Human Interest
The Greatest Class of all Time
By Steve Haarstick
Feb 17, 2004, 08:49

Steve Haarstick and Rick Burgess
On Feb 25, I should hopefully be on route 81, on my way back from the Star Masters in Miami. (He finished as top Grand Master.) I got back into Stars 5 years ago, and except for a brief fling in 1988-89, I had been absent from Stars since 1979. I was invited by a fellow Star sailor to skipper a new Mader in the 1999 Star Masters. The weather couldn’t have been nicer - 80 degrees and sunny all weekend, with a light to moderate 8-12 knot breeze. The only race I remember was the first, when I crossed the finish line in 6th place. I even took a photo of the fleet behind me, to prove to my son, Chris, that I was really up there. However, when I got back to the dock at the end of the day, it turned out that I was over early! That regatta was all it took for me to jump back into what I think is the greatest class of all time.

My Star sailing began in 1959 when I traded my brother’s Lightning for a used Purdy Star. He was in the Air force at the time, and instead of burning the Lightning rather than let me have it, which was his first choice, my Mother forced him to give it to me. I actually won a couple of races that summer, and decided it was time to step up to a Star. The fleet was just starting up, and I was sure my brother wouldn’t mind being half owner of such a terrific boat. It was beautiful wooden Purdy, with a varnished deck, mast and boom, and I loved that boat.

My brother was back the next summer, and reluctantly agreed to crew for me on his half of the boat. Our first race lasted about 20 minutes, when he jumped overboard and swam for the beach. He viewed sailing as a “leisure” activity, where you enjoyed a beautiful summer day on the water. I, however, viewed sailing as a life and death struggle: to loose is to die! I guess the volume of my “helpful” suggestions hit his limit, and he abandoned ship. I tried to run him down, but my boat handling wasn’t up to par, and he was a good swimmer. That was the end of our mutual enjoyment of the Star.

I kept that Star for the next three years, sailing only at the local club, which basically meant that none of us learned much about making Stars go fast. Once a year, our fleet held an open regatta out in Gardner’s Bay (between Orient Point and Montauk at the eastern end of Long Island). All the Star sailors in our club would battle it out well back in the rear of the fleet. Always eager to learn, I went up to the winner after the regatta, and, not knowing what to say, I complimented him on his fine looking Lippincott Star. With a glaring stare, he informed me that it was an Etchells. I found out later that he WAS Skip Etchells. I was so embarrassed – what an idiot I was! I bought a used Etchells from him that fall, hoping he would forgive me.

That winter, Skip called me at Stevens to see if I would crew for him at the Bacardi Cup in Miami at the end of January. I couldn’t believe that he asked me. I didn’t expect that he would ever forgive my stupid comment of that past summer. I must have been the absolute last person on his list- the bottom of the barrel. But this was the golden opportunity to learn from the best.

I really don’t remember how we did, but I don’t think it was up to Skip’s usual standards. I do remember asking at least 100 questions every day on the way in from the race. I’m sure Skip relished those moments with me. As I look back from the perspective of time, I know that I learned a lot from Skip in those five days, but it wasn’t an easy week. Skip didn’t easily tolerate fools, and I asked many foolish questions.

I slowly got better as the sixties rolled on. I was so addicted to racing Stars, that it directed my career path. I chose my 5th year engineering thesis at Trinity College as a direct result of my Star sailing. I chose Stevens Institute, because they had a wind tunnel that was unused in the Davidson Laboratory (and because I was wait listed at MIT). I started working at Hard sails because I thought it would help me become a better Star sailor, and it did. Immersing myself in design, cloth testing, and wind tunnel testing for over 2 years at Stevens, all contributed, as did the time in the boat.

In 1969, after moving to Ithaca to run the Hard-McPherson sail loft, I won the 12th District Championship for the first time! , and the following winter, ended up 2nd in the Bacardi Cup in Miami that January behind Ding Schoomaker (who beat me in every race, winning the series with all 1st’s). It blew very hard that year. I was sailing for the first time with Chris Gould, then a student at Cornell, and the best crew I ever had. He was a gentle giant: 6’ 8” tall, weighing about 280 lbs. When that gun went off for the first race, and Chris hit the straps, we came out of the pack like we were shot from a cannon. We were soooo fast, like I’ve never been before. But, Ding knew Biscayne Bay like no one else, and we would find him crossing in front just before each of the first weather marks. No matter how many times we gained ground on him up the beats, he would cross ahead at the mark. However, 2nd overall was a big thrill for me. Chris and I sailed many major regattas over the next 3 years, until he settled down in San Francisco and got serious about his non sailing career.

1972 Olympic Trials - Haarstick, Don Trask, Tom Blackaller
In 1972, we competed in the Olympic trials in San Francisco. This was a 7 day, 7 race series on the Berkley circle in mid-July in winds that were over 25 - 30 knots every day. The last race was the toughest, as the Coast Guard posted gale warnings for winds exceeding 40 knots, as the race was in progress. This picture shows us on the second reach, approaching the leeward mark. I am 5522, Don Trask is 5700, and Tom Blackaller is 5726. Shortly after this picture, Tom and I took a big wave over the bow and filled our boats with water. As we tried to sail the next beat, Tom's boat sank in front of me. As we were likewise sinking fast, we dropped our main, and planned off with just the jib.

