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Forty Years Among the Stars - Chapter 16


Forty Years Among the Stars

by

Commodore George W. Elder

Chapter XVI - Reorganization

Like the mythical Phoenix, almost while the echoes of the last gunfire were still reverberating, European Star racing arose from its own ashes. The first thought of every owner, after the war, seemed to be to get back in his Star. European yachtsmen became much more boat minded. Former owners of much larger yachts turned to the Star. It was the only racing machine they could afford, the only class that offered them organized international competition. Any lingering doubts: about reorganizing the class in Europe vanished immediately. The Star provided a nucleus around which yacht racing interest was revived in the old world, just as it had supplied the foundation for rebuilding the sport in the new world after World War One.

A rough inventory disclosed the fact that quite a number of European fleets, for several years, had been fleets in name only. Their Stars had been bought by neighboring localities, whereas those that had belonged to service fleets, had found their way into civilian hands. This was chiefly the case in France and Italy. New fleets quickly replaced the old ones, but they consisted mostly of the same old Stars, renamed and sailed by new owners.

Four or five Stars were demolished when a shipyard, near Paris, was bombed. There is no record of any other Stars having been actually destroyed as a direct result of the war. Many were and still are unaccounted for, but there is no good reason to believe that they no longer exist. The largest group of missing European Stars, of course, were the pre-war Stars in Germany. West Germany has since shown some fleet activity and that country was represented by a Star in the '52 Olympics. Walter van Hütschler found the Pimm, when he accompanied the Brazilian yachtsmen to the '48 Olympics, as coach. It was in good condition, just where he had left it, so he shipped Pimm to Sao Paulo. Other unaccounted-for European Stars are probably being sailed right now, mostly by new owners. There are various reasons why they may not have seen fit to contact the association. Except at a few Star centers, little is known about organized yachting throughout the Far East. The missing Stars in that vast area could easily be in the hands of owners who do not even know there is an I.S.C.Y.R.A. Stars have disappeared before, only to appear again years later. In all probability most of the Stars presumably lost, strayed or stolen (I use the last word advisedly) will be heard of again, sometime, somewhere.

Annual reports piled into the central office. Almost every European fleet had a new secretary, who was not yet familiar with the system. Most of those reports were incomplete and not too accurate. Numbers had been cabled and radiographed during the war to countries that could not communicate by mail, often on very meager information. Official numbers were allocated, through fleet officials to Stars built in the war years, which had been racing under temporary local numbers. All these things combined created many errors and duplications.

Peace brought all the inactive Stars in North America and elsewhere back into circulation. The description of practically every other Star had to be changed, both in the permanent register and the printer's copy for the Log. The boat either had a new name, a new owner, belonged to a different fleet, or all three. With two thousand four hundred Stars, that in itself was a long tedious job. To make it worse, many of those changes had to be verified. Except for the carelessness of some builders and measurers, who had not seen to it that the number was cut or burned into the top of the keelson, identification would have been quick and a lot of time and effort would have been saved. Several lengthy individual letters had to be exchanged about nearly every doubtful case. It took almost two years to untangle the mess and restore the records to normalcy.

Every now and then unidentified Stars kept popping up here and there. They were war loot, carried off by the invaders. It was done by both sides. Some may have been legally acquired for speculation, from a bona fide owner in need of cash. It was usually impossible to tell, as they had passed through several hands and no one remembered names or had former bills of sale. There never had been a number on the keelson of some, but there were also cases where the number had been intentionally obliterated. A pretty good guess could always be made as to the builder and approximate year built. If a Star, built about that time, was positively known to have been wrecked and destroyed, the boat was given that number. If any doubt existed, however, the number was prefixed by an X. Probably some owners did not like that. If you buy questionable goods, however, you must expect to be subjected to some inconvenience.

Virtually all the little three boat fleets were wiped out. That was a good thing. Except perhaps in the early years, when Stars had to be demonstrated, the baby fleet has been a perpetual headache. Three boat racing cannot sustain interest very long. When one Star was sold, the remaining two were not enough to renew the fleet's charter, which forthwith was revoked. Those minimum fleets were short-lived. They either developed a locality within a year, or not at all. Where substantial fleets were developed, a charter could have been obtained with a greater number of Stars a few months later anyway. Those minimum fleets, which kept coming and going, only inflicted a lot of extra bookwork upon the office.

