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Forty Years Among the Stars - Chapter 10}


Forty Years Among the Stars

by

Commodore George W. Elder

Chapter X - California's Heyday

California came into its own in 1933, when Eddie Fink brought the world's title back to its shores for the second time. During the lapse of five years, yachtsmen of the fifth Star district had not been idle. They took their Star racing seriously, trained teen age youngsters and, with twelve months of the year to sail in, talent developed very rapidly. It is safe to say that in 1933 the Pacific coast of North America had, and still has, more good Star skippers per capita than any other distinctive locality. Almost every California fleet is so strong in reserves, that if the winner of its eliminations cannot attend a title event, it can send the third or fourth best skipper, who will perform just about as well. Furthermore, the majority are young men, with many years of Star racing ahead of them.

To substantiate the above statement, let me point out that California skippers have won eleven of the thirty-one World's Championships. That is a remarkable record in worldwide competition. Long Island Sound skippers, who rank next have won only seven out of thirty-one world's titles. It must also be remembered that in the early days of this event, Sound skippers had a decided advantage having sailed Stars for more than ten years before any other fleet. California's record is still more impressive, because of the few entries which they have sent to this event. Even when it was held on their own coast, they had no preponderance of entries, due to the fact that there are only a few scattered harbors along California's lengthy coastline and hence only a small number of fleets. Since it is almost the most remote point from all thickly populated Star centers, for three years, beginning in 1933, World's Championship entries fell off to the numerical standard of a decade before.

Glen Waterhouse and Woodie Metcalf brought Three Star Too down from the north, to give San Francisco its first gold Star. The event was sailed off Long Beach. The Thorne brothers, in Mist (the same boat with which Eddie Fink, as part owner, had won the event the year before) were runners-up. Herb Dowsett, Jr. brought Hawaii into the picture by placing third. The writer was not present in 1933, or the two following years. In covering these three series, which were held in California, I must confine myself to what appears in the records, as I have learned that hearsay information is not always too accurate.

Eddie Fink won three of the five World's Championship races of 1933, but was disqualified in the other two. In the second race he became involved in a foul with Paul Shielder right under the nose of the committee. At that Eddie could have finished in the money, except that his boom swept across a stakeboat on the last day. A group of Eddie's teenaged cohorts became very angry and expressed their dissatisfaction in no uncertain teens and caused a lot of trouble.
The I.R.C. that year, as I recall it, consisted of a Hawaiian chairman, three Californians and one easterner. Perhaps those youngsters felt that such a predominantly west coast committee should have closed its eyes to any rule infringement on the part of a native son. I can think of no other explanation. If anyone ever questioned the legality of those two disqualifications, it never reached my ears. Those boys became imbued with that "kill the umpire" spirit, which is sometimes found among a group of disgruntled local fans at a baseball game. The allegations made were so serious that the governing committee was forced to hold an investigation. Those unruly kids were never identified as Star members or by name. One member, however, was recognized as being among them. The association had jurisdiction over him and he had to take the blame. Perhaps he was guilty of nothing more than being in bad company, I was not there and do not know. All I know is what was testified to at the G.C. investigation. The details can be found in the minutes thereof.

The above-mentioned incident is past history and forgotten. I speak of it only because it bred an unjustifiable feeling of antagonism on the part of Pacific coast skippers against the administration and Atlantic seaboard Star members in particular, which has flared up several times since Why, I have no idea. Neither the administration or eastern skippers were involved or benefited by those two disqualifications in any way. All this has been confined primarily to the younger element. The I.S.C.Y.R.A. has had many older members from the west coast in responsible jobs and they have always proved to be most efficient and fair minded officials. Keen rivalry is to be encouraged, but let us hope that the new generation of Star skipped from the east and west coasts of North America will bury the hatchet. What is the sense of carrying on a feud that was started by a group of offensive youngsters, who did not even belong to this organization?

The Star class was spreading like wild fire. Our first fleet was formed in Africa, at Bonne. Central Europe and Scandinavia were becoming Star minded. The roster showed seventy fleets. Many national and district championships were in full swing. They were becoming so numerous that henceforth I shall only deal with the outstanding features that cropped up every now and then and played an important part in Star history.

