Note: This report has been scanned in by Ed Sprague. For a collection of Worlds' reports plus photographs contact Ed Sprague email@example.com to order his book "The San Diego Bay Star Fleet".
In order to win a modern World's Championship in the Star Class, it is not enough to have a perfectly groomed and conditioned boat, the finest of sails, an expert crew, and a rig which is tuned to concert pitch, refined to the last degree, and yet strong enough to hold together for five days. There are a dozen skippers in every present day World's Championship with this kind of crew and equipment, and all have their boats going very fast and are potential winners. There are a dozen such, but there is always only one ultimate winner.
In addition to all these things, he is the one who displays the best managership, exhibits the best series strategy, based upon on his years of experience, keeps cool in the face of impending disaster, and makes the fewest mistakes. Skip Etchells, of Old Greenwich Connecticut, managed to succeed in all of these departments, and so his Shannon is the new Champion Star of the World. And his wife Mary is the first girl ever to have been the winning World's Championship crew.
The list of 49 entries is believed to constitute an all-time record, not only for the Gold Star series, but also for any series of Stars racing across one starting line. In such a huge fleet, consistency assumes an even more important role than usual. When the good boats fall from grace, there is more room for them to fall farther. Furthermore, one could probably argue that to finish fifth in a fleet of fifty is comparable to finishing second in a fleet of twenty. At any rate, the Etchells won the series with three fifths, a second and a sixth, while other contestants blossomed into the winning column one day and dived to disaster the next. The series was no pushover- Shannon won it by the smallest possible margin- nor would it have been for anyone else in such a bunch of wizards. A glance at the summaries shows that everyone of the first dozen or so skippers in the final scoring are Star Class names to conjure with. But Skip and Mary emerged in the lead after three races, and were never topped in the score after that.
The Series was a memorable one for many reasons. The officials at Gibson Island set a standard of excellence in managing and conducting the whole affair, which will be hard to equal anywhere again. We will try to mention some of the high spots of the program in this account; but the whole spirit of the Island community, which did so much to make the week what it was is- difficult to describe. The planning and organization, which took the best part of a year to complete, were beyond reproach. As an example of how things were done, we mention the procedure which greeted each contestant on his arrival for the series.
The visitor was stopped at the gate, and asked for his name and the name of his boat. The gateman then telephoned this information ahead, so that by the time the contestant arrived at the boathouse (200 yards away), the reception committee had had time to assemble his and his crew's papers. These consisted of a full sized government chart of the harbor and racing area; a 56-page illustrated souvenir program which would do credit to any magazine staff; a special contestants' program; a supplemental information sheet; a list of all entries and score sheet; a race circular; complimentary tickets to all social functions; a road-map of Baltimore; a guest card for the week; a ticket covering housing; and (the crowning touch,) two tags with which to label spare spars which were to be stowed in the spar shed while not in use. The visitor then proceeded to the boat parking area, where he chose any one of a number of carefully marked-out spaces for his boat. The next time he turned around someone had driven a stake into the ground nearby, and on it a neat sign (prepared in advance of course,) proclaimed his name and the name and number of his boat and her Fleet. At about this point most of the new arrivals were so overwhelmed that they decided it would be a good time to retire to the bar for a quick refresher.
This sort of efficiency, which continued throughout the week, was exceeded only by the quality of the hospitality. Gibson Island is not a large community, yet the many guests were absorbed comfortably into it as if by magic. At the welcoming cocktail party at the home of Commodore and Mrs. J. Miller Sherwood there were 315 guests by actual count. At the final banquet at the clubhouse the attendance was 500. Getting a fleet of 49 boats across the starting line is only one of the problems connected with running such a mammoth series.
For the two or three days prior to the start of the series, while more and more boats poured in, William Boykin and his measuring committee were kept busy checking and measuring spars and sails, until at last all were declared eligible except two: the I.R.C. ordered the Portuguese Faneca re-measured at certain points of the hull, and she found not to conform to Star plans; and the U.S. Naval Academy entry was disbarred also, for failing to have a measurement certificate on record.
