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This Article Last Updated: Mar 6th, 2012 - 21:06:16
Reprinted from the Miami Sailing Week (Bacardi Cup) Program
One Hundred Years and counting. Coffee break with Bill Allen
Bill Allen comes from a family with sailing heritage, which is why he started sailing very early on as many kids growing up in the North East of the United States. He sailed everything and entered in as many junior events as possible, and because he was small and lightweight he started sailing Star’s as a teenager. He joined the sailing team in college and liked to compete against other universities on the East cost. He then moved to Hawaii for several years where he continued to pursue sailing on small performance boats. By 1980 he moved back to the US in the Chicago area got back into Star sailing and he is still doing so when he is not busy with his grand children.
His first Star was sail number 4229 named “Tantrum” a wooden boat purchased in 1967 with his brother, but he really got involved in 1981 with Star 6280 bought from his dad. It’s not until the 90’s when he really had the proper time to participate to international events such as the Worlds and the Bacardi Cup. He believes that sailing is at its best when you compete, not just sail around the bay and the Star Class was the best opportunity for him to compete against the very best. He never had the goal to run the Class, but was serving as an officer and then Vice President for the Western atmosphere. In the year 2000 before a meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, Riccardo Simoneschi, at the time President of the Class, asked him if he would be in favor to become President at some point: “Sure, I’ll think about it.” Allen replied. Little he knew that 5 hours later he was voted the new Star Class President! “The way I became President was less of a plan and more of a reaction to a situation, but I’m glad that all transpired that way because over the years I took a lot rom the Class in both sailing and lifetime friendships therefore I’m glad to be able to give back.”
If you were to summarize the Star Class, what would you say?
“One of the fun things of the Star Class is that you have friends from allover the world. My email address book has probably people from 20 countries and over 100 people. You see this at the major events such as the Bacardi Cup where we all meet, sail hard against the best and have fun!”
The Class just celebrated 100 years, which is a major achievement. Can you look back and tell us more about it?
“The Class started in 1911 when a group of guys in Long Island Sound wanted a bigger and better boat of the “bug” which was a small Star shaped boat, and it just grew from there. The boat evolved from a Draft rig to a Marconi rig in the 20’s and 30’s and then in the 40’s someone decided you could go faster if you create a flexible rig so you could sail faster in a variety of conditions. The boats were all wood until the early seventies when the fiberglass evolution began. The main goal was to keep cost under control while developing a better performing boat; overall I think the Class did a good job. Boats became more consistence and racing is still close today making each regatta very interesting.”
Where do you think it will go from here?
“There have been a lot of proposals to make the Star a higher tech boat. The sailors’ weight limit discourages builders from making the Star into a lighter, more fragile and breakable boat. We have also resisted carbon fiber masts and Kevlar fabric sails not only for the cost issues but also to keep competitive sailing in the forefront. We don’t want anyone to be able to “buy” their results. For these reasons, the “membership” has rejected these developments. Future Star Class Presidents will need to be concerned if the boats become unequal and preserve the fact that the best sailor will be the one that wins.”
Therefore you foresee tradition winning over innovation?
“I think we encourage innovation to the extent that it does not increase cost and increase uncompetitive advantage. We try to make sure that people don’t have a to buy a new boat every year in order to be competitive with the boat, in fact right now boats that are 2 or 3 years old have the same chance of winning as a new boat.”
How do Elite sailors and weekend sailors coexist?
“There is a significant issue between “elite” sailors and “grass root sailors”. The Star Class is the only class that has really done a good job of attracting the guys that want to go to the Olympics and weekend sailors that want to sail Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings at their local Yacht Club and that they go to major events such as the Bacardi Cup where they can compete against the pros.”
The Star boat has been in the Olympics since 1932, but has been determined that in 2016 there will be no keelboats participating, a big woe for the Class?
“It’s very unfortunate, the Class has always been an Olympic Class missing only one game in 1976. The International Sailing Federation has made a decision to eliminate keelboats altogether from sailing in the Olympics, so now no boats over 18” will participate leaving all larger sailors with no boats to sail on. This said our main goal is to try to get back into it and there is an effort from the Brazilians to get back in 2016. Brazil has in fact a National hero in Robert Scheidt and the opportunity would be, if the International Olympic Committee will permit, an 11th medal with the motivation of the host Country tradition and heritage in the Class. In any case it’s our goal to try to get keelboats and Stars back into the Games in 2020.”
Will this decision have a big impact on the Class?
“This will of course impact the Star Class because it will probably attract some of the Elite sailors to other boats especially in professional teams, but as a challenging and enjoyable keelboat I think it will still continue to attract top sailors who want to sail keelboats. Ultimately this aspect will be one of the major Class goal and I think the Star Class will come out even stronger thanks to our boat core values.”
The Class is celebrating the 85th Anniversary of the Bacardi Cup, 50 of those in Miami, but this year is also the first year without Tito Bacardi. What are your thoughts?
“I’m not old enough to have been in all 85 of them, even if sometimes it feels that way… but I have sailed in 25 and every time I look forward to the next one. Most Star sailors like to come to Miami for the Bacardi Cup and with the Star World Championship they are the two ‘must go’ events and most certainly due to more then anybody else to Tito Bacardi who, with Bacardi USA, is the most single appreciated supporter the Star Class has ever had. The iconic vision we all have of Tito dancing at the final party along with the line of people that wanted to shake his hand and thank him because we appreciate so much what he’s done. It’s certainly upsetting and sad that will be the first Bacardi Cup without Tito because we all have a tremendous respect for him, his family and the Company he represented so well. The legacy that Tito left behind is tremendous and will always be there, he shaped the event in a way that I can’t see changing and will always be part of this iconic regatta that is dear to so many people. Thank you Tito!”
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