The 1934 I.R.C. had little to worry about in the way of protests. It did have its troubles, however, with the gentlemen of the press. They could not understand why the races were not sailed on the San Francisco side of the Bay, where local regattas were held and where the public could stand on the shore and see the start and finish. The fact that there were very tricky tides in that part of the Bay, which would have given the defender a decided advantage, did not seem to register. Sam Smith had to bear the brunt of the criticism. He was spoken of as the chap from Boston, who was trying to run their races for them. Why Sam was identified with Boston, I am sure I do not know. To the best of my knowledge he never went to that city but once in his life and he is not even a New Englander.

The story of that World's Championship can be told in a few words. It was all Hook Beardslee and Barney Lehman. By-C won four races and took the series by a safe margin of ten points over Johnnie Anns, with Adrian Iselin doing remarkably well in heavy weather, placing third. The only dent made in Beardslee's otherwise perfect record was made by Harry Meislahn and Reeve Bowden, from Moriches Bay. They won the second race. One surprising thing was the poor showing of Thorne and Dowsett, Jr., who finished way down the list. Even Gilbert Gray, Olympic champion, could do no better than seventh. Villefranche, the only European entry, was represented by Mme. Judith Balkan. She picked the wrong event to enter in California. Had she selected one of its famous beauty contests, she would have won hands down instead of finishing last. Over seven hundred persons attended the final banquet, held in the Palm Court of the Palace Hotel. Three Star Too, under full sail, was at one end of the room. When the World's Championship trophy was presented, Waterhouse's sail was lowered and that of By-C was hoisted.

Just in case the reader may think that Pop Corry has been lost in the shuffle, I had better state that he was there and tell of an experience he had on the way home. He drove out and back, from Chicago, with the Pirie brothers, who were trailing their boat. They were driving along a mountain trail, with a precipice on one side and solid rock on the other. Coming toward them at full speed was a model T Ford, swaying all over the road. Just before it reached them it swerved and went over the precipice, a sheer drop of several hundred feet. They looked over the edge and saw it rolling down the mountain, until it went out of sight. They were still debating upon what to do, when up over the edge crawled a drunk. He sat by the roadside and began to cry. No, it was not because of the lost car but his poor little dog. They had just persuader! the drunk to get into their car, so they could take him to the nearest town, when there was a scratching sound and up came the dog. Both had been thrown out of the car, as it rolled over, and did not have so much as a scratch on them.

That was the first year the Spring Championship was held at Bermuda and won by Adrian Iselin. It was also the first year of the championship of North Africa, won by Grima, against sixteen entries. Harold Halsted was listed among the winners of important events for the first time in 1934, when he won the Atlantic Coast Championship and Corry Week on the Great South Bay.
The scene now shifts back to southern California, where the 1935 gold Star event was sailed off Newport harbor. This was indeed a turbulent series, a cat and dog fight between Beardslee, the defender, and Iselin. Waterhouse would also have been in the thick of it except for a tenth place on the first day. Johnnie Arms, runner-up the previous year, was only able to beat five boats.

And so it went - in the money one year and down in the ruck the next. The closeness of the competition becomes much more evident by consulting the results over a number of years, rather than the point score of any given series. A study of the World's Championship results, especially around this period, is very interesting. In most cases skippers worked their way up, attained fame for a year or two and then gradually slipped down the list. A few, not many, have staged brief comebacks. It is not unusual for a decisive winner one year to fail to qualify in his local eliminations the next. The most consistent performance, I would say, has been that of Adrian Iselin. Next to Charlie de Cardenas, of Habana, he sailed in more worlds title events than anyone else. Adrian also had his off seasons, but unlike the majority, he had the faculty of bouncing back. During his long career, he has two firsts, a second and a third to his credit. His worst performance, was an eighth against thirty-six entries. He won his second gold star eleven years after the first one and his second Atlantic coast title twenty years after the first one, and always with the same boat. He is still going strong - all power to him.

Except for a thunder squall on the third day, which the Californians said was "most unusual weather," the 1935 series ran smoothly enough until the last race. Then the fireworks started. By-C entered that final race with a three point lead over Ace, but then Beardslee cracked. On the last round, he was far down and Iselin, while not the leader, had several boats between his and By-C. Under ordinary circumstances, Iselin would have won his second gold Star that year.
At this point a young skipper, representing another west coast fleet, decided to take a hand in the game. He claimed afterwards that he was inspired to do so, because he saw a Star sailing on By-C's wind. That was found to have been the case for a while, but the skipper of that Star was minding his own business and violating no rule. He was completely exonerated and the incident had no bearing upon what followed, except perhaps in the mind of the young skipper who caused all the trouble.

