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Forty Years Among the Stars - Chapter 12

Forty Years Among the Stars
by

Commodore George W. Elder

Chapter XII - Through World War Two

Could the Star survive another world war? Stars were valued possessions. They would not just be abandoned to rot on the beach, which had been the fate of so many small one-designs twenty-five years before. Owners would store them away carefully, with an eye to the future. It was safe to assume that only a very small percentage would be destroyed as a result of the war. The membership was our real concern. If the war lasted many years, and it seemed like an endless one, we would have to deal with an entire new generation of owners. Could the spirit of the Star class ever be re-kindled? Could we ever weave these new owners into the smooth running world-wide organization of the past?

The association was already divided in half, geographically and numerically. Then Pearl Harbor was bombed and an our far east fleets destroyed. Aside from North America proper, a fleet in Cuba and one in Venezuela was all that was left.

Enrique Conill, European father of He Stars, had been missing for over two years. Last reported in invaded France, no one knew whether he was alive or dead. Adrian Iselin had replaced him as first vice-president. Then came the hardest blow of all. Samson Smith, our international secretary, followed in the footsteps of his illustrious forefathers (including Admiral Sampson, of Spanish war fame) and joined the navy. Parkman Yachts was sold. The days of plenty were over and the I.S.C.Y.R.A. was on its own.

This seems like the logical place to interrupt my story and tell the reader what Sam Smith did for the Star class. Everyone knows that he was primarily responsible for starting Star fleets on small inland lakes, thereby creating a fertile field for future development. But he did much more than that. It has never been hinted at in print and few, if any, realize how much Sam contributed toward the growth and prosperity of the Star class.

When he heard that Joe Parkman was going to retire, Sam bought the business lock, stock and barrel. He wanted to keep the last of the popular priced Stars on the market. He also wished to prove that one did not have to own an expensive custom built Star to win. That idea was once again curtailing Star production in the U.S. Sam never made a nickel out of Parkman Yachts. In fact he lost, but he accomplished what he set out to do for the Star class.

Yes, I was involved in a minor way. I held a small block of stock and received little more than a nominal salary to handle sales. An inquiry addressed to the I.S.C.Y.R.A. was never solicited. This was not mentioned at the time, as no one would have believed it. Our best friends thought that Sam and I were taking advantage of our association jobs to make money. If so much space is devoted to Parkman Yachts, it is because those five years were crucial ones.

Sam dictated Parkman Yacht policy. He did quite a bit of advertising and exhibited a Star for several years in The New York motor boat show. Those who had given up building Stars, evidently thought Sam was coining money, as they started in again. There was a wave of competitive Star building and more Stars were built in the U.S. than during any other five years. Each new Star meant a new member and the dues began to roll in.

Sam made the first I.S.C.Y.R.A. central office possible. He sublet half Parkman Yachts' office space to the association at a low rental. He allowed his office staff, of four, to spend about eighty per cent of their time on I.S.C.Y.R.A. work. That was when running the association became a big business in itself. The point had been reached where the Star class could not otherwise have been held together. Because of the small operating cost, the I.S.C.Y.R.A. showed a big profit at the end of each fiscal year. That was when it built up the surplus that carried it through the war and still remains as a nest egg. Sam's loss was the association's gain. He really contributed more, in his indirect way, to the I.S.C.Y.R.A.'s future security than any other one individual, yet it went unnoticed and unappreciated.

Now let us continue with the conditions brought about by World War Two. One fleet secretary after another was called to the colors. He would turn his portfolio over to someone else, who would soon follow suit. It became impossible to keep records. Finally the majority of the fleets in the U.S. followed the suggestion of making one of the fair sex responsible for the bookwork, regardless of membership qualifications. After that a semblance of order was restored.

Boys, old men and noncombatants strived valiantly to keep the fleets in North America alive, and in most cases, were successful. Yachtsmen were quickly developing into good naval officers. Washington wanted small boat racing encouraged, provided it did not hinder the war effort. People realized that it was a good training school and also provided mental relaxation for those not in uniform. This time public opinion was on our side and that helped a lot.

