Twenty-eight skippers, at least half of them already internationally known, assembled with their crews from seven different countries to take part in the Star Class World's Championship at Havana, Cuba, during the last week of November, 1946. Being the first post-war World's Championship, this series marked the return to the real thing, where competing entries brought and sailed their own boats. Despite many misgivings that some of the boats would not get to Cuba in time because of the various strikes which had been tying up shipping during the fall, they all arrived, and were taken to the boathouse of the Havana Yacht Club, where their excellent condition gave evidence of considerable care on the part of Commodore Posso, Charlie de Cardenas, and the service personnel of the Club who regarded the boats as thoroughbreds for which nothing was too good. Any skipper who wanted his boat launched had only to indicate his desire, and half a dozen willing hands would be pushing other trailer-cradled boats out of the way to work his boat toward the electric hoist, where she would be lowered carefully and dependably into the Almendares River.
The bridges to the outer harbor were raised as required from 11 to 11: 30 A.M. The launches towed long strings of boats to the outside moorings during this interval, and were standing by ready to tow them back again between 4 and 4:30 when the bridges were up once more. Back at the dock, each boat was placed on its own trailer without a word from the owner, cleaned, hosed with fresh water, and secured for the night. It was probably the best conditioned bunch of sailing yachts ever assembled, and everyone who had anything to do with their care did his best to keep them so.
As the opening of the series approached, it looked as if the entry from Brazil would not arrive. The Simoes had left Rio de Janeiro six weeks earlier, with their boat Toro, on a freighter. The ship ran into bad weather, became short of fuel, and had to put in at Jamaica. The Cuban hosts were just completing arrangements to send a plane after the skipper and crew, so that they at least could get to the series ever if their Star could not, when word came that the ship would reach Havana in time. It did?the very day before the series began. By a superhuman effort of all concerned, it was made ready only to be dismasted the first day, and again the second. Such perseverance surely ill deserved so cruel a reward.
Finally the long awaited day arrived, Monday, November 25th, on the morning of which all illusions of a prospective drifting match were shattered by the appearance of whitecaps, easily visible from the hotel windows, whipped up by a wind which continued to increase as race time approached. The predictions of tough conditions were to be substantiated; it looked as if sailing would be hardly pleasurable. Contestants were instructed not to hoist sail until a signal was given by the committee boat, which was to remain in the harbor until shortly before race time. When the signal was made, the strength of the wind could be felt during sail hoisting operations, although the boats were still in the comparative shelter of the harbor. Boats jockeyed about nervously at a sharp angle of heel before a few ventured outside: no one wanted the distinction of being the first to break down. Finally all were under way, stamping out to the line area.
The shoreline at Havana runs approximately east and west, and the wind this day (and for the next three races also) was blowing from slightly east of northeast. This meant that in order to cross the line on the starboard tack it was necessary to approach it from the beach. Theoretically a possible maneuver, actually it was difficult to do this because the inner end of the line was so very near the breakers. The lack of shoal water forced the line itself to be short too: just outside the committee boat the bottom fell away in a great cliff.
There was no barging, and not too much crowding. The aim was to get over the line without fouling or being fouled, and let the race begin from that point.
were two recalls, Chuckle and Lorber's Scout being over-eager.
As the boats filled away, skippers and crews went topside and the initial
struggle for the highest honor in the Star Class - some say in the entire
yachting world - was on.
This hazard surmounted, the race continued up the first weather leg. There was no anemometer recording; but the wind was high, and the seas were very high, and the water was very salty. As the spray hit one's eyes it hurt and blinded, and when the eyes were opened again the liquid salt hit them again. Most of the boats stood out on the starboard tack to gain the benefit of the eastward running Gulf Stream. Barney Lehman showed that he had lost none of his 1941 touch by leading the fleet around the first mark. But a few minutes later he was seen to luff hard and sag along with all sails flapping. Trouble! Tangs had pulled off the mast, and it was impossible to go on. A heartbreaking time to withdraw, but Lehman had no choice.
Scout V was not the only boat in difficulty. Simoes' Toro lost her mast shortly after the start, and altogether there were ten breakdowns, a staggering total for a championship fleet of the caliber of this one.
Scout V was closely pursued around the first mark by Gem II, sailed by Durward Knowles and Bert Kelly from Nassau, and then by Skip and Mary Etchells' Shillalah. When Scout V dropped out, Shillalah closed on Gem but was unable to catch her. The second time upwind Gem out a little more lead, but on the last run home Shillalah finally caught and passed the Nassau entry a scant hundred yards from the finish. Wench II, sailed by George Fleitz and Walter Krug from Los Harbor, who were destined to win the series, finished third, but more than three minutes behind the two leaders, a long distance under those fast conditions. Then came White's Pagan, which had had her share of excitement when Gordon Holcombe fell overboard while attempting to set the whisker pole. He grabbed a jib sheet as he went, and managed to drag himself back aboard.
The second time up, Gem widened out while Shillalah dropped back to fourth. Kurush was second, and Wench moved into third spot. Skip and Mary Etchells picked them off again down the wind to finish second Fleitz and De Cardenas also changing places. Lehman was fifth.
