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1978 World Championship - Regatta Report

1978 World's Championshi
p - San Francisco
Regatta Results
Report from the 1979 Star Class Log by Todd Cozzens

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".

Every sailing area has its own unique character or mystique. Nowhere does this character stand out more than on San Francisco Bay. It is one of the few areas of the world where ocean, desert, mountainous region, forest and islands, can be found all within one hundred miles. The micro-climates are numerous and give the area many peculiar qualities. I discovered this on my first day there, the Wednesday before the 1978 World's.

We had arrived at St. Francis Yacht Club in the late afternoon- just in time to catch the big boats taking off right off the club porch. The awesomeness of the sleek seventy-plus footers Merlin, Kialoa and Windward Passage was magnified many times by the bitter 30 knot breeze. Reefed to a minimum, the eerie giants sliced through the steep, short chop unaffected and within a couple of minutes vanished in the low, thick fog toward the Golden Gate - which we knew was out there somewhere. My wonder changed to uneasiness as they disappeared and I turned to see Buddy Melges standing there with eyes afire behind aviator sunglasses, the patented baseball cap with yachting crest, and an ear to ear grin. I had a strange feeling in me that he would win the 1978 Gold Star as I saw that half-crazed expression gazing out into the fog. It wasn't a psyche-job nor was it a wager, just a strong premonition.

Melges was later to tell me that it was indeed at that same moment that he felt that he was really prepared to win the series.
I walked around the dry mooring area to inspect the different equipment and sailors. 105 Star boats in a line - what a terrific sight: Stars of every make, model and color. Conspicuously at the hoist was Dennis Conner, the pre-regatta favorite, busily reinforcing his jibstay-bow connection while crew Anderson buffed the hull with some important smelling compound. Dierk Thomsen, the European V. P., was putting the finishing touches on his new Miller-built boat while Arnold Osterwalder, the Swiss Star loyalist, raced around with arms in air, wondering why his charter boat had no anchor, paddle or mainsheet. Bill Buchan and Doug Knight were just returning from a practice session (more like a "survival lesson" for us normal sailors). Eckart Wagner, we learned, had just found out why no one ever escaped Alcatraz Island, as he ran into trouble on the island's windward side. While only moderate breezes were forecast for the series, I recalled the wild stories that my skipper, Peter Wright, had been telling me about the U.S. Olympic Trials held here in 1972. 1 began to understand why San Francisco could be a rather unforgiving place to conduct a sailboat race.

The weather situation the next day was somewhat different. We rigged our boat and went out expecting to encounter some heavy air in which to exorcise any last minute intimidation left over from the day before. But it blew no more than eight knots as we ventured east toward Berkeley. About thirty boats were holding a race in front of the yacht club but we elected to check out the racecourse and see what we could find. By the time we reached the edge of the Olympic circle it was too late to do anything but return to the club. We tacked back toward Fisherman's Wharf and as we approached the shore we notice that the current was carrying us east. We tacked out toward Alcatraz for fifteen minutes and then back toward shore again. We found that we had not made any headway at all and that in fact we had lost ground! After twenty minutes of going nowhere fast, the breeze picked up enough to help us override the tidal influence and we arrived at the harbor mouth at dusk.

After the measuring (I will never understand how 100 boats were measured so thoroughly in such a smooth, orderly manner and short time), came the tune-up race.

The Tune-Up Race
This race was surprisingly uneventful. The anticipated chaos and general recalls never occurred. The wind ranged only from 10 to 15 knots from 210°. The precision International Race Committee had an opportunity to assess and counter any final hour difficulties. John Dane, buried by Dennis Conner at the start (Conner was over early), ducked a few transoms as he immediately shot the right corner of the first leg. President Malin Burnham came up the left side three hundred yards ahead of his closest competitor and looked as if he would be in great shape at the weather mark. To the surprise of all of the "left-siders", however, Dane had a comfortable lead followed by a handful of others who chose his side of the course. The right side had proved to be as reliable as the local sailors had warned us and Dane, the former Soling North American Champion, led all the way around the course. Afterward we tried to figure out why the right side was optimal. Some of the locals claimed that it was all due to the current. This seemed hardly likely because the phenomenon would occur regardless of ebb or flood. The other explanation was that the wind veered off Angel Island, situated almost to weather of the circle. The closer one got to the island on port tack, the more the wind would knock. This effect was supposed to be more prevalent in a stiff breeze, and in the last race we were to experience just that. Further evidence of this theory was that the wind was always 10° more northerly at the weather mark than at the leeward mark.