I did not attend the World's Championship that year and want it distinctly understood that I am not repeating idle gossip. What happened was established by the evidence given at an investigation conducted by the governing committee that fall. It is described in the minutes of that investigation and, in brief, follows:

On the last round, the young skipper first mentioned, was ahead of Iselin and about two hundred yards from the weather mark. Instead of tacking, when he could have made it, he luffed, waited for Ace and then bore down on it. Iselin let his jib go, to slow the boat and try to get about. The Californian did the same, to prevent Iselin from doing so. Then he sailed the Ace past the mark. Finally Adrian was able to shake off his tormentor. In the meantime, however, the Stars that had been between Ace and By-C had rounded the said mark, as well as Beardslee. Ace caught and passed By-C on the final leg home, but not the other Stars that it had been ahead of. That gave the series to Beardslee by two points. The G.C. minutes state that Iselin was "willfully and deliberately" fouled to prevent him from winning the series.

Had Iselin protested, the I.R.C. would have been forced to disqualify, but he did not and there was no disqualification. For that matter the I.R.C. had the power to investigate and act on any known infringement, without a protest. That is mandatory under Star regulations, which these officials are pledged to uphold before being ratified. A disqualification, however, would not have affected the point score with respect to Beardslee or Iselin.

Let me make it very clear that Hooks Beardslee was in no way implicated. It was not his fault, if some other skipper, from the same general locality, messed up the point score. Likewise, there was no appeal. An appeal cannot be taken from a decision, or lack of one, by the I.R.C. Charges of unsportsmanlike conduct were brought against the offender. After the evidence was heard he was indefinitely suspended. He was reinstated, however, at the annual meeting the following year.

There was another minor incident at the finish, which was investigated at the same time. Two entries luffed along the line. It was evidently the intention of one of them to try to slip across between Ace and By-C. The other's motive is not too clear. Perhaps that skipper also wanted to help Iselin, as it would have taken two points to bring about a tie. The governing committee found that neither skipper had violated any existing rule of right-of-way, but that their actions were most unethical. In any event, whatever they intended to accomplish failed. Both these skippers, however, were given a short suspension.

I hate to wash our dirty linen in public, but in an authentic story of the Star class the bad must be told along with the good. All this may have been a blessing in disguise. It brought about the adoption of a team racing rule, explained elsewhere, and the aggregate point score rule, which causes the World's Championship to change locality annually. Obviously the series could not be awarded to Long Island Sound. By the same token it was felt that it should not remain on the Pacific coast. A special meeting of the association was held in New York City during the winter. It decided to award the series to one of tile neutral lake fleets, a region rich in old Star traditions, but one that had never held a world's title event. Chicago and Rochester bid for it, but it was awarded to the latter by a very close vote.

Two new national championships and two perpetual trophies for race weeks were inaugurated in 1935. The Swedish Championship, won by Dan Sudden-Cullberg and the Italian Championship, won by Enrique Ducrot. At Marblehead week, the Charles Francis Adams trophy was raced for and won by Homer Clark, while Walter von Hütschler took Kiel week.

Awarding the title event to fresh water was no mistake. It brought it within reach of many Great Lake and inland lake fleets, which had never had an opportunity to participate before. With thirty-five entries, all previous records were shattered. A different skipper won each of the five races. While the writer was present, to attempt to describe these races is next to impossible. It was like watching a three ring circus.

By-C won the opener and it began to look as if it was going to be the same old story all over again. Following this came two days of flat calm. Races were attempted, but did not come anywhere near finishing within the time limit, which was fortunate for Ace and By-C, who were way down in the ruck. The next official race might have ended in the same manner, if the race committee had not postponed it within a few seconds of the start. While there is no tide on Lake Ontario, it had been blowing hard for several days before the series started and there was a strong set. Between the preparatory and the start the wind died out completely and several yachts, which had been playing it close drifted across the line and could never have returned. A number of them did not make an attempt to do so, questioning the right of the I.R.C. to order a postponement at the last instant. It was necessary to send launches after them, as a light breeze sprang up a few minutes later. There was quite a commotion about it, until they were shown an N.A.Y.R.U. rule book that evening. It was a wise move, for after a short wait we were able to give them a real race and, at last, the series got underway, with Harold Halsted winning that race.