One of the most constructive rule changes made, during the reconstruction period, was to require a new fleet to start with five Stars. Thereafter, three could retain the charter. That provided a reasonable amount- of competition and gave the fleet a little leeway, if it met with early adversities. Since then the I.S.C.Y.R.A. has scarcely lost a fleet.

European memberships continued to pour in, in ever increasing numbers. I said memberships - not dues. Funds were frozen in practically all of those countries. Fleet secretaries collected dues in the usual manner and certified to the fact that they had been paid by all members, whose green forms were filed. Those dues were deposited locally to be transmitted to the association when, as and if possible. European members, being in good standing, were entitled to the same service as all others. Logs, twelve issues of Starlights, membership cards, etc. had to be sent to all of them. The association, however, was receiving-very little additional cash to take care of all this extra business. The situation created some pretty knotty financial problems.

Occasionally a district officer was able to get a special permit to transmit a portion of the accumulated dues. Sometimes a member over there had an account here, or the reverse, by means of which other part payments were managed. By various methods, the bulk of those fluctuating deposits eventually reached the international treasurer, but in some cases too late. In one instance the rate of exchange was fifty to one, when dues were collected, but three hundred and fifty to one, by the time the money was transmitted. In some cases associate dues only amounted to a small fraction of ap American dollar and did not even pay for postage to that member. It became necessary to reduce the service to that class of membership, in such cases, to sending a membership card only.

It would have been too complicated to even attempt to figure the World's Championship tax deduction, of twenty five cents per member, on European dues. Those balances were all mixed up with plans and buttons sold on credit. Part payments were received at indeterminate periods of even amounts; say one hundred dollars. There was no way of telling how many dues, of each class of membership it represented, or how much could not be applied to dues at all. The association, therefore, made another rule change. It just deducted five per cent from all European remittances received within the twelve month period. That was simple and it worked out about the same.

Life members presented another knotty problem. At fifty dollars each, they had paid roughly four thousand dollars. That sum tided the association over a crisis, but left it with about eighty members to carry for an indefinite number of years. Securities, in the amount of the principal, would have to be set aside, so the interest would take care of that class of membership. The association-owned bonds would have produced one dollar and twenty-five cents per annum for each member, which would have been a losing proposition. It bought approximately four thousand dollars worth of common stock, making the dividends exempt from World's Championship tax. The annual yield per member was then about equal to an associate's dues. Perhaps it was not the most conservative move imaginable, but it was the only answer. The association's common stock, therefore, is a sort of separate trust fund, established to provide for the life memberships.

The creating of continental vice presidents was approved at the 1948 meeting and subsequently passed by the membership. Like district secretaries, when that office was started, they were next to useless for a couple of years. Then they were renamed international vice presidents and given specific duties.

hrough the same procedure, a three-man judiciary board was created the following year. Its members were to serve for three years, one to be appointed annually. Its duty was to decide appeals and interpret obscure class rules, also to make necessary changes in existing rules to conform with any passed amendments. Most of its decisions have been on very controversial issues. They have usually dealt with the somewhat doubtful intent of a class rule. Only those who have lived with the rules, who are familiar with their origin and history, are really qualified to service on the judiciary board.

As a result of that same meeting, the names of candidates for commodoreships were put on the ballot. That eliminated the last chance of any spontaneous act by the annual meeting, which might be contrary to the wish of the membership. The amendment also provided that the two vice and three rear commodores could not be chosen from members on the same continent. It made for a more widespread distribution of the honorary officers.

Again at Chicago, in 1950, the machinery was set in motion to give the association an international president (distinct from the executive one) and continental committees. These committees consisted of the first and second vice presidents on each continent, with the one international president acting as chairman of each. Their duties were to sanction events, grant charters, decide territorial disputes and supervise Star activity on their respective continents. The constitution states, however, that such officers have no jurisdiction over finances or the routine business of the I.S.C.Y.R.A. Thus international officers came into their own and, with definite duties to perform, became an asset.

Carlos de Cardenas, unopposed, was elected and still is international president. He has a thorough knowledge of rules, has raced in more major Star championships in various parts of the world and has been in the class longer than any of the present chief executive officers. It was not right to bar members like him, because of their residence, from ever becoming president. On the other hand, the finances and general business of the association must be handled at its central office. The executive president and the four other major executive officers, who form the governing committee, frequently meet in person and have to do most of their own work. It is necessary, therefore, that these officers be selected from qualified members in or near New York City. The I.S.C.Y.R.A. has solved that problem by having co-presidents, of equal rank, but with different duties.

