Zenas R. Bliss
Hometown: Cranston, RI
Team: Special

Zenas R. Bliss '18
Cranston, RI
Year Inducted:

Zenas R. Bliss is said by some to have been born in Cranston, RI. Others stoutly claim he first saw life in a sailboat. Either way, Zene Bliss was the father of Brown sailing and gained international fame for his work as navigator of the last two J-boats to defend the America’s Cup, Rainbow and Ranger. In 1930, Bliss did some engineering work on the unsuccessful defense candidate, Weetamoe, considered by most yachtsmen to be the loveliest of all the J-boats. Three years later the Brown engineering professor was invited to become navigator of Rainbow in the defense of the Cup against England’s Endeavor. After losing the first two races, Rainbow came back to take four straight. Critics agree that Endeavor was a faster boat, but T.O.M. Sopwith brought no navigator with him. It was generally agreed that the navigation of Bliss on the Rainbow was a major factor in America’s victory. Olin Stephens and Starling Burgess designed the Ranger in 1937. With Bliss again serving as navigator, Ranger won 32 of 34 trial races and then took the Cup by defeating Endeavor II in four straight, winning one race by the most incredible margin of 18 ½ minutes. After the victory, Starling Burgess termed Bliss “the best navigator in the U.S., if not the world.” His primary function, seated in a private niche just forward of the wheel, was to know as accurately as possible the location of the boat the direction and distance to the next mark so that he might report to the skipper whenever this vital information was requested. The Ranger, a brute of a boat, measured 135.3 in length with a 168-foot mast and a crew of 30. After 1937, the J-boats never raced for the Cup again, going the way of Tyrannosaurus Rex while a very special era in American yacht racing died with them. After serving as dean and provost of the University, Zene Bliss retired in 1965.