When DeCoursey Fales, 74 year-old skipper of Niña, moved front and center at the prize awards ceremony to receive the Bermuda Trophy for winning the Bermuda Race, the ovation that shook the rafters of the big shed along Hamilton Harbor where the ceremony was held was the loudest, longest and most heartfelt ever heard in the history of the race.
The crowd has been a gay noisy one, and most of the speakers awarding lesser prizes were afforded scant attention. When Sir Julian Gascoigne, Governor of Bermuda, handed over the big silver replica of St. David’s Light to Fales, however, every man and woman turned to with a full-throated roar. This storybook ending to what had otherwise been an undramatic race for most of the participants, touched a chord of response in all of them.
The statement most frequently heard all over the island as the crews joined in the usual round of festivities was, “If I couldn’t have done it, I’m glad it was the Commodore.” Over the years, the anachronism of a schooner built in 1928 and sailed by a white-haired gentleman who might reasonably have retired from racing before most of today’s ocean racing sailors were out of junior sailing classes, has captured the imagination and gained the respect of all competitors. Here was the perfect answer to all the talk, the charges of rule-beating, the feverish design competitions, the “building race” of recent years. A sound, well-maintained, well-sailed boat, long-since “outmoded” by rule beating theorists, could still come up with the biggest prize in ocean racing (even though she was once tabbed a rule-beater herself, as we shall see).