Note: This report has been scanned in by Ed Sprague. For a collection of Worlds' reports plus photographs contact Ed Sprague email@example.com to order his book "The San Diego Bay Star Fleet".
William E. Buchan is the current world's champion of the Star Class. With his Olympic crew Stephen Erickson he topped a fleet of 80 boats to take the Gold Star at Nassau in November 1985. This bald statement is only the beginning, or perhaps better the climax, of the extraordinary Buchan story. Never before has any similar chapter been written in Star history.
It is Bill Buchan's third Gold Star, which alone places him in exceedingly exclusive company: Agostino Straulino has won three, and Lowell North four. Bill's three World's Championship wins have been spaced over 25 years, the first being in 1961 and the second in 1970. In this same period he was also World's runner-up three times and third four times. He is the current Olympic gold medalist, 1984. During all these years he has been running a successful business that is not yachting oriented, and he and his wife Karen have raised a sailing family that includes son Carl who is also an Olympic gold medal winner.
At the age of 50 Bill Buchan seems to be at the absolute top of his form. "After he won the Olympics," said Karen Buchan at Nassau, "Bill gave up Star sailing. That lasted about three weeks!" He had attained what most top skippers consider the highest goal. But Bill is unique, even among top skippers. He races Stars because he loves them; for him Gold Stars and medals are not the end of life but only fine achievements along the way. He has said, "Sailing is a demanding sport, but you cannot just drift from regatta to regatta. You get your act together and you go, working nights, sailing when you can and carrying on with your life. Results come from mental toughness that you get from working and the discipline of following a program."
"Bill Buchan must be the world's coolest Star sailor," remarked Starlights in 1984. To win the 1985 World's he needed all of that cool and more. Many skippers from time to time can say they would have won the World's if. In 1985 Bill would have won the World's by 16 points if he had not been dismasted. But he was dismasted, in the fourth race, under the most distressing circumstances, and still won by 8 points with a final score of 2-6-2-5-2, in a series full of excitement with the outcome hanging in the balance until the very end.
Our Nassau hosts and the Nassau climate provided a magnificent week of sailing. Every day there was wind, usually plenty, indeed too much when racing had to be suspended for two days to let a hurricane go by. The Notice of Race had predicted temperatures of 67-80 Fahrenheit. They turned out to be nearer 75-85 with lots of sunshine, prevailing easterly trade winds, blue sky and warm water. Occasionally a tropical rain shower swept across the course, or part of the course, but soon afterward the sun would reappear.
Some years ago Gerard Lambert, of J Boat fame, wrote: "Nassau, I feel sure, is an official preview of heaven, displayed to persuade us to mend our ways so we may get tickets to the real thing." Although the island has developed as a tourist resort, it is still one of the world's finest sailing areas- many think the finest for Stars. The initial predictions were for a somewhat reduced attendance because the locale was so far from the populous European Star centers. But Nassau's fame is worldwide and its attractions too great to resist. A turnout of 80 boats, one more than in 1984 in Portugal, carries a significant message. The European Championship in Denmark last summer also drew a large fleet, 65 boats. These attendance figures in major Star events in a year that was still three years away from the next Olympic Games show a healthy and continuing interest in Stars that transcends any appeal that may be added during an Olympic year.
We had 70 boats in the last World's held at Nassau in 1976. Tales of that fine series must have been spread around. The caliber of the 1985 fleet was even higher than usual, including five previous Gold Star winners, among them Giorgio Gorla defending, nine Silver Stars and many other winners. The depth of talent is indicated by the positions of the Olympians who finished first through fifth in the 1984 Games. In the World's they placed 1st, 14th, 6th, 18th and 13th respectively.
By Friday the work of our tireless official Class Measurer Joe Knowles, who supervised all measuring of the 80-boat fleet, had been completed. Now the yacht club parking area had to be cleared to give the Nassau Police Band room to parade at the flag raising ceremony. The apparent ease and dispatch with which all trailers were removed and then afterward restored to their numbered places was typical of the efficient organization of the whole event. All functions both ashore and afloat went without a hitch during the entire week. A large part of the credit for the management of the races goes to Race Committee Chairman Bobby Symonette and his fine supporting team. Things seemed to go equally smoothly ashore under Commodore Percy Knowles of the Nassau Yacht Club, with many competitors frequently offering their help when it was needed. The event was officially opened by Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling, who said, "Today the sky is right, the wind is right, and I'm sure you'll find the competition is right." There was a tropical storm brewing down off Puerto Rico somewhere, but nobody wanted to think about it. No hurricane had ever struck Nassau during the last half of November for 50 years.