As often happens at major regattas, a wave of equipment paranoia hit the fleet before the first race. In this case it was bailing devices. In a matter of hours, the Bay area was completely depleted of pumps, splashboards and self-bailers. Nevertheless at the end of the first race there were three Star boaters who wished that this mass hysteria had struck them. All they had to do in order to be reminded of this was to glance at their half-sunken boats with masts and sails protruding out of the water two meters.

Annual Meeting
Saturday was the day of the annual meeting and flag raising ceremony. At the meeting President Burnham, graciously capable at such functions, kept things going smoothly and efficiently. The major point of discussion was the resolution to limit the number of entries to the World's. The majority present were almost angrily against any thought of qualification solely through the Districts. Even raising the number required to send one fleet entry to the World's was quickly turned down. Finally, as the meeting was resumed another night, it was decided only to limit District entries to the World's by one in each five boat increment. Burnham expressed the majority opinion that this was a step in controlling the clutter on the race-course while at the same time it avoided the disenfranchisement of the fleets.

It was heart-warming to see former greats like von Hutschler and de Cardenas actively participating in Class affairs. In addition to the nine Gold Star titleists sailing in the regatta, six others were present as dignitaries, race committee or spectators. The non-Starboater would probably view the scene and wonder why all the fuss. George Elder probably caught part of it when he said, "All you have to do is win your first Star race-and you are an addict for life."

First Race
On Sunday, the day of the first race, many routines began that would continue throughout the series. The boat was rigged by 10:00 each morning. By 10:15 we would always have our wet gear on, and at 10:45 we were picking up the same tow. Just as we passed Alcatraz at 11:15 the breeze would gently pick up. By noon we would be almost in the starting area ready to hoist sails. By 1:00 p.m., the breeze would always be enough to hike and be coming from somewhere not too far from 210°. And at 1:32 p.m. the gun would have gone off two minutes earlier and several boats would still be returning for the individual recall - and Buddy Melges with crew Andreas Josenhans would be leading the fleet straightaway.

The wind was a bit stronger on the first leg of the first race than for the others (18-20 knots). Again most of the fleet sailed on starboard until clear air or a tack over to the right was attainable. Those who went right immediately after the start, however, suffered. About one-third of the way up the course we met Conner, who seemed to have a slight lead over Widgeon, 6346. But as the breeze piped in near the weather mark, Melges took the lead. On the first reach the iceboat experience paid off, and Melges' superior power reach technique increased his lead with each puff and wave. After Dennis came a trickle of boats in single file: Trask, Wright, Blackaller and Mogens Neilsen, the only Dane present. One of the most concentrated packs of Stars ever assembled met at that first mark. The current was running so strong to weather that one could tack short of the layline on starboard and have no trouble rounding, even in bad air. This only snarled things up worse. After witnessing that mess, I promised myself never to go into the yacht insurance business.

On the next reach, Blackaller worked his way up to fourth while Trask almost whittled away Conner's second place. Trask maintained his well-earned placing to the finish as Melges won by his largest margin (two minutes).

As we approached the finish I thought I saw two Lasers sailing around the line. Wondering why they had not been escorted out of the finish area I took a closer look, only to find that these were Star masts with sails, two boats that had swamped in route to the first mark because of lack of bailing devices. Fortunately there were no injuries. A third boat, 5861, decided to abandon its skipper and crew and join that legendary perpetual race on the bottom of San Francisco Bay. Although the USFB (Underwater San Francisco Bay) fleet does not have quite as many boats as her sister fleet, the (above water) West San Francisco Bay fleet, there are now the required number of boats to obtain a charter. Contact Tom Blackaller or Don Trask if you have a boat, which you would like to enter in this fleet. Crews will be accepted only with dues paid and full scuba gear.

After the first of many long beats to the yacht club, we were exhausted. There were a few surprises in the first race, the biggest being Melges' convincing victory. Bill Buchan could not release his sheets in time to duck the transom of Bill Gerard, and he was forced to withdraw. Wright, better known for his light air talent, finished a strong fifth. Nielsen and Trask both sailed good races. The beefy pair of Conner and Anderson failed to win in what would normally be considered "their air."

