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Human Interest

This Article Last Updated: Oct 14th, 2010 - 15:13:49 

Bill Buchan Honored by his Yacht Club
By Joe James, Commodore, Corinthian Yacht Club, Seattle
Jan 11, 2008, 12:22

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Bill Buchan with Joe James, Photo by George Trusk
At the club's Christmas Lunch Bill Buchan Jr. was welcomed into Corinthian Yacht Club’s (Seattle, Washington) Honorary Life Membership. Bill and hiw wife Karen were joined by their children and spouses: Carol and Carl Buchan, Mara and Brian Bohman and Brian and Jennifer Ledbetter.

As is traditional, mention was made of some of Bill’s sailing career in the Star class which began when he was twelve years old and he watched Charlie Ross win the 1948 Star North American Championship held on Puget Sound. Over the winter of 1948-49, Bill and his father built a Star in the basement of their Madison Park home. That was the first of as many as 60 Stars which Bill has built up to this point in his life. Those early boats were wood which Bill selected from local lumber yards where he chose the lightest cedar he could find, “just short of dry rot” as he said.

Bill Buchan (left) and Doug Knight won the 1961 Worlds
One of Bill’s early successes in the Star class included finishing 13th in the 1957 Star North Americans with his father as crew. In 1961 Bill won his first Star World Championship with boat #4260. In 1962 he won the North American Championship and in 1970 he won his second Star World Championship with Carl Sutter as his crew. In the <a href="http://www.starclass.org/artman/publish/article_99.shtml" 1972 olympic trials, won by CYC member Alan Holt with Dick Gates as crew, Bill finished a close second, Lowell North was third and Dennis Connor was fourth. In 1980 Bill won the Olympic Trials but that year the United States boycotted the Olympics held in Moscow. In 1984 Steve Erickson, one of his son Carl’s friends, talked Bill into another Olympic Trails which they won and subsequently won the Olympic Gold Medal.

After the Olympics, his wife Karen said, “Bill gave up Star sailing. That lasted about three weeks.” Then Bill and Steve went to Nassau for the <a href="http://starclass.org/history/1985worlds.htm" 1985 star world championship where they topped a fleet of 80 boats to take the Gold Star. In that event, Bill was leading the regatta when in the fourth race while in second place on the last windward leg a shroud let go and the mast went over the side.

Our first thought, of course, was, ‘There goes the series.’ In any other race it wouldn’t have been so bad; we were in pretty good shape and could still throw out one race. But another race was coming up, back to back, with only one leg left of this race. Very fortunately for us, Basil Kelly’s wife happened to be right there in a fast powerboat. She came alongside and asked what she could do to help. A very quick conference determined that there was not time to tow the boat all the way in and back out again. Instead, Steve jumped aboard the powerboat and they roared off to the Creek for our spare mast, which was all rigged and ready for such an emergency. They must have made it to shore in about 10 minutes and made the return trip, against the wind, in maybe 20 minutes, because in just over half an hour they were back with the new mast.

“Meanwhile I had un-rigged the broken spar and cleared away the mess. In 18 knots of breeze, we switched masts and stepped the new one. I was a bit concerned that something might be loose or missing aloft, but everything went together like clockwork. We had the sails up and were sailing around 20 minutes before the start of the next race.”

Twenty minutes! With most of that time required for getting organized, calming down their nerves and planning the start, that left about five minutes for tuning the rig, something that takes most experienced Star sailors like five hours. And all this in choppy seas with the boat bouncing all over the place. Asked whether stepping the mast was the worst part of the ordeal, Bill said, “Not at all. The worst was worrying whether Basil and Steve could get back in time. It was a great relief when they appeared with the mast. We knew we still had a job to do, but we knew how to do it.

They were popular winners. At the prize presentation Bill made a short heartfelt speech in which he tried to express how much the Star Class has meant to him for 25 years. One of the younger skippers afterward re-marked, “I’m so glad it was Bill who had the chance to say those words. We youngsters win once in a while, which is all very well, but when Bill Buchan in his modest way talks about Stars and World’s Championships it really goes deep and touches us all.”

When George Trusk congratulated Bill on becoming a CYC Honorary Life Member, he said one of the reasons he was happy to join this group because his mother Irene Buchan had also been a CYC Honorary Life member. At Monday lunch Bill said, “You can only be a little better than the people you compete against.” As an aside, that is why we belong to CYC. If you can only be a little bit better than the people you compete against, then to become very good you must compete against good sailors. The Buchan family have made all of us at CYC proud.



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