The greatest menace to sports organizations is the tendency of members to elect a popular hero, without giving any thought as to whether he is qualified for that particular type of job. The amendments engineered by those three annual meetings were intended to prevent that sort of thing. They made it possible for Star officials to specialize in a given field of endeavor, so that each did not have to be a jack-of-all-trades. They also made it possible for the membership to elect a deserving popular hero to an equally high office.

There is nothing complicated about the present form of Star government, if one tries to understand it. Both presidents and commodores are elected by the entire membership. Voting for continental officers is restricted to members on the Continent in question and district officers to those in each district Fleets elect their fleet officers in such manner as they see fit, but the names of candidates do not go on the annual ballot.

The I.S.C.Y.R.A. is run by three separate and distinct groups of officers. There are (a) the executive group, who handle the finances and business of the association, the districts and the fleets; (b) the international officers in charge of continental activities; and (c) judiciary branch, in charge of appeals and interpretations. This setup will reduce the work of the major officers and take care of continued growth, provided qualified members are elected and appointed, also provided none of them attempt to usurp the powers of others.

Under the able management of Anchyses Lopes, South American vice president, Star activity on that continent has flourished. It is still in its infancy, of course, but an annual Silver Star Championship has already been inaugurated and there are fleets in four countries: Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Rio de Janeiro has entered the World's Championship ever since 1946 and each time it has done better than the year before.

The international vice president of Africa, Yves Lorion, has added a fleet in Tunisia to those in Morocco and Algeria, bringing the total to eleven.

There has been a marked revival throughout Australia and the islands of the Far East. International vice president Harvey's efforts have resulted in four fleets in Australia alone. U.S. navy officers established a Yokosuka fleet, on Tokyo Bay, Japan. It was expected that some of the Manila Stars would be found there, but such was not the case. Most of their Stars were of German build. Nothing more has ever been heard from Yokohama or Batavia, but the charter of Manila Bay fleet has just been renewed.

The exploits of Jean Peytel are too well known to bear repeating. Star development throughout Europe, of which he is international vice president, has been tremendous, even extending behind the iron curtain. There are now thirty Star fleets in Italy alone.

At this writing, in the spring of 1953, North America has seventy-four fleets to seventy-two in Europe. Both have seven districts, making it about even. Dave Dunigan, however, probably had the most troublesome job of all the international vice presidents, as North America holds many more sanctioned events than any other continent. A number of them became regular fixtures long before the Star began to take root elsewhere. Sanctions have to be renewed annually.

Some were found to have changed character during the years and had to be given lower classifications. There are always a few new requests for sanctions, which seldom are entitled to the rating their sponsors feel they should have. In North America, all this passed through Dave's hands. While not of vital importance, it took time and explaining.

International officers are a new branch of the organization, hence the amount of space devoted to them. The governing committee made no secret of the fact that it did not especially approve of these officers. Every now and then it ignored them and handled some matter itself, over which international officers had jurisdiction. That naturally caused friction and occasional flare-ups between the two departments.

The same thing happened at times to the measurement committee. The governing committee would take over, on the slightest pretext, apply the measurements itself, send out conflicting orders and practically grant or refuse a certificate. That also caused confusion and dissatisfaction. If a technical committee did not do its work properly, it should have been replaced. Even if the constitution is a bit ambiguous on the point, it never intended that an executive should handle the work of those appointed because of their specialized knowledge.
If this is to be an authentic story of the Star class, the bad must be included with the good. The writer is not criticizing the zeal of )hat governing committee. It probably worked harder than any other the association has ever had. That was the trouble - it worked too hard. It tried to do the work of all its appointed officers and committees, as well as that of some over which it had no jurisdiction. That either made others mad, or they just sat back, shrugged their shoulders and said, "O.K., then, you go ahead and do it for me." I sincerely hope and have every reason to believe that that temporary phase of internal squabbling is over.