While necessary restrictions only put a few fleets completely out of commission, they affected almost every fleet on coastal waters. Unable to sail over their regular waters, many fleets were forced to race in small narrow bays and harbors, which in normal times would not have been considered fit for a course.

The greatest trouble was caused by channels and mined areas within the territory of a given fleet, which could only be crossed at certain times under specified conditions. Members of the same fleet, located on opposite shores and adjacent harbors, could not race against each other at will. This gave such groups an excuse to apply for a separate charter, which was usually granted, thereby creating a precedent. Western Long Island Sound is probably the best example. The territory of that one fleet was divided among three. Rules have always required that Stars on the same body of water, which normally race together in open regattas, be in one fleet. From then on, however, charters were granted on the slightest pretext and without regard to distances. It is difficult to express an opinion, as some of these offshoot fleets benefited and some did not. Nevertheless, such subdivisions are contrary to the intent of the rules and this practice should be curbed before it is overdone.

During the war years, however, the Star class had a number of lucky breaks. The first came when it was able to obtain a smaller central office in the same building, as office space was then almost impossible to find. This time the I.S.C.Y.R.A. signed the lease and what had been Parkman Yachts became the subtenant. The writer was general manager of the old plant, renamed Star Marine, and Tom Parkman remained as superintendent. Although the parent company, which had bought a number of small factories to convert to war work, had half a floor of office space downtown and an office for me, it allowed me to stay in the I.S.C.Y.R.A. office and paid half the rent. That was due to the influence of Claud Launay, a member of the Paris fleet. It not only helped financially, but enabled me to keep a weather eye on Star work.

It was about that time that Miss Edith Glass came to the I.S.C.Y.R.A. direct from stenographic school. Between us we did the work of most of the Star officers and committees. Once Star Marine was converted over to making life boat accessories, supervising that work was easy. It was second nature and I could do it while thinking of other things. Of course I no longer had time to sit and chat with visiting Star members The volume was light and Miss Glass was able to learn the routine work from the bottom up. The reader, however, must not get an idea that this routine work was simple. To properly record a member involved eight, or more, operations, including the cutting of four coupons from the registration form and sending them to four different departments. That was only one of many routine jobs and one mistake in the system would mix the records all up. Today Miss Glass is corresponding secretary of the I.S.C.Y.R.A. and a most efficient one.

There were some Star officials that did double duty. Charlie Lucke was one. He was in the navy, but at night continued to hold down his job as editor. Much of this was probably done by his wife Barbara, who was just as good a Star skipper as her husband. News was so scarce, however, that Starlights skipped its first monthly issue in nineteen years. For a couple of years there were only seven or eight issues annually. The Log was already in the hands of the printer, when the war broke out, but after that it was cut to the bone - a couple of pictured cheap paper and only absolutely necessary information. The Association lost money for the first time and adopted a policy of strict economy, only providing members with such essential service as could be expected under existing conditions.

Two special classes of memberships were created for the duration; life and service. Life memberships provided a working capital for 1943 and saved up from dipping into our reserve. While this created a liability of a sort, that would have to be taken care of somehow eventually, it answered our immediate needs. Service memberships enabled those in the armed forces to receive Star literature at about cost. They wanted the Star class to survive, in order to have something to come back to. As a matter of fact, service dues were largely responsible for our being able to carry on during the war.

Some, mostly outsiders, thought that the boys in uniform should have been sent Star literature gratis. To have done that would have taken practically all our invested surplus. That was profit earned during the good years and made possible by dues from Star owners all over the world. It was their money. Because the central office and most of our officers were in the U.S. did not give us the right to spend it only on those in the service of our own country. During the war H. R. H. Eugenio di Savoia and Admiral Goetting were reelected vice and rear commodores respectively each year. Italian and German fleets were granted leave of absence and retained the same status as those in the allied countries. Had headquarters been elsewhere, we in the U.S. would have expected like courtesy. The I.S.C.Y.R.A. is an international sports organization and its policy has always been to show the same fairness to friend or foe alike.

