 1923, 1924, and 1926 races.  He was also the first owner to build a boat specifically to the Bermuda Race rating rule (Dragoon, 1926).  Finally, Bob achieved the record of being the first skipper to win five major race trophies (first to finish or first overall).

  • Filter Nominees

  • Reset

Preserving America’s Sailing Legacy

Engaging Sailing’s Next Generation


Stay Connected to the National Sailing Hall of Fame