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".
Joseph Duplin, of Winthrop, Massachusetts, "did the impossible" in 1963. He won both the North American Championship and the World's Championship within a single three week span, against starting line-ups totalling 129 of the world's finest skippers. The closest previous approach to such a feat was Duarte Bello's 1962 bid, when he won the European Championship in a field of 47 and then was runner-up in the World's among 73. Lowell North had won a Silver Star and a Gold Star in one year, 1957, but against fleets half this size.
Duplin and his crew Francis Dolan took the championship at Chicago under difficulties of unsteady breezes and all kinds of weather and sea conditions. While others broke down, touched marks, or simply went the wrong way in the shifting winds, Duplin never won a race but never fell below 9th. His Star of the Sea caught and passed the fastest of the fleet whenever the heat was on, and he was able to keep her up front once she got there.
Richard Stearns had brought the championship from Portugal to Chicago the year before. But his Glider sails from Wilmette Harbor, an anchorage too small to accommodate the vast fleet that was bound to assemble in 1963; so the Sheridan Shore Yacht Club accepted the offer of the Chicago Yacht Club to co-host the series under the joint sponsorship of the Wilmette Harbor and the Southern Lake Michigan Fleets at Belmont.
The days immediately preceding the series saw 67 boats, trailers, and cars bearing a kaleidoscopic array of license plates assembled in the space of less than half a city block. One had to step carefully to avoid knocking down old acquaintances from the far corners of the world, or treading on sails laid out for measuring, or being run into by a moving trailer or hit by the end of a swinging spar. Former Olympic champion Bert Williams was assigned to oversee all activities at the launching site. It required a man of his capabilities to keep things in motion and under control, and control them he did.
The flag raising ceremony, familiar to old hands at World's Championships but none the less impressive, was enhanced by the reputations and achievements of the distinguished persons who raised the flags of the 15 nations represented on Sunday afternoon, the day before the racing began.
The race started on time, the boats strung out all along a good line with only two over and those two quickly recalled. The not yet dethroned champion Dick Stearns had a magnificent start in Glider at the flag end. Very soon a shift toward the north allowed the northerly boats to tack and cross the fleet. Some did, and regretted it. Those who carried on an additional hundred yards sailed into more air and were then able to tack and sail around the entire fleet in wind that never really reached the rest. One of these was Malin Burnham and nobody ever saw him again. He won the race by a minute and a half in his Chatterbox one of the newest and lightest West Coast boats. Pete Bennett was out there with him, to take fourth in the race, in a sistership to Chatterbox (and North Star). Right here, at the very beginning of the series, Dame Fortune smiled on the champion-to-be. Duplin had made a conservative start, which in a fleet of this size and calibre means a poor one. In order to get free he was more or less forced to stay on starboard tack, and sailed across the transoms of half the fleet before he could find clear air in which to tack. He couldn't have planned it better had he tried.
North and Stearns tacked a little too soon after the start, but still almost laid the weather mark. Both sailed very fast, North passing several boats on the final run to bring North Star home third. Dave Miller, whose Glisten was fresh from a last-race win at the North Americans, sailed from 4th to 2nd on the second windward leg. Ex Gold Star holder Durward Knowles and current Olympic champion Timir Pinegin were among those who started at the committee boat and tacked to port at once into 55th and 60th places, respectively. It could have happened to anyone, Knowles made a magnificent comeback to take no place below 8th for the rest of the week and capture series 6th despite that first-race disaster.
Among all the unhappy groups which got together that night to bemoan their various fates, there was one that was neither unhappy nor moaning: the Californians. They had taken the first four places. Blair Fletcher, still at the top of the form that had brought him a daily first in the recent Silver Star event finished fifth, followed by the defender, Dick Stearns. Paul Fischer's seventh made him the first of the Europeans; and Joe Duplin was eighth. Some of the know-alls (and there are more of them around yacht races than most other places), vouchsafed the opinion that Joe's North American win must have been just a flash in the pan after all. On board Star of the Sea there was definite disagreement with this view.
The second time upwind Blackaller took off on the starboard tack and played the "left" side of the course all the way up, to pass everybody and win the race by more than two minutes. Those who favored the other tack during that last windward leg were left in the lurch. Duplin, around the home mark at the end of the first round in 10th place, did whatever was the right thing to do and did it very fast the second time up. He rounded the top mark 5th and knocked off three more boats on the final run to drift home in second place in a dying breeze. Conditions on the second windward leg and indeed in all the light weather races were made more difficult by the incredible slop stirred up by the huge spectator fleet, a hazard for which there is probably no remedy in present-day events of major international importance.
The only poor starting
line of the week saw a big jam at the weather (committee) end. As the
wind continued to swing clockwise, it became almost a fetch to the first
mark on starboard tack. Not a few overstock by tacking to port among them
the defender, Glider. But Stearns and Williams found the mark in
time, drove off, and rounded close behind Blair Fletcher. By the end of
one round Glider had worked past Wayward Wind; and they
finished in that order, Stearns taking the gun by 48 seconds. Knowles
was third, and Paul Fischer, from Hamburg, Germany, by finishing fourth
moved up to third in the overall standings, only three points behind Duplin.
Wednesday's third race was followed by rest day, and never was a rest day more aptly timed. Between midnight Wednesday and 3 a.m. a stalwart group headed by Buck Halperin and the Bello brothers hauled all the remaining boats not already out, on to the safety of their trailers and dry land. We are sorry not to know the names of the other heroes who assisted in this operation. A gale from the north, up to 50 knots at times, screamed all day Thursday through the rigging of the boats packed close together on the dock. Each whistling surge followed by a long-drawn whine from the taut stays, and the slapping of halyards, provided a symphony of 60 violins, mostly out of tune, and a few scattered snare-drums.