The raising of the flags of seven nations took place at 2:30 on Sunday, September 9th, at which time the new I.S.C.Y.R.A. flag was also hoisted for the first time. The Annual Meeting was held that afternoon, followed by a reception at the clubhouse, and a dinner at which the Governor of Maryland was the guest of honor and principal speaker.
The next day the long-awaited
The starting line on this and subsequent days was about one-third of a mile long. Some humorist remarked that no matter how long you make it, a starting line is always too short at the ends; and it is true that most boats did try to crowd the ends, as usual. But it speaks well for Chairman Dunigan and his line-setting department that there was generally a jam at both ends of the line, not only one; which would indicate that the lines were good enough so that it was hard to decide which end to use. At any rate, there was always plenty of room in the middle; and the fact remains that it would have been physically impossible to get 49 boats off at once across a line substantially shorter than the one used.
Magic hit the leeward end on the gun; just off her weather quarter was Hilarius, and next Lochinvar. After some preliminary jockeying, however, it turned out that Magic and Flame were moving fast, and they battled it out up the windward leg and all around the course, with positions practically unchanged to the finish. Straulino's Merope was third the first time up, closely pursued by the Defender, Sea Robin, which passed Merope on the slide downhill. The second time up Magic and Flame continued their duel, with Merope rapidly catching them; but the Italian overstood the weather mark by a considerable amount, to lose the advantage of his windward position. Charlie de Cardenas from Havana with his famous Kurush finished third, about a minute after the two leaders and a few seconds ahead of Sea Robin. Another close finish developed right behind them: aboard Merope they thought they had crossed the line when actually they had not quite reached it; Rode went forward to take down the whisker pole, and Shannon caught a wave to ride through to leeward and nose out Merope by a foot or so. What an important foot that was! The championship hinged on it, could one but look ahead to the end of the week. But then, that is always the way: a point gained or lost carelessly at the beginning of the series counts exactly as much as the hardest-fought point on the final day.
And thus the first race set the pattern for the series. There were no tremendous upsets; but the fact that the three Gold Star skippers present finished fourth, seventh and fifteenth in steady weather spoke volumes for the caliber of the competition. A check reveals that every one of the first seven skippers in this race held either a gold Star or three gold Chevrons, the two highest awards the Class can bestow.
Stearns and Rogers brought Magic in second, having maintained that position after rounding the first mark. North was third and Flame fourth the first time around, but they switched positions on the second windward leg. The Etchells finished fifth again, and Charlie Dominy brought Cygnet in sixth. It was a bitter blow to Dominy to have been forced out by a broken shroud on Monday just before the start, in a moderate breeze, and then to have finished so well up on Tuesday in weather which was much less to his liking. Indeed, the heavy-weather boys were now calling for more wind, and the drifting artists were saying that it was still too strong. Each group was to get what it asked for on the next two days of racing.
Chairman and Mrs. David J. Dunigan, Jr., were host and hostess at sumptuous cocktail party Tuesday evening, after which there was another customary banquet at the Clubhouse (yes, not just Saturday night but every night), followed by Star and other sailing movies.
There was no wind at all and a heavy fog when the fleet arrived at Mountain Bar Point. Under directions from the Race Committee, the boats remained fast to their tows and awaited further developments. After an hour or so the fog lifted, and the Stars were towed out into the bay. A triangle with a short windward leg was signaled, and the race started at 3 P. M. in a light northerly.
This was the weather that William Myers and Paul Cox, the light weather experts from the Eastern Shore, had been waiting for. With a long hitch to the westward, toward the channel, they stepped out into an early lead; and although they were pressed from time to time by other boats, they held their lead in White Shadow II to win the race, receiving a tremendous ovation from their many well-wishers in the spectator fleet as they crossed the finish line. But meanwhile, all kinds of things were happening back where the struggling also-rans were trying to figure out what to do next.
