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1977 North American Championship - Regatta Report

1977 North American Championshi
p - San Diego
Regatta Results
Report from the1978 Star Class Log by Buddy Melges (As Seen from the Topside of Dingo)

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".

In 1951 1 owned a Star boat for one summer, No. 2924, No Haba, and a very deep and meaningful effect this boat had on my life. During the Green Star series in Chicago that year your illustrious president Bill Parks was my host, and of course I met his able and charming crew Gloria Wenzel. She is now my able and charming wife and the mother of three young sailors. I am sorry that I have been away from the Star Class for 26 years, but my memories of the Stars and those who sail them remain untarnished.

One reason for my sailing in the North Americans, of course, was to have Melges Sails become more involved with the Class. I hoped that we might be able to come up with something that would beat some of the well-established sails. A few phone calls with Ding and we set the schedule to arrive early in order that I could learn a little about the strings that needed twinging by the crew and to get a reading on some of our gear. On the first day of sailing at San Diego I found out a number of things. Number one, San Diego offers a truly fine sailing area for the testing of speed. Number two, Ding has his boat in keen shape with everything working to perfection. Number three, sitting on the topsides could be just as uncomfortable as I anticipated that it might be. And finally number four, after sailing against Peter and Bill Wright we knew we were not exactly "out to lunch" with our sail shape and possibly we could be competitive with a bit more work. The ensuing three days of practice sailing offered a consistent weather pattern with winds ranging from 6 to 16 mph; and during these days of test sailing it became clear that Stars go through the water at very nearly the same speed, and that "a tweak here and a tweak there," steering up over or possibly around a wave, could mean the difference between first and eighth. Obviously this was exciting for me as crew; with such closeness of competition you don't have the opportunity to fall asleep on the rail.

However many gadgets the Star boat has become famous for, it intrigued me how little they were used in San Diego once the race started. The causes for the lack of string-pulling had to be the steady winds, the necessity for good steering and Ding's ability to get his boat on pace quickly after the starting gun.

The tune up race seemed to be setting the pattern of what was to come, but some of us were to be fooled on how to play the course. This being my first experience sailing in southern California waters, I went there remembering reports of "go to the beach, sail until you can lay the windward mark, then tack for it." The tune-up race bore this out. We started four to five boat lengths down the line from the committee boat, going well; yet those who broke early onto the port tack soon started to gain the advantage. We reached the windward mark near 10 to 12 position, and I soon became acquainted with Ding's super offwind boat handling and sail setting. We passed a few boats on the first reach and held our own on the second reach, starting the second round about eighth. Ding's real superiority is on the free leg or the flat run, where we were good for three boat lengths to 150 yards on the competition. I credit this to Ding's steering and concentration on each wave, almost to the point where he gives each one a name. Sitting very still I was able to add only a little input as to the whereabouts of the enemies and of the fresh winds.

We were pleased to arrive at home plate in third place. Dennis Conner proved his upwind superiority the second time up when he comfortably overtook Buchan and had us under easy control at the finish. In moderate air in a Star, weight has an obvious benefit upwind even in a bobble of sea; yet it did not seem to slow Dennis and Ron Anderson off the wind. Their all-up weight was supposed to be 470 lb., Bill Buchan and Dingo carrying the same weight of between 380 and 390. Ron's compact structure has to be the way to fly; it permits sailing the boat straight up without dragging his rear end. Finally, I felt pleased that the Melges jib and main were obviously competitive.

Going out to the start of the initial race of the North Americans it appeared to us that the wind might be of lesser velocity, and I suggested that we go with his North main. At the completion of the first day's racing I was delighted to find that our jib had such guts that it helped to pull us around the course in first place, defeating Dennis on the finish line by half a length. Actually we took possession of first place after the second weather leg, when Dennis, Bill and a number of others broke onto the starboard tack, ourselves with them for a couple of minutes. When we returned to port, a considerable lift in our favor dropped the three boats that had been ahead of us but had remained on port. On the flat run we gained on Dennis just enough to hold him off on the way home. In the second race the tables turned, with Dennis winning, Ding second and Bill Buchan third. During the social hour a problem was cleared up by Dennis who suggested that we take our uppers forward to help hold up the leech of the mainsail, seeing as how we had a D-section mast with no jumpers.