Second Race

Winds were somewhat lighter on this day than on the first, but only for the first weather leg. After one general recall, the fleet finally got away, with a large number of boats being individually recalled. Wright worked his way up the middle, staying slightly to the left. Melges went right, and at the weather mark a short tacking duel found him able to squeak in just at the mark. Hot in pursuit of Melges and Wright was Jimmy Allsopp with his "super crew" Barton Beek. Close on Jimmy's heels were Dennis Conner, Uwe Mares and Bill Buchan. On the second reach Melges and Wright pulled out slightly while Buchan moved through Mares' lee and began to challenge the top four. But for the second day in a row, Allsopp ran into some bad fortune as his rudder came loose, forcing him to retire. Conner moved up to second on the next weather leg, taking advantage of Melges' loose cover of Wright. The breeze kicked up and Buchan blazed through the others into third place. Mares caught Wright on the last beat for fifth. Dennis almost caught Melges on the last weather leg but fell short just at the finish.

That night Conners remarked on how shook up he was that Melges had such speed when the breeze came in. He knew that if he didn't do something the next day his hopes of a third Star World Championship would have to be postponed to another year.

Third Race
Conditions in the third race almost identically matched those of the second. The thermal came in at 12 knots at the start. Conner split tacks with Melges early in the game and wound up first at the weather mark. Eckart Wagner was second with Melges close behind. Gerard, Henderson, Dane and Louie became involved in a four-way battle for fourth. The finest demonstration of determination and sportsmanship of the series came from Bill Buchan. Called over early three minutes after the gun, when he returned to the starting line he was in 80th place, two minutes behind the closest competitor. Miraculously, he caught 27 boats in a steady breeze and finished 53rd, which was good enough to later give him tenth place overall.

Melges caught Conner upwind and for the third straight race was able to hold him off until the finish. Not far behind was the speedy Wagner. Gerard's upwind speed enabled him to come out on top of the other three for fourth. Blackaller, although he finished the race in protest, was also over early at the start and thus was forced to use up his throwout race.

Fourth Race
Winds were lighter in the fourth and fifth races, never reaching more than 15 knots compared to the 18-22 maximum in the second and third races. Ding Schoonmaker finally convinced himself that Melges' winning ways were no fluke and he decided to go with a Melges mainsail. Evidently he found the sail to his liking as he won the next two races. In the fourth, he approached the weather mark in fifth place and quickly moved through the fleet. Melges broke his vang on the second reach and was barely able to hold off Buchan to the finish. John Dane, sailing the oldest boat in the top 25, found the standard North sails suitable for a second place finish. His cover of the tricky Melges on the last leg was superlative. Conner, still trying to rebound after a mediocre weather leg, moved up to eighth place as things began to look very good for Melges.

Fifth Race
This race saw similar conditions and a repeat victory by Schoonmaker, the Miami institution who first brought Melges into top level Star racing. Blackaller began his usual end-of-the-series lunge for the silver and for the first time since the first race, finished in the top five by grabbing second right behind Dingo. Buchan had another fine race, always moving up in the fleet, never relinquishing a place, to finish third. Melges, sailing fairly conservatively, covered Conner the length of the course and ended up fourth. The Canadian pair of Leibel and Shaw and the Gould brothers of the home fleet both sailed near-perfect windward legs, which eventually entitled them to fifth and sixth place respectively. Melges at this point had clinched victory while Conner would have to finish very poorly to lose his hold on second place. It had been a two boat race all the way with a slight edge going to the "Wizard of Zenda". The only contest now would be for the third place, with Schoonmaker, Blackaller, Gerard, Wagner and Wright all within a few points of each other- virtually tied under the Olympic scoring system.

Sixth Race
The race was first scheduled for Friday but as the fleet coasted in the void of wind around the starting area, a breeze came in from the east, off the Berkeley hills. One hundred yards to the west was the edge of a northerly wind. In the middle, there was nothing. The two winds seemed content with each other and by 3:00 p.m. nothing had changed and the race was postponed to the next day. Melges, who had gone out to better his score, had since sold his boat to a German and would be a very elated spectator.