Magic, the erstwhile series leader, arrived at the first mark a cool thirty-first, and did well to gain ten boats on the next two reaches, four on the next windward leg, and two on the final reaches to finish fifteenth. Merope, although well up (about fourth), at the first weather mark, went steadily down the drain after that, finishing twenty-sixth. North Star fouled out again and withdrew. Sea Robin, the Defender, hit the jackpot with a 40th. Nye's Gale was 24th, Kurush was 37th, and so on all along the line, The New York Times remarked: "Racing was as flukey as Chesapeake Bay ever offers, and changes in position were occurring constantly." This was putting it mildly. But through it all came the Etchells with their usual fifth in Shannon, to take the series lead by three points over Magic. It was probably the lowest and certainly the most consistent score ever to win the Vanderveer Trophy: three fifths.
After Durward Knowles had made several strong bids for first, especially near the second windward mark, Gem slipped back to third, and the Smarts brought their Olympic champion Hilarius home second, close behind White Shadow, by far their best showing of the series. Hartwell Moore's Wench II from Huntington Bay was a surprise fourth. There was some doubt, during the second round, whether the race would finish within the time limit; but a sudden southeaster of about ten knots strength struck in on the next to last leg and sent the fleet home in jig time. This was of course the biggest shift of a shifty day; but it hit the leaders in such a way that the first boats benefited, and the order remained unchanged in the first group of boats.
White Shadow's win boosted her from sixth to third in the standings, just three points back of Magic; and Gem went from seventh to fourth, another two points astern. Anything could still happen, especially if there were to be more days like this; the leaders began to wonder whose turn it would be to dive next. But, fortunately for the contestants' nerves, the weather steadied off again, and the final two races, though packed with action, were not quite so full of spills and thrills as the third race.
Tonight the cocktail party was at the home of Vice Commodore and Mrs. L. Corrin Strong, and the banquet was in honor of Old Star Sailors. On the lawn at the clubhouse appeared a fully rigged Star, none other than the Eel, No. 564. This was a former World's Champion, the historic craft with which Graham and Lowndes Johnson had journeyed to New Orleans in 1929 and won the title, bringing the series to the Chesapeake in 1930. Mr. Lowndes Johnson himself was on hand this evening twenty-one years later to say a few words to an admiring audience.
In the stronger breeze, the Stars remained longer than usual in the shelter behind Mountain Bar Point reluctant to leave their tows and go outside for the inevitable wetting-down until they had to. This resulted in a slight delay, but soon the Committee had established the usual very long and evenly balanced line in the middle of a choppy bay. Unfortunately it didn't stay balanced. About five minutes before the start the big Coast Guard cutter which acted as committee boot began dragging anchor, and by gunfire the line heavily favored the marker end. However, not everyone noticed this happening, so the jam at the weather end was no worse than usual.
Considerable sail changing went on before the start, and the Italian boat was one for which this ended in disaster. Straulino and Rode were the first away from the Mountain Bar anchorage, sailing out into the bay at least an hour before starting time. A little while later a batten pocket gave way, and they tied up astern of the committee boat and lowered sails. It looked as if they then put another sail on the spars, but instead of hoisting it they took it off and put on a third, perhaps because the breeze had increased a little. Whatever the cause, they were not under way again until shortly before the preparatory gun, and apparently in the flurry of getting ready they missed setting their watches properly. Merope was over the starting line fully thirty seconds before gunfire, and kept right on going, not able to hear the recall, of course, on a day like this. There must have been some good reason for such a lapse on the part of a skipper who usually made conservative starts. A launch was immediately dispatched to bring back the flying Merope; but it was a repeat performance of Knowles' misfortune in the 1949 Championship series at Chicago: by the time Straulino got the word and returned to re-cross, he was so for back that he could overtake only a few of the laggards, and finished 35th.
Billy Myers was forced out with a broken spreader shortly after the start. The rest finally settled down to the thrash to windward, and Durward Knowles demonstrated that he still liked this kind of weather after all by rounding the first mark in the lead closely pursued by the Defender, Shannon, Flame, Magic and North Star rounded in a tight knot close behind, in that order. On the slide downwind, Gem and Sea Robin did not at first aim for the leeward mark, and led the next three high with them. The alert Californian capitalized on their error, jibed first, and rounded the home marker fourth. The next time up, Lippincott & Lippincott got the Sea Robin into high gear to win by a big margin. Shannon was an easy second in the weather that the Etchells had been praying for, and North took third, a duplication of his record of the previous year: in both 1950 and 1951 North Star did her best work on the fourth day and in the heaviest weather.
