Lorna Whittelsey won her first national women’s sailing championship – The Mrs. Charles Francis Adams Cup – in 1927 when she was 15 years old. Miss Whittelsey began competitive sailing at the age of 6 in her family’s Indian Harbor knockabout and she was successfully “skipping” a 17-foot knockabout by 8. Lorna became a star of the Indian Harbor Yacht Club, winning races in all types of large and small boats and competing with men and women of all ages.
In 1931, as skipper, she won the Ten-Metre series during the New York Yacht Club Cruise. She was at the wheel of Vanitie when the big sloop beat Weetamoe in the summer of 1932. She skipped in Stars, Atlantics, Interclubs, and showed up regularly at the Frostbite regattas in 1932, 1933 and 1934.
The Frostbite Yacht Club was formed on January 2, 1932 when two men decided to settle an argument of who was the more “hard-boiled” sailor. They would race 11-foot dinghies on Manhasset Bay, the skipper least frostbitten would be declared the winner. Word got out, and about 50 people showed up, anxious to sail the eight or so dinghies on hand. The regatta became a weekly event.
On the weekend of January 16-17, Lorna would win three races during her first Frostbiting regatta. The New York Times secondary headline read “Miss Whittelsey Stars.” Pictured here is Lorna Whittelsey at the tiller of an unidentified dinghy during that Frostbite regatta.
The headline “Miss Whittelsey Wins” was used often throughout her competitive career. She became the first female to be recruited for the famous Bermuda Race. (Women were previously on board during a few of these races, but as family members). The owner of the Sparkman & Stephens yawl Stormy Weather needed a helmsman and Arthur Knapp got permission from her mother for her to go the day before the race would begin. She states in her oral history here at Mystic Seaport, “My father was out of town. It’s lucky he wasn’t in town, or else he wouldn’t have let me go.” People wanted to know if she got curious looks from competitors and spectators. “Oh plenty,” but she did not sense any resentment. Rudy Schaefer’s Edlu came in first that year, with Stormy Weather finishing seventh. After the Bermuda Race she would go on the win her fifth and final Adam’s Cup – still a record held today.
Lorna Whittelsey Hibberd gave up competitive racing after marrying Frank Hibberd. After marriage the couple turned to cruising boats and crewing on them. In her 70s, she took up windsurfing. Although no longer at the tiller, she remained a serious student of competitive sail racing. She would found and direct American Yacht Club’s big boat junior racing program designed to teach young sailors to become competent ocean racing crew. In 2014, Indian Harbor YC inaugurated a perpetual trophy honoring Lorna Whittelsey. The Lorna Whittelsey Women’s Regatta is an annual event.
At the end of the 1932 season, Yachting magazine published an article about Lorna and her accomplishments. The last line read: “Apparently, in the field of yachting, as in all other fields, there is no denying the women.”