Ended up on the beach, with Chris and I in the water holding the boat off until help arrived. Back then, we had only manual pumps and no harness for the crew while droop hiking. Really tough for the crew to hold on with one hand and pump the entire weather leg with the other hand. If you started the beat with a boat load of water, you were done, especially in winds approaching 40 knots.

That fall, I bought a Star from Don Trask, and decided to invent a way to bail Stars upwind without pumps. I designed and built the first chine tanks with topside bailers. I showed up at the 1973 Bacardi Cup with this innovation. After the jokes about my topside bailers subsided, it caught on very fast, as I proved it worked. It was possible to keep the boat dry upwind without any pumps. I should have patented this, as just about every Star built since then has incorporated some version of the chine tanks and topside bailers.

I dropped out of the class in 1979, as I had to concentrate on sailing my 30 foot cold molded Kirby half tonner. As my fledging loft grew in Ithaca, we needed to further expand the business from primarily One Design sails into the Offshore market. I reluctantly sold my Star to John Finch in Toronto.

In 1988, the Star class decided to have the North Americans in Ithaca, NY. I couldn’t pass up the chance to race at my own Cayuga Lake, and take advantage of its quirks. I bought a used Star and talked Doug Fowler into crewing for me. We actually did pretty well, finishing 16th overall (10th without a drop race), in a fleet of 60+ of the best Star sailors around.

One race still sticks in my memory: a clear air squall of 35 knots plus hit the fleet just as we gybed at the offset mark. That run was the most exciting sailing event of my life. As Doug kept yelling “Don’t gybe- don’t gybe”, all the way down the leg, just before the leeward mark, I watched Vince Bruin capsize to weather and turtle his Star right in front of us- keel straight up! I have never seen that before or since! There was no way to assist him, as everyone was out of control, but fortunately there was a crash boat nearby. I think only about a third of the fleet finished that race, and we were one of the fortunate few in 7th, our best race of the week.

For the rest of that summer, I sailed the Star with my 10 year old son, Chris, and we had some fun times together. I let him steer at a light air regatta at Red Jacket, and as he passed Rick Burgess upwind, Rick yelled over to Chris to put me back on the helm! Chris really liked that. He asked Rick after the race if I was ever any good at sailing Stars, and Rick, of course, told him I was always a “wacker”. Chris liked that too. I sold the boat the following year after the Districts at Seneca Yacht Club. Buddy Melges was there, crewing for Hank Rowan who had just purchased a new Melges Star. After the racing, I told Chris that I was going to introduce him to “one of the greatest sailors of all time”. Buddy was great, and Chris was polite, but he had no idea who Buddy was. Chris just knew Buddy wasn’t Larry Bird, his personnel hero.

Anyway, off I go to Miami to sail once again in the Masters. I’m hoping for light to moderate air and lot’s of sunshine. No big breezes!! In the past few years, I have trailed the boat down in early December, and left it at the Coral Reef Yacht Club for the winter. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go this December, and will just do the Masters. The Bacardi Cup starts in early March, but I’m trailing home after the Masters. No time. No guts. I tried the Bacardi two years ago, with 104 boats on the starting line. Three out of the five days it blew hard and rained. Rounding marks in a herd of 20+ boats at a time, crash tacking on to starboard, eating bad air the entire race, and actually falling overboard while missing a gybe in 25+ knots, all have given me second thoughts. I kept a death grip on the hiking stick, and my crew dragged me back into the boat. (Rescuing me, or sailing back in alone? It was a tough decision). This year, being an Olympic year, will be even more competitive, with probably more boats. The best Star sailors from all over the world have been in Miami since last December trying to qualify.

Haarstick’s background: I received my 5th year BSME degree from Trinity College in Hartford, CT in 1964. That summer, I worked for Hard Sails, and started graduate school at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ that fall. During the year, I went back to work at Hard part time, as most of my courses were at night. I began a 3 year wind tunnel study on sails as my Masters thesis. I joined the Army Reserve in 1966, and after my active duty training, I finished my thesis in 1968. That spring I moved to Ithaca, NY to run a small satellite loft - Hard-McPherson. In 1970, I bought the loft from Don McPherson and started Haarstick Sailmakers. In 1981, I moved the loft to Rochester, NY, although I kept my house in Ithaca, NY until a few years ago when my son was in college at the University of Rochester. The loft burned down in July, 1983, and Stew Sill gave us the use of his loft in Sodus until we moved into our new loft on Clinton Ave. We made our final move to Hudson Ave. in the fall of 1997, where we are today.

We are a relatively small sailmaker, but we have developed some technology that I believe produced dramatic changes in the sailmaking business worldwide. We were the first sailmaker to develop the process of computer cutting sails. We set up a company in Annapolis to cut, assemble, and ship the worldwide supply of Laser sails begining in the fall of 1973. We invented the "Quilt-Cut" sails in 1978. These were the first sails to take advantage of the added strength of some Dacron fabrics in the warp (panel direction) by laying the panels parallel to the leech, instead of the convention cross cut sails of the time. This produced dramatic weight savings, and increased wind range. It led to the later development of triradial laminate sails so common today. We also developed our own CAD program for cutting one-off triradial spinnakers in 1974, and extended this program to all our sails, starting in 1985, when we moved the cutter from Annapolis to Rochester. Finally, we have tested cloth since my days at Hard sails, and have developed tests that accurately predict the long term durability of any fabric. I believe this type of data is unique to our company, and is essential in purchasing the best cloth available that will produce the most durable sails.

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