Fourth would have
been Knowles, but for an extraordinary accident aboard the Gem.
On the final run, about a quarter mile from the finish, the boom was tied
down with a vang and Don Pritchard was sitting on it, for outboard of
the hull. Suddenly the boom gave up the ghost and broke at the point where
the vang was attached, catching Pritchard off balance, of course, and
dumping him into the water. He lunged at the backstay, cutting his hand
rather severely on the track, but could not hang on. As he let go, Knowles
managed to throw him the mainsheet, which he grabbed. This unrehearsed
maneuver must have been executed like clockwork or Pritchard would have
been far astern before the sheet could have reached him. By now the Gem,
still moving very fast, was pretty much out of control, the poled-out
jib almost balancing the broken down mainsail and keeping her head off
the wind despite Durward's best efforts to slow down. With his foot holding
the tiller hard down, he hauled in the fast-tiring Pritchard, who reached
the transom but was unable to climb aboard before slipping back into the
water. They went through this twice, after which Pritchard's hands grew
numb and he simply could not hold on any longer. Stearns and Rodgers threw
him a life preserver as the Magic flew by; but the faithful crew
said afterward that he felt like sinking on the spot, so broken up was
he to realize that his skipper, unable to return, could only be disqualified
for crossing the finish line single-handed. He refused any assistance
from other boats in the race, assuring each one that he was all right,
despite his bleeding hand; and almost immediately he was picked up by
the Coast Guard patrol boat.
No one? Yes, there was one: North Star. North and Hanzal, having observed the tide, had resolved to make a port tack at the committee end, and there they were, reaching back and forth up in the best spot with seemingly half the bay to themselves. In fact, North miss-read his watch and made a premature start exactly one minute too soon, but there was nobody in the way, so he simply went back and did it over again, and there was still nobody in the way. North Star crossed the entire fleet with ease, on the port tack, and led half way up the windward leg.
But it was Straulino's
day again. When everything went right for him, there was no holding the
veteran Italian, and he won the race, to become the only double winner
of the series. Conditions become rather difficult as the race progressed
and the wind lightened, leaving a confused sea. Never very strong, it
had started by blowing about twelve, and softened progressively from there.
For some reason unknown to everyone, probably including himself, Skip
Etchells chose his smallest flat mainsail. This decision nearly cost him
the series. As Stearns went better and better, moving up to take second
at the finish, Shannon went gradually slower in the dying wind
until, on the final run home, she was sixth. Just one more position lost,
and Magic would have the series on the tie rule; but no, there
is a big gap between sixth and seventh, no one can catch Shannon,
and she crosses the finish line to the sound of two guns, music to the
Etchells' ears because it means they are the World's Champions.
Race Committee consisted of David J. Dunigan, Jr., Chairman; Cebern Lee,
Charles Ulmer, Charles Knight and Cal Hadden, with Harold Loweree and
Sam Hall as alternates. The hard working Recorders, who had a typed summary
of the day's race and up-to-date point scores completed and posted the
minute they got ashore, were Ann Franklin and Charlotte Ulmer. A vote
of special thanks is due to the several yacht owners who provided their
boats to be used as tow-boats for the long tow out and often back in again
with as many as ten Stars astern. The officers of the Gibson Island Yacht
Squadron have already been mentioned. Space does not permit listing all
of the members of the eighteen sub-committees who worked so hard to organize
and coordinate all the activities involved, but it is impossible to consign
the series to the pages of history without a word of special praise to
Bob Dunigan, who managed the operation of the haul-out crane so efficiently.
And finally a debt of real gratitude is owed to the two hundred financial
contributors, mostly members of the Gibson Island Club who had no obligation
to the Star Class and only wished to see the series a success, and through
whose generosity the whole event was made possible.