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1949 World Championship - Regatta Report

1949 World's Championship
- Chicago
Regatta Results
From the 1950 Star Class Log. Another report from
Forty Years Among the Stars - by George W. Elder - is also avilable.

Note: This report has been scanned in by Ed Sprague. For a collection of Worlds' reports plus photographs contact Ed Sprague ( ) to order his book "The San Diego Bay Star Fleet".

"Who is this fellow North, and how does he do it?"

Harry G. Nye, Jr. and Stanley Fahlstrom won the 1949 World's Championship in Gale, with as fine a demonstration of careful, consistent sailing as has been seen in many years. Yet the question asked above was the on that was on everyone's lips during and after the Chicago series. Lowell North and Jim Hill stole the show, without placing in the series. They did it in North's home-built North Star II with the astounding performance of four firsts and a second, a record never before attained in a Star World's Championship. Of course North Star was disqualified from one of the races so it is not a true record. But none the less there is no denying that the San Diego youngsters led the fleet day after day, often by large margins We cannot attempt to answer conclusively the question of how it was done. If we could, there would be no charm in yacht racing. Let the story of the series unfold and perhaps you may catch some glimpses of what took place in the course of a great World's Championship.

For seven days prior to the start of the racing, the wind blew from the east It was mostly moderate, but on Friday and Saturday (the series opened the following Monday) it piped up to about 20 knots, preventing most boats from going out to tune up, due to the very lumpy sea. However, these were the days when Adair Hess and his highly tooled-up measurement committee were at work with their jigs, tapes, and "no go" gages, and many entries were busy with the saw and file. All boats were eventually 0. K.'d by Saturday afternoon. Although Star Week opened officially with the flag raising and Annual Meeting on Sunday, it certainly got under way unofficially Saturday night at Harry Nye's mammoth cocktail and supper party, to which was invited "everyone who has ever raced in a Star."

First Race
Forty boats was of course a record entry list, the next nearest being 36 in 1937. To accommodate them, the starting fine had to be over a quarter of a mile long. It is greatly to the credit of Reeve Bowden and his International Race Committee that on only one occasion was the line uneven to the extent of markedly favoring one end, and that was due to a lost minute windshift. The first day there were several postponements, and finally the course signals went up. All contestants hurriedly consulted circulars, or, as Mason Shehan was heard to remark from Duchess, "Time out for a short reading period!" No. 1, triangle, twice around. The next gun went off and up went the postponement again. The Committee had to reset the line due to one of those tantalizing shifts. It was surprising to the visitors that a northeast wind, blowing across hundreds of miles of open water, could be anything but steady.
Finally everything was squared away, the starting gun went off, and the fleet was away to windward in a light breeze, possibly five to eight knots, Lockwood and Sam Pirie took the defender Twin Star into the lead shortly after the start and kept her there for the first round. North Star was second at the leeward turn. The next time upwind, Twin Star seemed overburdened by a beautiful but enormous mainsail and a jib whose leech was badly curled by contact with the lee spreader. Whatever the cause, the fleet had its first taste of North in high gear as North Star passed Twin Star and kept on lengthening out to win by a matter of minutes. Second was the defender and third Bob Jill from Sheepshead Bay, New York, in a new boat Touche. After that a group finished very closely bunched.

Unfortunately, Touche come in with a dent in her transom, put there by the bow of Twin Star just before the start, After very long deliberations and hearings, the IRC disqualified Twin Star, moving Touche up to second and C. E. Rogers' Rochester entry up to third. Nye was fourth. This was the first of a batch of disqualifications which were to wreck the hopes a some of the series leaders.
That evening half the fleet was invited by Mr. and Mrs. Woody Pirie to cocktails, and later everyone took in the show "Wheels a 'Rollin" at the famous Chicago Railroad Fair.

Second Race
It was about Tuesday morning that many of the contestants realized they would have to swim as well as to sail in order to do much with this series. In the Chicago area, most of the boats are painted with bronze or other similar anti-fouling bottom point. The salt water sailors did not know this, or if they did they thought it was silly. It was far from silly: the hard enamel finishes misbehaved badly in the fresh water. From the third day on, many of them blistered or peeled continually, making it necessary to go under the boat daily to clean off the remains. Joe Farrington's Picket was perhaps the worst. He had a green bottom over former white, and by the end of the week so much of the green had peeled off that the bottom looked more like a seasick zebra than a Star boat.