Incidents that occurred in the '50's cannot be considered part of the reorganization period, although some were the outgrowth thereof. After the war, when ceiling prices were lifted, the cost of running the association began to soar. Being dependent upon its literature and forms, printing bills, which were about double, became the largest item of expense. Rent and other costs also went up. Dues in the western hemisphere were increased, but that only served to stem the tide somewhat. It became very difficult to make both ends meet and still is.

Administrations since 1948 are to be complimented upon enacting many needed improvements. For one thing, a new I.S.C.Y.R.A. banner was adopted. It consists of the two hemispheres, with a red star between, on a blue field. The old banner was white and bordered with many little red stars, one for each fleet. The number had to be changed all the time and fleets became too numerous to make this practicable.

Taking a page from the book of some other organized one-designs, strips of canvas labels were sold to sailmakers. A label had to be sewed on all jibs and mainsails to make them legal. Sail plans are copyrighted and have always been sold under a royalty agreement. Under the old method, keeping track of the number of suits made annually was difficult and complicated. Now sailmakers have to pay royalties in advance, which makes it much easier for all concerned.
The association has a circulating library of motion picture films, which includes every World's Championship ever held and a few other important events. The early ones were in black and white, but the more recent ones are in color. Peck Farley, Jr., son of the never to be forgotten Peck, handled this department most efficiently for a number of years. Reels could be obtained by any fleet for a short period. Current ones were booked far in advance, so duplicates were made for use on other continents, in order to avoid long delays.

The two hemisphere emblem is now obtainable on a small piece of dark cloth. This most recent innovation is for use on blazers and similar jackets, worn around yacht clubs, or on semi-dress occasions. The latest report is that they are most popular and selling very well. These and a number of other minor improvements and innovations had added to the prestige of the association, but have not materially increased its revenue.

In the humble opinion of the writer, there is only one way to alleviate the present financial problem. Members in the eastern hemisphere are still paying dues on a prewar basis. If they can find a way to increase their dues to half the amount paid in the western hemisphere, which was originally the case, the association will no longer have to keep wracking its brain to keep out of the red.

Star production in North America has been at a very low ebb since the war and still is. Higher labor and material has naturally increased the cost of a new Star. The demand has been as great as ever and people had the money, but ordering new Stars has been limited by another factor. Unless a prospective buyer could get a boat from the name builder, then in vogue, he was convinced that it would be useless to order one from any other builder, as he could never hope to win a race. The said name builder could only complete around a dozen of these especially custom built Stars each year. While some others were built, his capacity practically governed the continent's output. Conditions are now a little better, as there are two or three name builders, but production is still normal.

The price of a new name Star has been running around two thousand five hundred dollars and up, depending upon extras. That is not exorbitant, considering the circumstances. The name builder tries to get his Stars into the hands of expert skippers, who will enhance their reputation. The demands of such skippers are very exacting. Much time must be given to little details and finish, which means a high overhead. He is furthermore entitled to a reasonable profit for the reputation of his Stars. The public does not realize that it cost him time and money to gain that reputation. The least little thing will cause public opinion to switch, so you cannot blame him for trying to make a little hay while the sun shines.

There have been a few small family shops right along, which have been able to sell new Stars, and good ones, from fifteen hundred dollars to seventeen hundred dollars. Such builders usually own their own shops, live on the premises and are helped by sons or brothers. They do not charge for their own labor, on an hourly basis, against the boat, nor pay the relatives, who live with them, on that basis either. Their overhead is low and they have to sell their Stars at an attractive price, in order to get a few local orders, as they are scarcely known fifty miles away.

Skippers of average ability and those wishing to place a group order have been very foolish not to patronize one of the cheaper builders. His few Stars have never been sailed by enough expert skippers, in big events, to establish a widespread reputation. He must be an experienced commercial builder, however, or he would not be in that business. There is very little difference in speed between two well built Star hulls. The average skipper, even a pretty good one, can do just as well with one of those cheaper Stars. When he becomes a potential champion, if ever, it is time enough to talk about getting a Star from a name builder. Then, perhaps, when he knows what to do with it, it might prove to be an advantage. Buying a special bat and glove will not put a minor league player into one of the big leagues over night. It is exactly the same idea, but I realize that I am only wasting my breath in trying to explain it.

Fortunately for the Star class these conditions did not apply elsewhere. No super deluxe name builders have developed on other continents. Buyers demand good Stars, but price is also an essential consideration. If the builder wants the order, he has to sharpen his pencil. The result has been competitive building and an ever-increasing output of new Stars.