This made the boat so fast that in the third race we jumped the starting gun and sailed a considerable distance before we could distinguish our number being recalled. The entire fleet was long gone with the majority electing the right (inshore) corner. But a peculiar something in the air prompted us to go to sea in our pathetic situation, which we improved to about 18th at the first mark. Picking a couple of boats on the first reach, we rounded the jibe mark in a jam that hurt our position on the second reach. We lost not only boats, but also much ground to the leaders. Once you get your mind out in front of the bow plate a sufficient distance you eliminate embarrassing hang-ups such as this. However, a good second round brought us to tenth, with Dennis winning his second race. Peter Bennett, who had been basically left the first time up and led most of the race, was gunned down on the last beat by Dennis, then followed across the line by Bill Buchan.

All of a sudden the course had become unpredictable, with the left side looking the best in this third race. While holes dotting the course affected the psych of many skippers, the shifts were of greater significance if not well handled.

The conditions of the fourth race looked similar to those of the third. Frank Raymond did a beautiful job on this start and put us in the cheap seats, and when we got our first look Bill Buchan was off and gone from the bottom (flat) corner leading the pack, only to be forced to tack under famed Finn sailor Ed Bennett. After sailing on starboard with Ed for a short time a port lift came in enabling Bill to jump a lead of about five lengths on the fleet. Bill theoretically was never crossed in this race and did a great job to win going away. Dennis plowed out of the ruck to take second at the finish, and Pete Bennett stayed alive with a fourth. The real job was done in third place by Paul Louie, who sailed the only wood boat in the series consistently to fifth place overall.

In the fifth race Ding put it all together. At the start we broke to port immediately. As we approached the windward mark the right side of the course still paid, but Bill Buchan sailed the shifts up the middle again to round first, Ed Bennett second and ourselves third. Dingo was able to pass Ed on the first reach and we stayed nearly overlapped with Buchan on the second reach. There was more kelp in this race (and in the fourth and sixth race) than you could imagine. Skipper and crew had to stay wide awake to steer round the kelp, and the stick had to be on hand when it was necessary to bore through it. On the second windward leg we elected to drop below Bill, hoping to have enough speed to break through. We had only enough to clear our air whereupon things jelled and remained constant.

After a long time on the port tack Bill went over to starboard, I am sure to consolidate. Ed, who had thrown in a short hitch early, stayed on port to near the fetch line, a break for us. As we approached the corner we were headed six or eight degrees. We tacked and remained lifted into a position of crossing Buchan. Some sorting out was done early on the flat run and as we approached the middle of this leg Ding really got hooked up and we opened a 150 yard lead on Bill and dropped Ed a quarter of a mile behind. The last weather leg was peaceful until half a mile remained of the boat race. Bill, who had closed consistently, started a series of tacks to the finish. Obviously Ding was at the disadvantage with his crew, who did not want to hike over the topsides and miss the fun. So needless to say I stayed on deck observing the tacking duel and helped position Dingo going in to the finish line. Lowell is right; the close in fighting of races like these is a big thrill in yacht racing.

Dennis, never able to bail out of a recall, finished 16th. Going into the last race Dennis had three points over Bill Buchan and Ding, with Pete Bennett close behind in fourth.

The sixth race was sorted quickly a few minutes after the start. Dennis was out and moving from the middle of the line, Bill was below the middle and we got away near the committee boat. Dennis cleaned us in this, the strongest wind of the week, taking early control of the fleet and winning handsomely the race and the championship. Bill Buchan was second, Ding third and Pete Bennett fourth: the finish order of the race and of the series.

It was exhilarating to me to renew old acquaintances, meet new people and observe the strength of the Star Class. By strength I mean not only competition and Class awareness, but the amazing high performance of boats like No. 5443 and No. 5607 and their obvious capabilities against the newest, a good omen in any class.