The 49th sailing of the World's Championship of the Star Class had 49 entries, which exceeded by 5 the previous U. S. West Coast record set in 1969 at San Diego. The series was won, not by a 49-er, although he is a Californian, but by a 29-er in that his 29th birthday was the day he earned the gold star, September 16, 1971.
Dennis Conner, who crewed for several years with Alan Raffee in No. 5291, was in his first year of skippering this same boat, which is now his Menace. As one contestant put it, "He was always cool, never erred, and I think it is kind of inspiring that an 'amateur' could knock of all those super-experts. The first fifteen or twenty boats looked impossible to beat." His crew, James Reynolds, is a veteran of many years' crewing experience and previous World's Championships that he sailed with Malin Burnham, including the 1965 World's in which they finished second.
Runner-up was current Olympic gold medalist Lowell North, who has now won the World's three times and been second five times, a formidable record; and series third went to Sweden's John Albrechtson, the 1965 North American Silver Star champion. It is true that any of the first 20 or so could have won the 1971 series - but they didn't. Conner and Reynolds, without winning a race, outsteadied them all. North won no races either, and it is interesting that at the midweek prize presentation, after three races, the 18 daily prizes went to 18 different skippers and crews. Yet it was not a fluky series; everyone agreed that the winners were always those who sailed the beat races.
The fleet was exceedingly
well matched. Winning margins were generally small and boats finished
in tightly packed clumps all down the line. Traffic jams at marks were
often fierce, and aggravated by a current of a knot or more running with
On Sunday, September 12, a dead calm greeted the fleet, until about 3 p.m. when a shaft of air less than a mile wide ruffled the surface and provided air of 3 or 4 knots, but never filled in elsewhere on the Sound. The Stars milled about among more than 50 spectator boats and two 60-foot whales whose dorsal fins projected as high as the spreaders when they surfaced. Not to be out maneuvered by whales, the Race Committee announced that these two had been summoned and obligingly agreed to appear for the entertainment of the waiting fleet. When wind conditions failed to improve, the committee cancelled, announcing a double header for borrow, and opinion was unanimous that this was the wisest possible decision.
Schoonmaker, Zagarino and Haarstick started together near the committee end and stood out on starboard tack for a while. Bruder barely crossed them, continuing on inshore to arrive at the first mark in the lead. Haarstick persisted to the offshore lay line and was fourth at the windward mark. But Schoonmaker and Frank Zagarino, by going more up the middle of the course, fared very badly. As Frank put it, "Suddenly we were in the 30s, and I still don't know why. The compass showed that the wind was steady. I guess there was either more wind on the edges of the course, or more current in the middle, or maybe both. It is sure discouraging back around thirtieth- there isn't a square foot of clear air to sail in." Schoonmaker worked up to about 10th but was caught between Blackaller and Buchan rounding a mark and was subsequently disqualified under Rule 42.2 (A). Bruder and Thompson Adams, first and second at the end of the first triangle, finished 4th and 7th. The Gerards, Bill and Sheridah, came up from 7th the first time around to third the second time and finally, on the last beat of course "O", worked up to second at the finish. But 1969 World's Champion Pele Petterson sailed a chartered boat quietly around the course minding his own business and won the race. Pelle's own boat sat out the series on a freighter at San Francisco because of a dock strike.
"In the smoothest water of the week with about 8 knots we started in the top third of the line just under Tom Dudinsky who was over and had to re-start. Ding Schoonmaker was above Dennis Conner and us below us. We seemed to be making a little on Dennis, and Ding was making on us. The water looked darker way out to the left, so we hoped to go out all the way for stronger air. About half way out Ding left us and went back to the middle and threw away his lead. We went to the lay line tacked on a slight header but also in more air. And were 6th at the weather mark. Dick Bates was leading and Bill Gerard was with him.
"The first three boats had a bit of space on the rest, and then starting with the fourth boat every one sailed very high on the reach. We couldn't get up quite fast enough, so we did the next best thing, which was to dive off almost to the lay line. That decision, plus a nice puff near the end of the second leg, brought us up to 4th. On the next reach everyone was close, with few changes in position.
"We felt that left was still the place to go, so after rounding the leeward mark we tacked immediately to starboard and were the first boat to start out to seaward. The farther we went the better it looked. We were holding Conner but Jay Winberg was really moving through the water and going faster than we were. We barely held him off, to round the weather mark first, Winberg second and Conner third. Dennis was very polite about staying off our wind on the run (the mark of a good sailor), and we gained about a length and then blew it by jibing too early and sailing the last 200 feet by the lee.
"We figured that the one who could catch us was Winberg, so to win we would have to go right out to the left lay line and not cover at the start of this last beat- some decision to make the first time in your life that you have the lead in a race in the World's! Anyhow, we tacked immediately to starboard and headed again for the left lay line, Winberg and Conner, after clearing their air, coming out with us as we hoped they would. This time we seemed to be making on Winberg and holding Conner; more adrenaline pumping, I guess. Came up to the finish line with Conner on our weather quarter, Zig Zag a little below the lay line. But we were getting lifted, which made him look good on us, and he was moving and pointing, so we took a safety tack and parked in front of him, and he still almost worked his way out. We finally reached the line ahead by half a boat length. We didn't even know whom got the gun, and had to sail past the Race Committee to find out that it was for us."