The second race was very like the first, except that the start was farther out in Lake Michigan (maybe two miles offshore,) and the wind a trifle healthier. But today the line favored the starboard (so-called windward end) ever so slightly. The result was not a bad jam; it merely meant that the fleet was pretty well bunched near the starboard end just before gunfire. This was North's undoing. He timed his run for the start rather late, so that he was sailing away from the line on the port reach, almost the whole fleet was coming toward the line, closely packed, on the starboard reach. North held the port tack too long, jamming his way into the fleet where there was simply no room to fit one more Star. North Star hit at least one and possibly two of the starboard tack boats before she could be brought around and headed in the right direction for the start.

Again it was North Star first at the finish, and again big gaps between the first three finishers. Ron Blizzard's dark horse entry Snowflake, from the Chesapeake, was second, and subsequently moved up to first on North Star's disqualification. Next was Twin Star, and third Bob Lippincott and Bob Levin in Blue Star, which now began to come into prominence in the standings. Harry Nye staged a masterful recovery by working up from a first round position back in mid-fleet to another fourth at the finish. From fourth to seventeenth the finishers were stacked in very tight, the whole bunch being almost overlapped, This resulted in the disqualification of Copucho's Portuguese entry as she sailed herself into an inextricable jam downwind.

Knowles and Farrington were the other unfortunates in this race. Making what seemed to them to be a perfect start at the stakeboat end, they could not hear Shooting Star's number being called by the Committee 400 yards away. Not knowing they had been over too soon, the 1947 World's Champions sailed on for almost ten minutes before a launch sent out by the IRC was able to catch up with them to give them the bad news, and they abandoned what was then a hopeless chase. It was probably too light a week for the heavy-weather Nassau combination; but just the some, Shooting Star was always in there plugging, and would have finished very well up despite the weather, but for that one disheartening break.

Third Race
Course No. 3, windward-leeward twice around, was used for the third race, in the lightest easterly of them all. It took two hours and fifty minutes for the leaders to get around the course, just forty minutes short of the time limit. This was the day the starboard end of the line was favored, and a real old-fashioned jam occurred there. However, the IRC had learned its lesson and was now throwing out rule violators with very little ceremony, so everybody was careful and no fouls occurred. 40 boats started and 40 finished.

This time it was a ding-dong battle all the way between North and Pirie, very pretty to watch if you weren't too far behind . North rounded the leeward stake just ahead of Pirie, and it was at once evident that something was wrong aboard North Star as first one and then the other of the boys went forward to work on the mast. The jumper turnbuckle had worked loose off the wind, and the barrel had unwound itself all the way, becoming disconnected from the stay. The boys were unable to thread it back in again with tension on it, so they secured it with the tail of the main halyard, which not only held but got them around the next weather mark first again. This was a jury rig: it probably wouldn't have worked in heavy weather, and North Star might have lost her mast. But the point is that it did work in light weather, and a smart bit of seamanship saved the race. Pretty much everything about North's outfit depended on light weather, For instance, both he and Hill weigh less than 140 lbs. apiece. What would have happened to them in heavy weather is any body's guess; it is very possible that they might have done extremely well but only another series and another year can answer that question.

Gale was fourth in this race, as usual, but overlapped this time on the third boat, Flame; and Shooting Star was almost overlapped on Gale for fifth. Nye took the Vanderveer Trophy by five points over Lippincott.

A magnificent barbecue at the host Sheridan Shore Yacht Club climaxed the day. It will be recalled that, although Wilmette Harbor was the defending Fleet after Woody Pirie's victory in Portugal, the series had to be held at Chicago, through the generous cooperation of the Chicago Yacht Club at its Belmont branch because of the low water at Wilmette. Thus Wednesday night was the only opportunity the contestant had of visiting what should have been the headquarters Club.

Fourth Race
Thursday was Rest Day, Friday produced more wind for the fourth race, and from a new direction: southwest. This was the strongest breeze of the week, but it never exceeded 15 knots, and reached that only in brief gusts. It was truly a light-weather series, the first since Stamford in 1945; (and even at Stamford, after many drifters the finale was sailed in a real howler.)

The southwester required that the start be moved out about four miles to get the whole course offshore and away from the city's high buildings. Even so, it was a puffy, shifty proposition. Only those skippers who were really on their toes every minute were able to take full advantage of the rapid changes in wind direction. The start was postponed to give all boats time to reach the line, and then, only five minutes before the start, postponed again to allow Leatherstocking to effect repairs. This was rather hard on the taut nerves of the rest of the contestants; but at last come the start, and all were away on a well-balanced line.

