During the six years between 1941, when Los Angeles was host at the last pre-war World's Championship, and last year, when that Fleet again held the blue ribbon event, many new names appeared from the ranks of the Star sailors and move gradually up into the winners' columns. In fact, so consistently does the new talent crowd out the old over the course of time that only two names, those of George Fleitz and the veteran Barney Lehman, appeared in the starting lin-?up as skippers in both the 1941 and the 1947 Series. And it was significant of the progress of the younger champions of the Class that the first three places in the 1947 event were captured by skippers who, although accustomed now to having their names in the headlines, could hardly have claimed that distinction three years ago.
Durward Knowles, the new World's Champion, was a dark horse at Havana the year before. Previous to that time, he had not had an opportunity to show the stern of his Gem to any but members of his own fleet at Nassau. But from the 1946 Series he took home three gold chevrons. He then went on to win the Miami Orange Bowl Regatta and the 1947 sailing of the Johnny Walker series. In his home waters he was unbeatable in heavy weather, and all the contestants at Los Angeles remembered with respect his second-day win at Havana.
He entered the 1947 series as a favorite, if not to win, at least to take second to the defender; his triumph certainly justified the faith of his well-wishers.
Hilary Smart, though by no means so well known, had been skippering Stars for nine years. In his Hilarius, a 1947 boat, he won his first major series, the Commodore Corry Cup on Great South Bay. The boat had been showing bursts of speed in her home waters all season, and simply seemed to settle down to business and sail a good steady series at Los Angeles. Smart won one race and kept very well up in all the others to take second for the week. He is a skipper to be watched in the future.
Dick Stearns, though just turned, 20, has been a consistent champion for the past three years in Chicago waters. He had won both the Sheridan Shore Race Week and the Blue Star of the populous IV District, symbolizing the Championship of the Great Lakes, for the past two years running; so it was no surprise when he and his jovial and expert crew, Bob Rodgers, by taking all thirds and fourths, missed series second by only one point. And it is possible that Glider might have done even better in somewhat lighter weather; her winning of the Newport Harbor 3-day regatta the previous weekend certainly indicated as much.
Meanwhile the wind had come up somewhat, but was still blowing not more than 10 knots. There was a current flowing with the wind (as always,) and the combination dragged the committee boat in the deep water. Although Chairman James Cowie's hard-working committee had the anchor weighed three times, moving the boat up to windward each time, the line was still a little uneven at gun time. As a result, there was a slight jam at the starboard (stakeboat) end of the line. Shouts were exchanged, but no formal protests were lodged. On later days, the committee kept the power on and the propellers slowly turning, and no further difficulties of this kind were experienced.
It was windward-leeward, into the prevailing westerly and back, twice around. The local sailors, who did not seem anxious to hide any secrets, had been very insistent that the inshore tack would always win because, they said, less adverse current would be encountered there. But the committee was also interested in eliminating any advantage of local knowledge, and set the line far enough to sea so that in only one race (the fourth) was there any pronounced difference in the two tacks. Nevertheless, with the current in mind, most boats went over on to the port as soon as possible and headed for the breakwater, a mile or so away. In the opening race, many were to regret this maneuver.
It is one of the perversities of yacht racing that a series of events, no one of which if it occurred alone would cause any consternation, often manage to combine themselves so that their coincidence produces a serious state of confusion. Such a combination resulted in the Incident of the Misplaced Mark. The windward mark was actually to seaward of a line dead to weather of the start. It was the only misplaced mark, and it was the only one of the whole series that failed to have an identifying marker yacht accompanying it. On top of that, it was the only day when there was a haze to make for difficult conditions, and it was the first mark of the first race, which meant that no one felt too sure of himself or his knowledge of the course conditions.
When last seen by the winners of this race, Gem II was out in front and leading the inshore contingent by a large margin. For this reason, she was one of the hardest hit by the situation explained above, and she overstood badly, rounding the first time below the middle of the fleet. George Fleitz found the mark first. In fact, Walter Krug, the defender's crew, had had his eye on what he thought was the mark for a long time before he could be sure enough to insist on tacking for it. Wench did not actually head for the mark until long after some of the others; and she only rounded first because she was far enough ahead to gain speed by paying off. In other words, Wench overstood too, but not so badly as the inshore group.
Hilarius rounded fifth, to climb to second on the next windward leg. Tom Scripps' Tom Tom was a close second the first time, but finished third. Knowles and Farrington received high praise for pulling up from their discouraging early position to finish sixth. Although the wind had strengthened some during the afternoon, it was probably not quite enough to suit Gem; nevertheless she consistently outsailed anyone who was near her.