Bill Gerard, with
his wife Sheridan, the only girl in the series, was fourth, which, together
with their morning second, gave them the series lead, one point ahead
of Conner and Reynolds. Bill said, "We were surprised we had as much
boat speed as we did. When we got with the hot shots we were able to stay
right with them. We had pretty mediocre season until a week ago in Vancouver."
Petterson unable to do better than 9th. It was the same with everyone;
the fleet was so evenly matched that the only way to win a race was to
do everything perfectly. The difference between Conner and the others
was that although he never sailed a perfect race, he always managed his
races in such a way that if he did make an error it was a small one from
which he was somehow able to stage a respectable recovery.
Conner racked up the
first of his three sixths, leaving him with a 7-point lead over Lowell
North at this stage, and the Vanderveer Trophy. But asked for his
reaction to being the series leader after three races, he answered tersely
and to the point: "I'm worried."
One inland lake skipper,
unaccustomed to tides and deep water with their accompanying problems,
although he has raced in several World's Championships, felt compelled
to write: 'Sunny Vynne and his crew did the greatest job I have ever seen
in the general conduct of the series. In all races, perfect lines the
right length, right-angle perfect weather lets, the weather mark moved
in three of four races, correctly indicated by signals, to compensate
for a ten degree wind shift . . . He always made the right decision to
give the best possible race, even to canceling rest day to complete the
series before the favorable weather cycle ended."
Dennis Conner was
buried at the start, and it looked to spectators as if his nerve had failed
him at last: it was his worst start of the week. But now he made a cool
and daring decision. Instead of panicking and splitting with the fleet,
he stayed on starboard and chased the leaders, counting on his ability
to climb back up to a good position. Of course that 8-point lead was money
in the bank; he had only to reduce the number of boats between him and
Lowell to less than 7, and as it turned out he did much better than that.
Dennis' decision not
to tack saved him the series. The left side of the course was favored
all day, so much so that the last windward leg was a one-sided procession.
The spectator fleet was slightly in the way out there on the left hand
edge, so that sometimes it was necessary to take a short hitch to get
out of the washing-machine, but otherwise it was "starboard to the
Schoonmaker put on
his finest burst of speed of the week. At the last leeward mark North
was still leading by nearly a minute, but Ding turned on the steam and
passed him on that one short windward leg to win the race. Double World's
Champion Bill Buchan, who brought the series to Seattle, also turned in
his week's best performance for a third and a well-earned series fourth.
"Even today we went the wrong way," he mused after the race.
Dennis Conner gave
lavish credit to his crew Jim Reynolds. "He's the big factor in my
winning. A crew is really important .... You know they give equal trophies
to skipper and crew in the Star World's." Conner also showed that
he has already learned to parry reporters' questions with as much skill
and finesse as he does his opponents' thrusts on the racecourse. Still
soaking wet from the victor's plunge, he was asked whether he had thought,
a week earlier, that he had any change of winning against such a fleet.
He pondered for a second and replied quietly, "I think everybody
who came felt that they had a chance of winning."
We end with a quotation
from the yachting publication Nor' Westing because it mentions
the hard working crew behind the scenes, those men whose services, so
necessary to the success of any regatta, so often go unnoticed.
throughout the series .... will offer a standard toward which other Northwest
committees can strive. General Chairman was Eustace (Sunny) Vynne, ably
assisted by Dick Marshall. They put together a crew of the ablest people
in the sailboat racing business, drawing heavily on the memberships of
the Seattle Star Fleet, Corinthian Yacht Club and Seattle Yacht Club for
expert assistance. From the organization of the program (Pete Nolan) through
the special take-home trophies (Dick Gates), to the setting of the courses
(Bill Lerch), to providing information and facilities for the press (Max
Agather), everyone worked to make this the most impressive regatta ever
held for sailboats in this area. After the first day's abortive attempt
to find a little wind, Sunny Vynne even managed to fill the vacant job
of wind chairman - or at least somebody upstairs must have been listing.
"A special round
of applause should go to the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary for
course patrol. C. W. O. Paul Harp, in charge of course patrol from the
cutter Point Glass, even chased a Navy destroyer off the course during
the Friday practice race ....
"Five large boats
were provided by their owners for various jobs during the regatta, with
Phil Duryee's PS acting as communications center and committee boat ...
Phil also furnished CB transceivers for all the small boats that set marks
and did other shores on the course. The international Officers and members
of the press were aboard Gary Horder's Inisfail, stationed on the other
end of the starting and finishing lines. In addition a special press boat
toured along outside the racecourse, Exact, skippered by Bob Watt. Franklin
Eddy's Dorade marked the weather end of the course and George Reeve's
Cormorant patrolled the reaching mark.
"The course ....
was 10.8 miles long, set by radar aboard the PS. The Olympic type course
had three beats, a run and two reach legs, using an area generally north
of the mid-channel buoy off Meadow Point."