In both the fourth and fifth races, North Star obtained the coveted "safe leeward" position at the Committee boat (port) end of the line; on both occasions North was on the line, precisely at gunfire, with about 2 feet between his hull and the boat to the weather, his rigging clearing the bow of the Committee boat by inches, sails trimmed, and with full headway. After a couple of minutes he had enough in hand to tack and cross most of the fleet both days. This feat might have been accomplished once by luck, but not twice in a row, in such a fleet of experts all pressing to do the some thing. Not by any amount of luck.

In the Friday race, another windward-leeward, Lippincott started at the starboard end, tacked at once into a sharp header, and continued to play the shifts to the full to win by a good margin. Thus Blue Star II achieved the distinction of being the only boat to beat North Star II around the course. Up at the weather mark, President Halsted tried to luff around the stake boat, missed, and fell off onto it. Somewhere on this some leg the defender got into trouble again. He had just gone over onto port tack to clear his wind, when suddenly a boat appeared about to bisect the Twin Star on starboard. Neither skipper had seen the other boat, and both had to luff hard to avoid collision. Of course Pirie withdrew at once.

North Star was second, but had to struggle hard to stave off Gale's bid at the finish, Nye's third was his best place of the week, after his usual fine job of pulling up from nowhere. Incidentally, this was not the first time that a boat has won the World's Championship without winning any daily firsts or seconds: Prentice Edrington did it in 1928 in Sparkler, with 3 thirds, a fifth and an eighth.

That night the other half of the fleet went to the Piries' for cocktails, and there was a dance at the Chicago Yacht Club afterwards.

Fifth Race
In the same southwesterly, a triangle was sailed for the lost race, and again the line was so good that the fleet was strung out along its entire length. Gale went into the finale with a three point lead over Blue Star, and since the next boats were a long way down, Nye concerned himself mainly with covering Lippincott, which he did with great care and finality. The result was that the two leaders wound up eighth and tenth, which was ample to protect their series places. North showed the way once more, although his lead was not always large due to the holes and spots in the wind, Twin Star, second the first time around, got caught on the wrong side of a shift and slipped to third. This was a morning race, the only one of the week, so scheduled to allow contestants time to haul out the some afternoon. Later in the day the breeze jumped all around the compass: it was indeed a fortunate break to have finished the race in relatively steady weather.

It was announced that the order of hauling would be the some as the order of finish of the last race, so there was no confusion at the hoist, and the huge fleet was all out on trailers before dark.

Thus the series ended, a second Gold Star going to Harry Nye. The present World's Champion is so well known in Star circles that there is no need to list his many former achievements. Besides, such a list, if anywhere near complete, would run to several pages. Lippincott is also an old faithful; he rated second in the 1944 skipper series, won the Ambassador's Trophy at Havana in 1946, and figured prominently in the California 1947 series. Twin Star, which crossed the finish line second twice and third twice in the four races which she finished, was a new boat in the hands of an old master, the defender.

All of which leads us back to the question asked at the beginning of this article. We can at least answer the first part of it. To close followers of Star records, North is no stranger, even at the age of 19. In Stamford in 1945 he was the crew of Gold Star winner Malin Burnham. Since then he has won two Pacific Coast Championships (Blue Star), one in his old boat and one in his present boat; the Santa Barbara Lipton Series (old boat) and many local Fleet events in both boats.

It is impossible, in a fleet of 40, to do everybody full credit. But special mention should be made of the performance of Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Rogers in Magic, which took fourth for Lake Ontario American. The skipper's young wife was the only girl in the series. Also no one can forget the team of Mason Shehan and Footsie Jones, who not only furnished comic relief but finished sixth with one of the oldest boats entered, there by winning the Wilmette Award, a special prize for the highest standing boat that had won no other prize. Finally there were Midshipmen Alec Grosvenor and Robin McGlohm, who sailed the U. S. Naval Academy boat to two fifths and finished in the top third of the fleet, an accomplishment, which no former Navy Star had come anywhere near.

Prizes were presented at the final dinner at the Chicago Y. C., following another cocktail party. Club members promised a series as good or better in 1950, when Chicago will not only be sponsors and hosts, but will also be the defending Fleet. It will be difficult to improve on the 1949 event, but if it can be done, Chicago will do it!

This account was written shortly after the series was completed. Later in 1949, North Star's measurement certificate had, unfortunately, to be suspended by the Governing Committee pending the completion of certain changes in the structure of the hull. It is felt, however, that the account of the races should stand, since the changes in question are of a nature not likely to affect the boat's speed, and this new development should not be allowed to detract from North's ability as a racing skipper.