Prizes were presented for the first race at a dinner for the contestants at the Pacific Coast Club at Long Beach that night. A welcome innovation was this daily presentation, which not only served as a climax for the entertainments each night but was fitting reward calling attention to the good work of the daily winners. If all prizes are left to the end, the emphasis naturally goes to the series winner, no one noticing who took the other honors.
The same course saw Gem get away to a perfect start in about 18 knots of breeze, after a half hour postponement to collect the fleet. The wind kept increasing, and with it, Gem's lead. She won by a very substantial margin. Around the last windward mark Bert Williams had Kathleen in second place with Wench a close third. Dick Stearns brought Glider up to coast past Wench at the finish. All three finished overlapped.
The race was not without its mishaps. Tomahawk and Clearsky both broke down, the latter sustaining the only dismasting of the series. Shortly after the start Blue Star II tacked too close in front of Scout VI: the resulting contact disqualified Blue Star. Tom Tom, finishing fifth, started on the downward path, which was to be her lot all week. Scripps' consistent deterioration was one of the unexplainables of this fascinating series.
Going into the third day Wench was still leading, but Gem was now only two points astern, tied with Glider for second. The local backers of the Los Angeles entry began to sit up and take notice. Perhaps it would not, after all, be a walk away for the young defender whom one paper called "the balding yachtsman," much to his and everyone else's amusement.
The second time upwind a strange thing happened. It was near the end of the leg, and most boats had completed their port board and were standing out for the mark on the starboard tack. A particularly vicious puff went by, the kind that luffs the mainsail all the way out to the battens and even the mast shakes, and then suddenly the wind dropped to about 8 knots and hauled a couple of points. Sheets were eased, some boats reaching for the mark or even slightly below it in the light slop. They were to regret this a few minutes later, when the wind swung back equally suddenly to its original quarter and the anemometer reading climbed up again to twenty or more. Those who had held high in the fluke benefited greatly. At all times during the week, so evenly matched was most of the fleet, a little lift or small difference in speed made a great deal of difference in position. There always seemed to be another boat "breathing down your neck."
Hilarius rounded the last weather mark fourth, but gained down the wind, as she was consistently able to do, and pulled up to third at the finish. Wench was fifth. The score at this stage showed Knowles first with 57 points and the Vanderveer Trophy; Fleitz second with 56; and Stearns and Smart tied at 55. It was still obviously anybody's series as the boats headed for the anchorage to haul out for Rest Day. Because the electric crane at the Los Angeles Yacht Club was such a speedy one and the trailer park so handy, the race committee ruled that all contestants could haul for Rest Day, and nearly all took advantage of the privilege.
Sugar Rabbit and Scout were recalled, at the start. All boats were soon over on the port tack, because this time the starting line was inshore enough to make the inside tack pay big dividends. The proper course was to sail right up to the breakwater, tack when you were about to run aground, take a short hitch, come in once more to within spitting distance of the rocks, and then streak for the mark. So necessary was it to play the port tack to the limit that the second and third rounds became processions. There were some moments of action and a lot of fast reversing of engines aboard the power boats of the spectator fleet, who, following to leeward of the racing boats, suddenly found themselves converging with the breakwater and unable to turn out because of the line of Stars in the way.
The first time around the windward stake, Hilarius was hotly pursued by Blue Star and Gem in that order. Marks were left to port in this race, and that, combined with a current that may have been stronger than usual, lured many skippers to take disastrous chances. The first round saw Kathleen fetch up on the mark boat - but let Bert Williams, in his own pungent fashion, tell the story which was typical of the action of several others that day:
"You asked me about our hitting the windward mark in the fourth race. We made probably the only good start we had in the whole regatta, and at the sound of the starting gun our forestay snapped. For a moment I suspected that the starting cannon must have been loaded with chainshot. At all events, the head of our mast sagged off to an alarming degree, and I was somewhat chagrined although pleased to find that we were going faster than we had all through the regatta! However, when we came up to the windward mark we made the discovery that, while we were traveling pretty fast through the water, we were not pointing as well as usual. Having already lost any chance to win the regatta, we had decided to shoot for daily trophies, and there was no point in conceding that we could not get around the mark without a lot of maneuvering; so we merely laid her off and headed for the middle of the mark boat, scaring the tar out of the mark official, and then with the superlative skill which was so evident in our boat-handling all during the regatta, and after a preliminary warning shout to Knowles, we pointed our flying yacht in the right direction to clear the mark, and the whole maneuver would have been beautiful except that we failed to clear the mark by about three feet. I didn't feel as bad as I might about it, because shortly afterward our rudder fell out, so we weren't going any place that day anyway."