A new Star in Europe costs many more francs, or liras, etc. than it did before the war. The increase, however, is about proportionate with all other increases, including the average buyer's salary. Hence it is not much more of a financial problem for him to buy a Star now than it was before the war.

Shortly after the war was over, I received an interesting letter from a European builder. He claimed that he could deliver a new Star in New York for five hundred dollars, transatlantic freight and insurance paid. To the best of my knowledge, he was never given an opportunity to prove it. Even with import duty added, it would have been dirt cheap, but neither he, nor his Stars, were known. No one was willing to gamble, even at that price, which is an example of the North American Star buyer's frame of mind.

About the same time, I was informed through a reliable source, that a good new Star could be bought in Brazil for about the equivalent of eight hundred American dollars. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but have every reason to believe it was correct. There would have been nothing odd about it, as good Stars could be bought around here for that price until the start of the war. Joe Parkman, whose Stars had quite a reputation, sold them even cheaper than that, until he sold out at the end of 1936.

The war was over. It was high time to begin breaking in younger officers. In the fall of 1945, governing committee members agreed among themselves to drop out gradually, as replacements were found. Harold Halsted was then serving his first term as vice president, but had been treasurer since 1940. He was favored to succeed me and become president for a time.

All this had to be contingent upon nominations and elections. Because they had to meet frequently at the central office, the choice of candidates was virtually restricted to members living near New York City. The ones we recommended, therefore, were seldom opposed.
Sam Smith went first, followed by Ted Everitt and Al Wakefield. Al, who started racing Stars in 1918, was an exception to the general rule. He lived near Cleveland, but came to New York a couple of times each month and was able to work with the governing committee. He was also the last of the third vice presidents. I withdrew at the end of 1948 and Harold took over. Charlie de Cardenas was elected vice president. He was thoroughly qualified, but too far away to be on the governing committee. The same had once been true in the case of Enrique Conill. It was fundamentally wrong. The purpose of such an executive officer is to be an understudy to the president, conversant with current issues and able to preside in his absence.

During the transition period, a number of the younger members were invited to meet with the governing committee. Naturally they had no vote, but we wanted to hear their comments and judge of their qualifications. There were some shifts, as we could hardly have been expected to hit the jackpot the first time. Proper replacements were obviously found, or the changeover could not have been made in three years.

The next administration did away with any systematic search for young prospects. Young men, I was told, were too busy and could not be depended upon to assume the required responsibility. Tim Parkman was in his early twenties and working his way through law school, when he was elected, yet he found the time to become one of the best secretaries the I.S.C.Y.R.A. has ever had. Most of our officers were young men in those early years. The association was the only one of its kind and we had no precedent to guide us. If young men could be responsible then, there is no good reason why they cannot be now. There should be plenty of capable ones, but they have to be found. Suppose they do make a few mistakes, what of it? The advisory council was created and given the power of veto for the sole purpose of preventing any impetuous acts of young governing committees, which might prove harmful.
Certain Star officers should definitely be older men, if qualified ones are obtainable. An older man, generally speaking, is more level-headed and commands greater respect, but not always.

The point I am trying to make is that, excluding teenagers, likely prospects should not be discriminated against just because of their youth. There are many more comparatively young Star veterans than old ones. Star knowledge is important, but being a good skipper has nothing to do with being a good official. How is a younger man going to gain the experience, unless given a chance? Certain Star jobs, of the understudy type, are practically earmarked for young men. I refer to assistant district secretaries, second international vice presidents, etc. The majority of the executive officers, who automatically serve on the governing committee, should also be young men. That involves highly specialized training. They have to start young, because only one out of many will survive and eventually become executive president.

The Star class is now more than half again as big as its pre-war peak. It is not apt to stumble across another Sam Smith, who will provide it with an entire office force. The association cannot afford to pay its officers. Because of their other business activities, they can only devote a portion of their time to Star work. The responsibility is no greater, perhaps not as great as in the past, but there is much more work to be done. It stands to reason, therefore, that there must be many more officers, that tile work must be more widely distributed and more or less specialized, if it is to be done at all. At that, there is plenty of work for all, young and old alike, without anyone seeking more, or having to tread on the toes of another. The continued success of any international organization depends upon harmonious co-operation between its leaders.