At a fishing village in the Scottish firths, the youngest of the Barr brothers, from a known seafarer family, was born in 1864. His mother, afraid of losing all her children at sea, led him to learn a trade on land and got him a job as a greengrocer. Charlie’s experience was short-lived on land, the saltpeter in the air intoxicated him and one day he decided to run away and found a position as a cabin assistant on a coastal trade schooner. In 1885 his brother John Barr was hired to take the 16-meter Clara to New York and Charlie embarks with him. In 1886, at age 22, he was called back to England to take over the Fife 40ft Minerva, and with her he crosses the Atlantic again. He wins numerous regattas, rising to fame as a talented and innovative skipper and making some money, as many regattas had monetary prizes then.
Charlie Barr, short at only 1.5 meters, with a bushy mustache, he was a man of few words. Despite his Glasgow dialect that Americans found very difficult to understand, he attracted the attention of the big Americans shipowners of the time (Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Morgan) and took on American nationality.
At the helm of Ingomar, he accepted the challenge of Kaiser Wilhelm II’ Meteor, in a series of regattas organized by the Royal Yacht Squadron and brought a club representative onboard during the races. At one point in the regatta the Kaiser, at the helm of Meteor, approached with good bows and the club representative yells at Charlie: “Captain, the Kaiser! Turn!”
Reply from Barr: “The Kaiser stops being Kaiser when he’s at the helm of a racing yacht!”
The two yachts maneuver on a tight near miss but without damage as the Kaiser had come about before. The regulation stipulated that the victor could choose the trophy. That afternoon, Charlie Barr requests the Kaiser to lower Meteor’s pennant and be given to him as a trophy. The Kaiser objects, but Barr doesn’t budge. Today, that pennant is still on display at the Royal Yacht Squadron. Charlie Barr was hired to skipper Columbia, winning the 1899 and 1901 America’s Cup, and Reliance, with which he was awarded the 1903 one. Nine wins over nine regattas. 84 years would pass until Dennis Conner could equal the record, and 100 years until Russell Coutts did.
In 1904 Kaiser Wilhelm launched a challenge of crossing the Atlantic. Charlie Barr was skipper of the 57-meter schooner Atlantic, belonging to Mr. Marshall, who would take part in the regatta with six guests. Charlie hires 51 fishermen from Nova Scotia as crew. Regatta rules required to remove the propellers and display them on deck. He takes the hard route towards the north and following the orthodromia. On the sixth day they do a 341-mile run. The ninth day Atlantic sails on the reach by a following storm, just a small jib and a square sail up. The decks were swept by the waves and two men were busy with the steering wheel. The owner Mr. Marshall requests from Charlie Barr to head into the wind and wait until the storm eases. The skipper answers: “Mr. Marshall, you engaged me to win this race, and that is what I intend to do”. He then accompanies him to his cabin, closes the door and locks it. Charlie Barr and Atlantic won the Kaiser Cup and broke the record for crossing the Atlantic. The record was kept for 75 years. He died of a heart attack during a visit to his family in Southampton at age 46, in 1911. He is still recognized as the best skipper of all times.
Oscar Siches, CMP, GMBA Spain
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