The racecourse at Nassau is a good three miles to windward (east) of the yacht club, on a body of water six to eight meters deep. Although surrounded by distant shoals and low islets, these are all so far away that the eastern horizon is completely free of land and, except for the absence of ground swells, the area gives the impression of being open ocean. The relatively shallow water creates a steep choppy surface condition with a rough and often confused wave pattern. The anchorage at the Nassau Yacht Club not being large enough to contain all the boats, about half the fleet tied up in the "Creek," an ideally sheltered private anchorage about a mile east of the club.
First Two Races
The first race began in virtually ideal conditions, about 18 knots of steady wind from the northeast. The competitors reported oscillations of only five to ten degrees in wind direction. After one general recall, two boats were over on the second try. These two were informed of their disqualification at the first windward mark. That lesson was all that was needed: no more boats were over at any second start for the remainder of the series, and some races even had an "all clear" first start.
In general the International Jury expressed pleasure at the cleanness of the racing and the sportsmanship of the fleet. There were few protests, some of which were required mainly to establish fault because of a damaged hull. There were no acrimonious hearings. Most cases produced little or no disagreement as to the facts. Every night after one or two short hearings the Jury was able to adjourn, and its members proceeded to the evening's entertainment- not always the case at a World's Championship, where the hearings have been known to extend into the small hours.
Paul Cayard and Ken Keefe led the first race all the way, with Buchan and Erickson working up to second after rounding the first mark fifth. Augie Diaz finished third in a breeze that by this time had dropped to about 14 knots. In this race, as in all the others, the first boat completed the course in about 2 hours 20 minutes. The rest of the fleet usually finished within the next 15 minutes, a small span for such a large number of boats.
As the boats beat slowly out to the starting line against rising seas, conditions for the second race the next day appeared to be marginal, the wind hovering close to 25 knots with rough seas. By this time Hurricane Kate could no longer be ignored, its effects being already evident. Still a long distance away, the center was definitely approaching the Bahamas and the Race Committee was anxious not to lose an available racing day. The wind strength was quite manageable for this group of 80 seasoned skippers; but combined with rough seas the conditions resulted in many casualties as about 10 boats were dismasted, counting one or two spars that stayed in the boat but were bent beyond repair. John MacCausland worked late into the night replacing spreaders and repairing rigging.
Perhaps because of the desire to stop slamming around and get the race under way, there was no general recall. Five boats over too soon near the committee were all identified and notified by the chase-boats. The first leg was slow, taking the first boat 40 minutes to complete, but that time was quickly made up on the exciting planing reach- seven minutes from Mark 1 to Mark 2. Chairman Bobby Symonette always lengthened the first leg by setting the starting line 3/4-mile to leeward of the regular leeward mark (option under Star Rule 34.4). This succeeded in spreading the boats at the first mark just enough to avoid jams as tight as those that usually occurred in the 1984 series in Portugal.
Paul Cayard won the second race the hard way. In the lead down the first wild reach, he arrived at the jibe mark to find it located to leeward of the accompanying marker yacht and drifting farther to leeward all the time. Just then it was picked up by a patrol boat, an altogether frustrating experience for the leader in a World's Championship race. Cayard had to turn and beat back to the marker yacht which was by this time displaying code flag M: "Mark missing, round this boat. " He had lost about seven places. Undaunted, he and Ken Keefe got down to business and worked their way up to third at the next windward mark and first again at the finish, a remarkable feat under the circumstances. The reigning Spring Championship Silver Star winner now had two first places in two races.
That evening the Ministry of Tourism party was held despite stormy weather and heavy rains. Later the same night the hurricane passed 160 miles to the south, the highest winds at Nassau reaching around 50 knots.
The next day, Tuesday, the whole operation had to be repeated in reverse as the winds moderated and the sun came out again. Skippers and crews worked to re-rig and re-launch while others, who had already finished that part of their job, pitched in to help with the big task of returning all the Creek trailers to the club parking area. IGC Chairman Bill Parks drove a pickup truck back and forth on this mission for five hours. By evening the wind had moderated to 25 knots and with the hurricane-heading west toward the Gulf of Mexico the wind direction moved into the southeast. Governor General and Lady Cass welcomed the large gathering to an elaborate party at Government House.
Wednesday's race, in intermittent rain squalls and sunshine, got away on the first start because of the usual perfect line. No one was over at either end, only one stray in the middle who apparently anticipated a sag that did not develop. This was the only race with a major windshift, 15° to the left on the way up the first leg. All boats near the port lay line overstood. Bill Buchan, in the middle, hit it just right to round first. The next time up the same thing happened but to a lesser extent near the windward mark, and the Swiss champion Josef Steinmayer picked off Buchan to round first and hold it to the finish. Bill's second was enough to give him the Vanderveer Trophy (series leader after three races) by two points over Cayard (14th today), and 8 more over Diaz.