At the 1942 annual meeting in Chicago it was agreed that no changes would be made in the rules until the war was over and a representative number of members were again able to express their opinions. That meeting also voted away its own power to pass amendments. From then on the meeting was only to act as a clearing house and sift out crack-brained ideas. If a proposed amendment was approved by the meeting, it was to be submitted to the membership on the annual ballot. Just to make sure that a change could only be made by a substantial majority, Don Bergman's suggestion that a two third vote be required, was passed. The meeting further voted to discontinue the point system, for deciding the locality of the World's Championship, until transportation facilities became reasonably normal again and other continents could send entries. It was clearly understood, however, that this should not prevent Charlie de Cardenas from taking the next regular World's Championship to Havana. Win, lose or draw, before the aggregate point system was suspended, Havana was entitled to the next regular series.

Because of the foregoing, the '43, '44 and '45 meetings amounted to little more than informal discussions and practically no business was transacted. The annual meeting still had the power to elect commodores and in '45, perhaps because it had nothing much else to do, it ran amuck and elected a whole flock of vice and rear commodores. A limit was placed upon such officers the following year, otherwise commodores would have been worth a dime a dozen.

One must not get the impression that only a very few Stars were built during the war. On the contrary, there was scarcely a country in which some were not produced. In Italy nearly one hundred new Stars were built for Lake Como and about forty new ones in invaded France, for what had been the Paris fleet. These boats were raced under local numbers, usually prefixed by an "O". We knew nothing about this, of course, until the war was over. Through the efforts of such loyal members as Messers. Chambrieres, Whitechurch, Peytel, Fassini-Camossi, Tay, Poggi and others, whose names escape me at the moment, records were kept of these boats, and local Star organizations of a sort were preserved. Most of the time they were not able to contact each other and their work made post-war reorganization much easier.

There was quite a bit of Star activity in neutral European countries. We knew that new boats were being built in Sweden, because of radiograms received requesting numbers. The same was true of Switzerland, where Star racing was being revived. Number taxes could not be paid, but fleet secretaries, in many instances, opened local bank accounts and deposited collections, which were to be transmitted later. Most of these European fleets, however, were only token ones. By this I mean that they consisted of only three unnamed members, just to keep their charters active. The most outstanding example was the Salamis fleet of Greece. Its three members actually paid their dues throughout the war. Niarcos, who had an office in New York, saw to that. The three members were King Paul, Queen Fredricka and Niarcos.

The one exception was the fifteenth district, made up of fleets in Spain and Portugal. In the past those two countries had shown very little interest in the Star class. In 1941, however, they showed such activity and started so many new fleets, that this new district was formed and it was the only one in Europe that held Blue Star Championships during the war years. Because of their bulk, it was impossible to send regular forms by air mail and everything had to be handled by letter. While the records were a little garbled, those boys paid their dues and managed somehow to get the money through to the central office.

When North Africa was liberated, Star owners in Algeria and Morocco immediately requested a separate district of their own. They were on a different continent from the fleets in the south of France and entitled to it. The sixteenth district, with seven fleets, therefore, became official in 1944 and Tunisia became a part of it later. It started under difficulties. It had Stars, but could not get new sails or fittings.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, all Hawaiian yachting was suspended. The membership, however, remained intact and corresponded quite frequently with the association. Unfortunately that did not apply to the rest of the Pacific theater of war, where our loss, especially in membership, was catastrophic.

Always small in fleets, although wide-spread in area, the Eleventh District was practically wiped out. District secretary Spackman, of Australia, and his assistant Jangelie, of Java, were lost during the early stages of the war. Melbourne was the only fleet left. The entire section, from Australia to the mainland of Asia, was like a rudderless ship, until Barton Harvey took over. He was gradually able to restore order to the chaos that had existed.

The Japanese carried off the best Stars at Manila, no trace of which was ever found. Among them was Herc Atkin's Jubilee, a winner of the Cup of Cuba, Atlantic Coast and four Sound Championships. Herc was confined in a concentration camp. Jim Rockwell, who had represented the same fleet in several World's Championships since 1927, was imprisoned in the office of the Manila Electric Co. Five G.I.'s launched a Star in the dead of night and escaped.