Friday there was less wind down to the 20-30 range with a steep nasty chop. Could boats be launched? No one was anxious to try it. Timir Pinegin ventured out first, successfully, and it was announced that the race would be scheduled one hour later than usual to allow all boats to be launched without undue haste.
The fleet was again evenly spread across a good line, but after the start Glider immediately surged into the lead as she stood off on starboard tack. Then occurred one of those incidents that can happen to anyone, even the defending champion sailing in familiar waters. Spying the blue power boat that had, up to now, always set the weather mark, Stearns assumed that he had overstood, and eased sheets to bear off towards the mark plainly in sight alongside the power boat. How was he to know that today it was this boat's duty to stand by the second mark ? The error discovered at last, Glider put about and trudged off toward the real first mark, accomplishing wonders to recover to 11th at the finish.
All eyes were on the light and allegedly flimsy West Coast contingent. There had been sceptical predictions about their ability to hold together in anything more than a drifter. This was very much more than a drifter, and the detractors of the light hulls and rigs said, "Now we'll see". They saw. Not only did the Californians stay in one piece, they continued to lead the fleet. Tom Blackaller's performance was particularly noteworthy: without a heavy crew, without even a very flat sail, he won the race, beating all the heavy weather experts and all the elephant-boys.
Joe Duplin arrived at the first mark first, followed by Malin Burnham. Here occurred, among all the week's disasters that dashed so many hopes, the one that most heavily affected the series outcome. Chatterbox approached the mark on port tack and went about with plenty of room, not crowded by anyone. But she "stalled out" tacking, losing more headway than Burnham had anticipated. Then as she rounded her crew came inside to release the backstay at the same instant that a mammoth sea and a puff of extra wind threw the boat to leeward. The combined effect of all this was that the leach of her mainsail brushed the bobbing mast of the mark and the boat that almost surely would have won the World's Championship dropped out of the race.
North Star came around next. This boat is said to have so many gadgets on deck that when you look forward from the transom you can't see the bow. "And the first time a puff of wind hits them they'll all blow away," said the doubting Thomases. They did not blow away. They worked beautifully under stress, and North eventually passed Blackaller to win the race. It was an Easterner who broke something: Joe Duplin. His gooseneck disintegrated, and he sailed the entire second round without it. By the end of the first round Star of the Sea had dropped from first to third. Despite her handicap (photographs show how badly the sail was wrinkled), she again passed both North Star and Good Grief the second time upwind, to round the top mark in the lead.
Offwind, the lack of a vang was too much to contend with; but even so, Duplin maintained third position at the finish, a truly remarkable feat. It has been said that Duplin "won the championship" on the last leg of the last race. It doesn't take much thought to realise how shallow that judgment was. He won it during every minute of every race and for that matter, during all the months and years in which he was preparing for this series. But most especially and specifically he won it in the fourth race, by being able to sail a broken down boat to windward, through the roughest seas many of those present had ever seen, faster than any other Star in the world.
This big boat, used in all but the fifth race, created an interesting starting situation. In such a huge fleet the advantages of getting away in clear air are magnified, tempting the contestants to make hair-raising attempts at first starts. Anson Beard, for one, used the daring "dip start" around the anchor chain of the committee boat. There was a large unused area on the line side of the boat because of its great length; and Beard's start was so successful that the next day some others tried it too, thus congesting the area and making the whole project more difficult. North Star was one that almost didn't get away with it, nearly colliding with another boat because of a tangled mainsheet while North desperately plucked at a big ball of spaghetti with no place to go.
The leaders moved out fast in the last race. It was Knowles at the first mark followed by Burnham and Buchan, three Gold Stars in a row. North was up there too and Duplin was not. North needed four boats between himself and Duplin to win the series, and at this point he had them, Star of the Sea rounding 13th. But the race was a long way from finished, as everyone knew. On the second reach Duplin passed one boat, and on the last windward leg he very quickly and at one stroke passed six more that were bunched just ahead of him. Moving well, as always, Star of the Sea rounded the last top mark 5th with North Star 4th; and that was how they finished, to give Duplin the World's Championship by three points.
The incredible Burnham had passed Knowles, to win his second race of the series. Buchan also passed Gem for second, to sew up his series 5th. Beard was 6th in this race, his only good one: Bill Parks was 7th, and by finishing 8th Blair Fletcher quietly consolidated series 3rd with his Wayward Wind from Barnegat Bay, where conditions as are about as different as conceivably possible from those on Lake Michigan.
The new champion had only the highest praise for his crew, Fran Dolan, who, he said, "gave everything possible and more than was possible" whenever asked to do so. Duplin had had a past reputation of being a flashy sailor, winning Blue Stars (twice), and even a series third in the 1957 World's at Havana, but never quite pulling off a Gold or a Silver Star. The astonishingly steady record of ten flawless races that earned him in quick succession the two top honors the Class has to offer indicated a change of approach. And when questioned about this he replied, "It was the first year that I really began to sail with my brain instead of only my brawn in important races".
The chairman of the
1963 I.R.C. said, "No more co-operative, competent and competitive
group of skippers and crews have ever been assembled anywhere in the world;
and harder working, more efficient and more hospitable hosts than the
members of the Chicago and Sheridan Shore Yacht Clubs could not be imagined."