For four straight years, except for a lapse in 1958, which was partly due to foul-out, Lowell North had dominated World's Championship competition for an all-time record of three gold stars in four years. There is no doubt that we shall he hearing more about Lowell North in the future; skippers as good as that don't suddenly drop out of prominence. But there is also no doubt that neither North nor anybody else was able to do anything to stop or even slow down the whirlwind performance of William Buchan, Jr., and his crew Douglas Knight as they swept the 1961 series with four firsts and a sixth.
They did this in North's own waters, off San Diego, California, in a boat which Buchan and his father built themselves at home the previous season, and somewhat ironically, perhaps, using a suit of North sails. Buchan says, "They seem to pack more power than any others in the slop we always get at San Diego". He had shown that he was fast learning how to handle that same sort of "slop" at Newport Harbor in 1959 when he finished the last two races of the World's with a fourth and a third, being beaten on those two days only by North, Ficker and Collier. But people look only at final standings, and Buchan's tenth in that series was not impressive.
The winds for the 1961 series were on the light side, as always on that part of the California coast, with the disproportionately large amount of sea referred to above. But conditions were reasonably steady, or if not steady at least predictable: on three of the five days the inshore (northerly) tack was favored by a shift in that direction, and once, on the fourth day, the shift was so pronounced that the remainder of the race became a sequence of reaches. But this condition is quite standard and all the contestants knew about it.
Buchan and Knight showed what could be expected of the Frolic by winning the tune-up double-header with a third and a first. Bill Twist, the talented eighteen-year-old from Newport Harbor, won the other first. Perhaps Lowell, who finished fourth and fifth, saw the handwriting on the wall; but everybody else said, "Wait till the main event starts". They had not long to wait,
For the story of what happened during each race, we draw heavily on a first-hand account which Pete Bennett of Chicago, whose Tranquil was the series runner-up, was kind enough to write for the purpose. We can also guarantee the positions at the various marks, and some of the times, from the official records kept by the meticulous committee headed by Bill Severance. Other sources are not so reliable. Describing the start of the first race, one newspaper account says, "Buchan got off to a split-second start at the weather end of the line while North was hitting the leeward end at almost the same instant. The next time the two met was at the weather mark". Another newspaper reporter wrote, "Buchan was the lead boat over the starting line, closely pursued by defending champion Lowell North. . . . These positions were kept for most of the entire ten-mile race". Bennett reports, "Buchan and North started clear near the middle of a line which was very good but a little too short. We started late at the weather end due to some barging and the popularity of the inshore tack". Shortly afterward, all boats were over on the port tack in about a 12-knot breeze. This was the situation as the landing craft passed through the fleet in the accompanying photo. Most boats continued almost to the lay line, as they usually did all during the week, and then shot for the mark to seaward.
North Star rounded the first windward mark technically in the lead, with Frolic overlapped. A minute later came Tranquil and Bill Twist's Tyrant, also overlapped. It is interesting that these four were to end up as the first four in the series, although not in that order. Bever was next in Mouette, from Lake Erie, a combination which was to do well at times but lacked the consistency necessary for series honors. On the two down-wind legs of the triangle Frolic pulled out ahead of North Star, but not very far, and Tyrant lost 25 seconds to Tranquil. Buchan covered North the second time up, although neither did much tacking. Frolic boasted a 45 second lead over North Star at the second windward mark, which Buchan was able to lengthen into a minute on the run home. Another minute later Twist arrived in third place, having been able to shake Bennett when Tranquil ran into some trouble including interference from a spectator boat.
The second race lasted for three hours in a lighter wind, which never got over about 8 knots. North, Bennett and Honolulu's Charley Dole made the three best starts, but North Star and Tranquil did not get over on to the port tack as fast as some of the others, so that by the time they headed inshore they were no longer leading. O. P. Merrill's Duet, from New Jersey, hit it just right and arrived at the windward mark leading Dick Stearns' Glider by a few seconds. Dick Hahn was next in Gemini, Alan Holt's Ariel fourth, Tranquil fifth and Frolic sixth. At the home mark, after one round, Buchan had, already worked up to third, and Pete Bennett was fourth.
Pete calls the next
round "the most exciting race I've ever sailed. About half way up
the weather leg six of us were on starboard tack: Buchan to leeward, then
North, Bennett, Twist, Knowles and Hahn. North tacked and he had to dive
under all four of us and just cleared two or three other boats on the
way. Buchan sailed into a slight header on the port lay line and crossed
us by about one boat length. The same header saved us also, but the boats
on starboard were still on a lift and about seven boats all arrived at
the mark at once". Hahn got Gemini around first by half a
minute, and then the next seven boats followed in a space of 57 seconds.
"Buchan was second, and then ourselves. The next five were overlapped,
and Holt fouled North and withdrew. On the dead run home everybody jibed
to port, but the spectator fence was pretty bad so Buchan and I jibed
back. For a while it looked as if we might be leading, but at the finish
he had us by a couple of lengths with North a close third. Hahn dropped
to seventh by sticking inshore as the seaward boats had the best of it".
Only a minute and three-quarters passed while the first seven boats were
finishing, and that represents a short distance on a light day downwind.
"Buchan was fifth, and we both sailed through the leaders and finally were having a little tacking duel for first. We rounded the last windward mark overlapped," (the judges' boat gave the nod to Tranquil) "and stayed on the port run all the way home. For a while we seemed to be holding Frolic, but in the last hundred yards they went by us to leeward to win by seven seconds." This, of course, gave Bill Buchan the Vanderveer Trophy for his three straight firsts and made him an overwhelming favorite to win the series. Quizzed by a reporter that night, Buchan remarked, "I don't know what this boat has, but it seems to have that extra something". It would never have occurred to this modest champion to hint that what the boat had was there in plain sight for all who had eyes to see: the skipper.
The fourth race was the one with the 30-degree windshift to shoreward. Ten minutes after the start the whole fleet could lay the windward mark on the starboard tack, and all the rest of the race was reaching. Jack Streeton, from Maryland (one paper consistently called him "Spreeton"), had his Soiree in just the right spot to capitalize on this shift. He defended his lead to the finish, although it meant staving off a strong bid by Durward Knowles, whose Gem finished overlapped with Soiree. The Nassauvian ex-World's Champion finished very well up every day, and was deprived of series third by his unfortunate disqualification from the third race. Bill Buchan was in the conservative middle of things when the fan turned the corner, and managed to salvage sixth. Even so he extended his point lead, with Bennett finishing eighth and North ninth. Newport Harbor's Bill Twist actually entered the last race in series third place by virtue of finishing seventh in this race.
Winds varied from
eight to twelve knots in the finale, but were steady throughout from the
prevailing westerly direction. Buchan, North and Stearns had a good tussle
up the first windward leg, rounding the top mark in that order. It was
the first time Glider had shown what she could do - only to break
an upper intermediate on the second round and drop to fifth. Dick Hahn
in Gemini,sixth the first time up, worked up to fourth off the
wind and into the fight for first on the last windward leg. North Star
rounded the last windward mark in the lead, with Frolic not far
behind; but Buchan was not taking any chances, and he swung very wide
at the mark, allowing ample room for Gemini to slip inside and
round second. With a nine-point series lead over a boat which was now
behind him in the last race, Buchan was in the position skippers dream
about. But there was no point in breaking out the sandwiches until the
race was over, and if there was another first to be had, William was the
boy to get it. He ran past Hahn and North on the final leg, to take the
race by 13 seconds and become the first winner of the new Tim Parkman