These and many other rumors reached our ears, which later proved to be surprisingly correct.
Eleven British yachtsmen were racing Stars (not new ones) at Shanghai and were organizing a fleet when the war broke out. That is indeed a lost fleet, as nothing has ever been heard about those Stars or their owners. Fred Tracy, the most notable of all isolated members, built the first Star in China. This was Me Sing (meaning American Star). It made the front page even before it was completed. In the 20's a typhoon leveled the shipyard at Hong Kong, while the boat was still in frames, but the embryonic Star was unscathed. Fred returned to the States some time before the war, but the whereabouts of Me Sing is unknown. The same is true of two isolated Stars that were at Ceylon. When peace was declared, the Yokohama Bay fleet was no longer in existence. In other words, World War Two extinguished all Star activity in the Far East.

The forty new Stars built at Rio de Janeiro were the last of the war babies. The fleet received its charter in 1945 and the push and go of those Brazilian yachtsmen sparked Star development in South America. Lake Maracaibo was actually the first fleet on that continent. Made up of English and Americans in the oil business, it was very active locally. Most of its Stars were and still are the ones I helped Rudy Cunard collect in 1930 and they were not new then. The Titanic efforts of Chester Crebbs, a most efficient district officer, failed to awaken native Venezuelan interest, much less that of the countries to the south.

To go back still further, the first Star in South America was the Fay, named after the Federation Argentina of Yachting. Its launching at Buenos Aires was witnessed and cheered by thousands. Then all interest in the boat waned. Eight Stars were later imported from Finland. For some reason (probably club politics) the owners would not play ball with the I.S.C.Y.R.A. and remained as an outlaw group until quite recently.

The World's Championship was not interrupted by the war. It was continued as a skipper series, but that is a story in itself and will be told later. The Canadian northwest held its Blue Stat event in the same manner during the war years. The twelfth inland lake trailer district tried to revive its championship in a similar way in 1945, but was only able to complete two fluky races on Lake Sunapee.

The 1942 Mid-Winters was the last of the Silver Star title events. The Cup of Cuba was won by Charlie de Cardenas that year. That was fortunate, as it was able to remain in Havana until competed for again six years later. U.S. entries were more than lucky in getting their Stars to Havana and safely back home. Just at that time German U-Boats began to prey upon shipping along the Atlantic coast of North America. The sinkings became so numerous that the Spring Championship, scheduled for Nassau, had to be cancelled. New Orleans, which held the event on alternate years also cancelled for the duration.

The championship of the newly formed Fifteenth District, composed of fleets in neutral Spain and Portugal, was the only major series held during the war years, which was not affected in any manner. Skippers sailed their own Stars in the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes Championships. The same applied to the latter's Green Star novice title. Entries dwindled and were mostly confined to nearby fleets. The few other annual fixtures that were still being attempted, were held under trying handicaps.

Adrian Iselin won the Atlantic Coast Blue Star in 1945. That was a feat of historic importance. His only other Blue Star was won twenty years before, the first time that event was ever held. Furthermore he won it with the same Star, Number 202, the Ace. The Ace is now entering its thirtieth season of racing and still going strong - so is Adrian. That shows what can be done with a Star, if properly taken care of.

Out of respect for George Corry, the office of commodore remained vacant until the end of 1944. Like his famous father, Adrian belongs to the immortals of yachting. He was elected commodore for 1945 and served for two years.

The pearl jubilee Log was published before the fate of Enrique Conill was known. When he was finally able to get away from invaded France, he eventually found himself aboard a steamer with a bunch of Spanish Star members. They recognized him from his photo in the Log. That was the first time Enrique saw the thirtieth anniversary Log, which had been dedicated to him. He became commodore in 1947 and also held office for two years - but that is getting a little ahead of our story.

When the war ended in Europe, the central office was swamped with requests for Me most recent Log. Many old members, who had been out of touch with developments for seven years, wanted to bring themselves up-to-date. That sudden termination of hostilities had not been figured upon and our surplus of the 1945 issue was exhausted within a couple of months.
The I.S.C.Y.R.A. had managed somehow to pull through five difficult years. Insofar as work and complicated problems were concerned, however, those years were child's play in comparison to the reconstruction period that followed.