Wednesday, a Cuban
national holiday', was rest day. And while the contestants are relaxing
and putting their boats back together again for the remaining three races,
let us take the opportunity to analyze in further detail some aspects
of this remarkable series.
It has been mentioned that it was possible to set only windward leeward courses. This condition prevailed for the first four races, and was due to the great depth of water offshore. There was no choice but to send the fleet up the coast and back, twice around. The Gulf Stream added another unique limitation: offshore a three-knot current ran against the wind, while inshore it was not so strong (although even there it ran swiftly enough to swing the committee boat, a Navy Sub-Chaser, stern to against 30 knots of wind.) This meant that there was only one tack to take. It was practically mandatory to stay on the starboard tack until the mark could be fetched, standing out to take maximum advantage of the Stream. Then a long port board to the weather mark, pay off around it, and the same thing in reverse off the wind. Here, the current being unfavorable, the idea was to reach in almost to the beach, jibe, and run down the shore against the slackest current. A lot of distance over the bottom was added to the course by this technique, but it was the only thing to do, as many discovered the hard way. Near the end of the series Harold Halsted, for one, tried squaring off at the weather mark and heading directly for the finish. He only tried it once. Although at first it looked as if Chuckle were gaining, the tables were turned when the other boats, sailing the accepted inshore course, began to get the benefit of the slacker water. Chuckle lost several places by the experiment.
It is all very well to say casually that the boats jibed and ran down the shore. Doing it was another matter. It paid big dividends to get almost into the breakers before jibing, which left no time to await a lull in the wind once you got there. It was either jibe now or up on the seawall. So you got her over somehow, lull or no lull. The fact that no one piled up on the beach, either before the start or during a race, was ample proof of an exceptionally able collection of small boat handlers. Add to the hazard the fact that all contestants were in constant fear that their tiller fittings would let go in a moment of crisis, and you will understand that the leeward legs, though thrilling, were hardly restful. Etchells stated that he would not have believed a Star capable of such prolonged high speed as was attained planing down some of the immense waves. On one or two occasions he thought his boat got going so fast, with so much wind pressure against the sail to sustain this speed, that she continued to plane up the face of the next wave, over the top, and down again without ever getting off the plane.
But rest day is over, and 'we must return to the series.
Wench turned the first mark about a length clear ahead of Barney Lehman in Scout V, closely followed by Gus Lorber's Scout, the New Orleans entry. This order remained unchanged to leeward; but as they hauled on the wind again for the second windward thrash, something happened to Lehman's rigging and the mast nearly went overboard. Miraculously, he got it readjusted and straightened up again, dropping only one position, to Lorber. Wench widened out to a fine lead estimated at 200 yards by the time the second weather mark was reached, with Scout V another 100 Yards astern of Scout. These positions held to the finish, with Lippincott's Blue Star II fourth and the Portuguese Capucho II fifth.
Harry Nye made his second consecutive spectacular finish in Pilot. Tuesday Pilot was dismasted about a mile from the finish line; Nye continued, under as much sail as he could drape onto the lower third of the mast, which was still standing, and even at that beat three boats. On Thursday things again went adrift in the rigging, and this time, although the mast stayed in the boat, Pilot finished with the entire rig swaying and swinging about like a mad dervish. Some time during this act Stanley Fahlstrom fell overboard, which was not surprising, but he pulled himself back aboard, only slightly lacerated by a sheet in which he had become entangled. They finished eleventh.
There was the usual quota of broken and lost whisker poles, parted lines and collapsed tiller fittings. Dan Morrell broke a brand new 5/16" nylon jib sheet right in the middle, where there was no evidence of chafing or wear. On one occasion, either in this race or in one of the earlier ones (they all ran together in a sort of confused blur after a while, and it was hard to remember exactly what happened on which days,) Bob Ziegler was riding his customary perch on the high side of Scout V when suddenly the boat was hit by a tremendous comber. He was picked up bodily by the wave and thrown against the main boom, falling from there into the cockpit - out cold. He soon recovered consciousness and was able to continue the race. Hodges and McCrillis, from Lake Sunapee, were so knocked about on the Nashira that they went to a doctor to have their aching ribs taped. The doctor's comment was, "You fellows shouldn't get into fights like that." He does not believe to this day that they could have acquired all those bruises just sailing.
The Spanish entry, Antonio de Zulueta, who had flown across the Atlantic and bought a boat in Cuba for the series, sailed the third race under rather extraordinary conditions. It is probably the first time that a Star has been sailed in a World's Championship, or perhaps in any race with a crew who could not understand a word the skipper was saying an vice versa. When Señor Zulueta's regular crew, his wife, became ill and could not sail, a Canadian visitor volunteered, and it happened that there was no language, which they both spoke. But they managed it, much the amusement of many assistants who tutored them in sign language the night before. Ingenious signals were devised; for instance, when the skipper wanted the whisker pole set, he stroked his chin. The record shows Conan Berri disabled in this race. Could it be that the signals got crossed