From then on it became another battle between Iselin and Beardslee. No one else really had much of a chance. Sam Smith suffered most in the third race. He made a premature start and did not see or hear the recall through the forest of sails between him and the committee boat. Sam finished fourth, but naturally was disqualified. That cost him third place in the series. Horace Havemeyer, Jr., took that race and Jack Keith the next, while Iselin picked up a few points on Beardslee. In entering the final race, however, Beardslee still a one point lead. Would history repeat itself? That final race was just about as fluky as one could ask for. The wind shifted many times, as little rain squalls made up and vanished just as quickly. For some reason best known to himself, Beardslee made no attempt to cover Iselin, but went off wind hunting on his own. That was courting disaster, as Adrian has always been a past master at keeping his boat going in that sort of weather. He finished second to Doc Martin, of Santa Barbara, and won his second gold Star. Harold Halsted, who had been improving year by year, also crashed into the golden circle by placing third in the series.

The Rochester yacht club had really an ideal setup for a World's Championship. Most of the yachts were moored in little slips along the club dock and it was only a short sail out to the starting line. All festivities were under the same roof, so there was no running about in cars or taxis, except for those who were quartered at some hotel in the city. Personally, I had only one complaint. For nearly two years I had been on a strict vegetable diet. The first thing I was allowed to eat, in the way of fish, flesh or fowl, was frogs legs. The program called for a frogs legs feast. I was told that the frogs up there had legs as big as chicken legs and that two were a meal in themselves. I had been looking forward to this feast for some time. When Tim Parkman and I arrived at the club that evening, we were told that there was no more room. We explained that we were president and secretary of the association, but the attendant at the door was not impressed. He pointed out a big tent which was to take care of the overflow. What they had in the club, I do not know, but the frogs legs served in the tent would have made a canary bird blush, if it had such scrawny little limbs. It was a great disappointment.

The annual meeting was a somewhat stormy session. There seemed to have been a whole flock of kids that year, who were delegates. When any serious subject was brought up for discussion, they acted like a lot of unruly little school children. They clapped and hissed and raised hell in general. I never presided at such a meeting before or since. It was certainly a far cry from the competent and sober minded group of delegates who have the interest of the association at heart and with whom one usually has to deal. Adrian Iselin introduced his pet mast band idea again. It had been adopted and rejected several times throughout the years, without affecting conditions one way or the other. This time, however, his motion was shouted down. He was given no chance to explain and walked out of the meeting, nor do I blame him. I thought at the time that it might be a good idea to place an age limit on delegates, but we have never had any such juvenile assemblage since and I never pressed the matter.

In relating the history of the Star class, I feel that facts, even unpleasant ones, should be recorded. Another very unfortunate thing happened at that meeting, which was largely my fault for not having discussed it in advance. Tim Parkman had been our secretary for a long time and a most efficient one. The association was spreading rapidly, especially throughout Europe. We had fourteen districts and one hundred and nine fleets. Tim had a new job as a vice-president of a bank. He had the files and in order for me to answer the deluge of letters we were receiving, I was obliged to phone him several times each day. If he was busy or out it meant a delay. Sam Smith, on the other hand, was treasurer and had an office next to mine. It was my bright idea that they switch jobs. Tim, who was in the bank where we kept our account, seemed an ideal treasurer, while with Sam next door, I could get any information I needed at a moment's notice.

Tim agreed on the spur of the moment and the elections went accordingly. At that time association officers were still being elected at the annual meeting. On thinking it over, I fear that Tim felt that he had been demoted and that it was a put-up job. Such was not at all the case, but I believe that he still thinks so and never really forgave me. Combining the work of the president and secretary, so it could be handled in the same office, was something which could not have been delayed another year.

And so the big show was headed back for another old home week on the Sound, the cradle of the Star class. Charlie Lucke, who was editor of the Log, made a very accurate prediction, when writing the account of the 1936 series. He stated that if the record entry of 1936 was ever exceeded, it would be the following year on the Sound. That proved to be the case, at least up to then.

Speaking of record breaking entries, that same year seventy-five Stars, sailing in two divisions, competed in Larchmont race week. The ten (or it may have been fifteen, that year) leading yachts were re-grouped into a championship division for the last three days. Frank Campbell, sailing Rascal, won by a single point over Johnnie Arms, in Andiamo. Frank, therefore, still has the distinction of beating the greatest number of Stars that ever sailed in any series, but not the greatest number to start on the same gun. The latter honor goes to Herc Atkin, in a race for the rear commodore Rafael Posso cup, held by the Manhasset Bay yacht club. There were fifty-one starters in that race. Due to some mix-up between written and verbal instructions, about half the Stars rounded the windward mark one way and the other half the other way. It took most of the winter to decide whether Harry Nye or Herc won, but the latter finally got the nod.


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