Next time up, Blue Star tacked too close under Cancan, colliding with her and the mark. When they finally disentangled themselves, both boats were disabled. The third time around, Wench, then in sixth place, touched the stakeboat with the end of her boom. Even without this disqualification, Fleitz would have placed only fourth in the series, instead of his actual fifth. As he himself put it, "it was just not our series."There were many other "conversational roundings" of this fatal stakeboat, where skippers cut the mark entirely too fine and were not sure that they had cleared it until after hailing the marker boy to find out. It was more luck than good management that more than six were not thrown out for their carelessness.
Glider, which finished third in this race, did a noteworthy job in climbing from 14th to 7th to 3rd on the respective rounds. When asked how he had managed to make the boat go so fast, Stearns replied with I characteristic modesty, "I don't know - we just had to!" Glider slipped a backstay on one of the runs, but, although the mast took the usual fish-pole bend over the bow, it stayed in the boat.
The score was now very close among the first three: Gem 77, Hilarius 76, and Glider 74. Then came a gap, with the next boat, Tom Tom, 10 points further astern. Barring accidents or a dive to 11th or worse, the leaders were going to stay leading; and they did, none finishing below fifth in the finale.
Many of the contestants had been having trouble with their new sails during the week. Perhaps there was too much wind for brand new sails, or perhaps there was just something wrong with them. Whatever the cause, there were several rather sorry-looking 1947 mainsails in evidence, Barney Lehman's had been one of these, but for the last race Scout appeared with a tiny, flat Burrows mainsail on the spars. Since the name Burrows no longer was used on sails after 1934, that made this one at least 13 years old. With it he won the race. Up until that day, under almost identical wind conditions, Lehman had been unable to place better than sixth.
It is worthy of note that most of the boats had similar experience with sails. It was no series for drafty super-droopers. All Knowles' sails were at least five years old, and his favorite flat English Ratsey main was worn so thin you could almost see through it. Hilary Smart used a pre-war Murphy & Nye hand-me-down in four of the five races, and Glider's mainsails were also of a fairly ancient vintage.
Scout by no means had everything her own way in that last race. Again it was a three-round course, this time windward-leeward; and for the first two rounds it was a slam-bang battle all the way among Scout, Gem and Cene. They rounded most of the marks overlapped or nearly so. On the last weather leg, Cene took a desperate flyer to seaward in an effort to break out of her third position, but only lost more by it, as was to be expected. Knowles was very happy to settle for second, because all he had to do was beat Glider and Hilarius, both of whom were a long way astern filling the fourth and fifth slots. Lehman's eleventh hour win pulled him up to series fourth.
Knowles and Farrington were as pleased as any new World's Champions could be at the rousing reception given them when they reached shore. Their congratulations were topped off next day by a cablegram from His Excellency, the Governor of the Bahamas. At the presentation banquet at the Lakewood Country Club, all contestants expressed their regret that the 1948 series could not be held at Nassau. But the affable Bello brothers were plied with many eager questions about their home waters in Portugal, and if the plans and dreams which were in the air at the 1947 series materialize, there should be no lack of American challengers in Portugal for the coming big series.
Every type of World's Championship course was used at least once during the week, and some may have wondered why the Committee deemed it wise to resort to the three-times-around affairs for the last two contests, when these courses were originally intended for use in restricted waters and not in the open ocean. There was a very good reason for the choice, which the contestants appreciated. To avoid sailing across the steamer traffic at the harbor entrance, the starting line was always taken far to leeward, which necessitated a long beat back to the anchorage after every race. Although the temperature was high ashore, ranging up over 100' at Los Angeles, there was an enormous difference out on the cool ocean, where wet weather gear was in order. (One of Bill Severance's most difficult assignments - and he had many- was to convince the spectators to take enough warm clothing with them. This he did daily over the loudspeaker, in pleading tones.) By five o'clock, when the sun was already sinking low, the beat home turned into a long, cold drag. By setting the courses they did on the last two days, the Committee shortened that sail home by almost half.
The Race Committee consisted of James Cowie, Chairman; J. R. Driscoll, Jr., H. W. B. White, Clifford Smith and Joseph C. Smyth. William Severance and Bjarne M. Jensen were alternates, although Severance served every day. There were many Course and Mark Officials, a new group acting each day. The two marker boat boys, who had the arduous and responsible job of watching and reporting fouls from the stake boats, were Peter Gales and George White.
Much of the credit for the entertainment program, which is always such an important contributor to the success of any race week but especially a World's Championship, goes to Leo Benzini, Chairman of the Entertainment Committee.