The last race was heavy air from start to finish and matched only the first race in velocity. The fog rolling in off the Golden Gate Bridge was an indicator of how it was to blow for the day. This morning the fog came in early, low and thick - a sure sign of a wild ride. Before the start we saw Conner hawking over Schoonmaker, apparently in preparation for one of his Twelve-Meter starts. Blackaller and Trask got off the line perfectly at the boat end while Henderson, Gerard and Wagner stayed in the middle. Down toward the pin, Conner buried Schoonmaker, his only real threat in the standings. Blackaller, Trask and Wright dueled all the way up the right side. Gerard, after a bad start, went to the right corner uncontested with Henderson. Wagner found himself in the middle of the fleet soon after the start, and had no place to go to catch up. The pair of Henderson and Brymer, weighing together no more than 340 pounds (154 kg) led all the way around.

Gerard's last ditch run for the right corner was successful as he wound up in second. Blackaller, Trask and Eduardo de Souza Ramos, the top Brazilian, followed. There were strange spots of no wind mixed in with the twenty-two knot breeze. On the last leg the right side was so heavily favored that places changed five or six times in fog so thick that most crews timed their tacks up to the finish line. I.Y.R.U. Vice-President Paul Henderson found himself with two very well deserved gold Chevrons. Blackaller sneaked into third place overall by grabbing third in the race. He seems to get really fired up under pressure. Bill Gerard's fourth place overall was his best in a World's to date.

Together with the thick fog, steep chop and fierce breeze, this day reminded me of that first Wednesday. A very fitting end to a great regatta and an eerie farewell to a very mystical sailing area.

The Equipment
The boat with the most radical equipment was Melges' 6346, Widgeon. I quote Jocelyn Nash in the January, 1979, issue of American Yachting magazine for an informative account of Widgeon's layout:

Melges and his crew actually did quite a bit more than win the 1978 Star World's. They used initiative, intelligence and originality to build a better mousetrap, starting with a bare Gerard hull, without keel or skeg. Melges and his wife somehow trailed the hull back to Zenda, Wis., on top of his Soling after the Soling North Americans at Newport Beach. At Zenda, he added stiffening, a computer-optimized keel section and a standard Spartech D-section mast. All of the rigging and sail design were an expression of Melges' ideas about how a Starboat should be set up and operated.

In addition to its inherent stiffness, Melges' Widgeon has a reinforcing strongback down the centerline. This allows for port and starboard buoyancy tanks forward of an A-frame bulkhead at the mast step, which is four inches wide at its base and two inches wide at the top, and which helps keep the hull rigid under loading from the rig. Coupled with a bulkhead at the after end of the cockpit, Widgeon has 27 cu. ft. of buoyancy . . . Melges claims Widgeon could be sailed dry (upon being fully swamped).
Topsides, Widgeon has no tracks for running backstays. By eliminating the tracks for the upper and lower running backs Melges has reduced windage and gained a clean deck layout. The running backstays lead into the mast then down through the interior of the spar to the centerline, where the pressure is taken. Adjustment lines for fine and gross tuning are led to side decks and the forward bulkhead. By taking the loading from the running backs down to the area where the hull is heavily bulkheaded, he has eliminated some hull twist. The lower shroud goes down through the deck and is loaded on the reinforced centerline. This rig has made it possible to adjust the leeward shroud so as to lock up the rig, holding it rigid instead of permitting it to pump in waves.
International Race Committee

The I.R.C. did an excellent job of insuring square lines and good starts. Probably the single most important reason why the 100 boat fleet encountered only one general recall was that the I.R.C. refused to recall unless absolutely necessary. Often a clump of boats would be seen starting early. Spotters waited until the clump dispersed enough to read the sail numbers then immediately dispatched one of two Zodiac rubber boats to individually recall each boat. The pin end boat and committee boat both had high towers upon which the spotters kept vigil. Nineteen boats were individually recalled in one race.

Another unique policy of this committee was to split up the committee into two groups to hear protests. One group would hear only port-starboard situations while the other would be concerned with mark roundings and luffing rights situations. Chairman Bobby Symonette did a remarkable job of coordinating the activities of the committee. A copy of his report is on file in the Central Office for anyone wishing to use it for future reference. Also on file is the report of Roger Eldridge whose crack team of measurers easily handled the seemingly insurmountable task of measuring 105 boats.