Buchan Stages a
"It was a dreadful feeling. Our first thought, of course, was, 'There goes the series.' In any other race it wouldn't have been so bad; we were in pretty good shape and could still throw out one race. But another was coming up, back to back, with only one leg left of this race. Very fortunately for us, Basil Kelly happened to be right there in a fast powerboat. He came alongside and asked what he could do to help. A very quick conference determined that there was not time to tow the boat all the way in and back out again. Instead, Steve jumped aboard the powerboat and he and Basil roared off to the Creek for our spare mast, which was all rigged and ready for such an emergency. " Again luck favored them; the Creek was about a mile nearer the racing area than the club, where the mast might have been.
"They must have made it to shore in about 10 minutes and made the return trip, against the wind, in maybe 20 minutes, because in just over half an hour they were back with the new mast. Meanwhile I had un-rigged the broken spar and cleared away the mess. We switched masts and stepped the new one. I was a bit concerned that something might be loose or missing aloft, but everything went together like clockwork. We had the sails up and were sailing around 20 minutes before the start of the next race."
Twenty minutes! With most of that time required for getting organized, calming down their nerves and planning the start, that left about five minutes for tuning the rig, something that takes most of us more like five hours. And all this in choppy seas with the boat bouncing all over the place. Asked whether stepping the mast was the worst part of the ordeal, Bill said, "Not at all. The worst was worrying whether Basil and Steve could get back in time. It was a great relief when they appeared with the mast. We knew we still had a job to do, but we knew how to do it. "
They certainly did. Who else could have done it, and follow it up by sailing another race as if nothing much had happened and coolly finish fifth? For this second race the wind abated to 12-14 knots. In these more moderate conditions the fleet stayed bunched together, and great clumps of boats would create a calm condition at the bottom of each run from which it was hard to extricate one self. Steve Bakker and Ko Vandenberg finished second, and suddenly everyone realized that their steady record of 5-8-3-3-2 looked very good indeed. This unheralded pair from Holland were now only one point behind Cayard's 1-1-14-6-6 after each had dropped his worst race. Third was Buchan, only three points back with 2-6-2-dnf-5 thus far. Among these three, it was clearly anybody's series going into the finale.
(Bill Buchan, after reviewing this report, has the following comment about the broken mast incident: "Actually Basil's wife Paula and Steve raced into shore and Basil stayed with me on the boat to clean up the mess. What was neat, was that when we were set to go, Basil jumped overboard and swam away, just like in the movies. I'll never forget him.")
It was a tired lot of skippers and crews who sailed into the moorings after dark that night.
The Last Race
The race was not such a cliffhanger as it might have been. Provided nobody ran into any disasters, the series was almost decided at the first mark. The luck of both Cayard and Bakker had run out while Buchan's still held. Bill said he benefited by a ten-degree shift toward the east on the first leg. This was defending World's Champion Giorgio Gorla's day as he rounded first and held that position to the finish. Buchan was second at the first mark, with both his principal contenders well down in the fleet. All he and Erickson had to do now was to hold together and finish in a respectable position.
Or was it all they had to do? At the last leeward mark, still comfortably defending second or third place, they noted that the first five boats were all tightly bunched with the order not really stabilized. Precisely what could Buchan afford'? A quick calculation revealed that Cayard was fairly safely tucked away because his other bad race was a 14th. But Bakker's was an 8th, so no matter where he finished today he could count that 8th and still be in good shape. In fact Buchan and Erickson must finish fifth or better to win the series. As soon as they realized this they stopped coasting, turned on the steam and finished a clear second, to take home the Championship with a few points to spare. This ability to produce the necessary extra turn of speed when the pressure was on characterized their performance during the 1984 Olympic races. That series was predominately light and some Star sailors wondered what the gold medal winners would be able to do in a real breeze. At Nassau they found out. Erickson weighs 225 lb. (102 kg) and Buchan 217 lb. (98 kg.). "Just right,'' says Bill. It was certainly right for Nassau in 1985.
They were popular
winners. At the prize presentation Bill made a short heartfelt speech
in which he tried to express how much the Star Class has meant to him
for 25 years. One of the younger skippers afterward remarked, "I'm
so glad it was Bill who had the chance to say those words. We youngsters
win once in a while, which is all very well, but when Bill Buchan in his
modest way talks about Stars and World's Championships it really goes
deep and touches us all."