Buddy Melges won his second straight World's with the same crew (Andreas Josenhans), hull, keel, mast and sail pattern as the year before. Even the layout of this year's Widgeon had only minor refinements from that of the '78 prototype. The background for victory was not San Francisco Bay but the Kattegat of western Sweden off historical Marstrand Island. Located in the midst of an archipelago of rocky islets, the course evoked memories of the Berkeley Circle in that the powerful confluences of North Sea currents sweep around the obstructions in a perplexing and incalculable pattern.
The last time the regatta was sailed here was in 1970 when Bill Buchan came on strong in the end of a mostly heavy air series to gain his second gold star. This time, he came on strong in the end of a strange series of light, medium and sometimes gusty winds which was interrupted by a race that fell short of the 3 ½ hour time limit by 10 seconds and a full day of nothing but general recalls (12 in all), and he ended up second overall. The 78 boat fleet was so loaded with some of the world's greatest sailing talent that such veterans as John Albrechtson ('76 Tempest gold medalist), David Forbes (the Star Class' most recent gold medal winner), and local winner of many Star events Stig Wennerstrom could all barely make the top twenty-five.
It was a regatta of "almosts" and "maybes". Peter Sundelin, the young but well-sailed eastern Swede, almost surprised them all by winning the whole thing but a nervous attempt to overtake Melges on a crucial reach ended in contact between the two yachts and in eventual disqualification for Sundelin. Johann Schroeder was the young Swede who, with his father crowing in their brand new boat, maneuvered magnificently around the fluky course on the second day only to end up, as the Swedes say, 10 seconds late and a kroner short. But the real loser of this regatta's version of "the one that got away" was the entire 78 boat fleet when they simultaneously and repetitiously jumped the gun thirteen times in a row on what amounted to the finest day for racing (12-14 knots sea breeze with clear skies). Later that day, I.R.C. Chairman and former Class President Frank Gordon gave his famous "sermon on the rock" when the competitors returned to the dock. Apparently the word got through because during the two races on the next day there were no general recalls. But in the first race of that day, nine boats were disqualified for starting early including Buchan, Schoonmaker and Blackaller all of whom were serious contenders for 2nd place overall.
The scene around the measuring area, set up adjacent to a rather odorous fish processing plant, was one of the usual anxiety and confusion. Three of the Americans as well as a few Brazilians had to spend a day and a half in Gothenberg retrieving their boats from customs. Some, such as Melges, Schoonmaker and Mankin were completely immersed in finishing off their brand new boats. Other boats had been shipped from as far away as Australia (three entries) and Argentina (one entry).
By Wednesday before the first race, several crews had already arrived and were in the water practicing. There were team coaches complete with their own runabouts, meteorologists and uniforms from every country except the U.S.A. and Brazil. The unmistakable air of "Olympic fever" was later overcome by the fact that the winner did not have one of his own countrymen crewing nor was he given the supposed advantage of a third person telling him where to go or what the wind would do.
Except for a few minor concavities in the keels of some of the German-made boats, the measuring proceeded smoothly despite the usual procrastinators who measured their boats just before closing on Saturday morning. Fortunately, the only people doing anything "fishy" were inside the processing plant.
The tune-up race, which is traditionally more of a practice session for the race committee than anyone else, was no exception this time and by the end of the light and shifty race about thirty boats had dropped out probably surmising that their precious pre?regatta time would be better spent clearing up those last minute problems with fittings, sanding, etc. One of the great Swedish Star veterans, boatmaker Sune Carlsson, was the winner but it seems he caught the mythical tune-up race jinx as his final placing was a disappointing and inconsistent 55th.
The morning of the first race seemed boisterous and gusty as the wind funneled around the island where the boats were moored. By the time the race began, the breeze dissipated to a soft 6-8 knots and there was a chaotic scene of crews rushing to change to more suitable sails. Before the first weather mark, the lead changed many times as first the breeze would fill in from the left, favoring the boats on that side of the course, and then die and come in from the right. Leading the pack were Eckart Wagner and Ding Schoonmaker. The lead continued to change hands several times as the leader found the going tough in trying to cover his opponent, and at the same time tack favorably through the very shifty breeze and difficult current. On the last beat, Pelle Petterson, lurking well behind in 16th place was determined enough to go all the way to the port tack layline and while taking advantage of a slight current advantage, was whisked all the way up to a hundred yard lead over the whole fleet and an eventual daily first. Though every local source claimed before the regatta that no one had ever figured out the Marstrand current, one could not help but think that Pelle had indeed learned something in all the time he has spent on the course tuning and racing his Twelve-metre Sverige.
Pelle's secret did not escape unnoticed. Each day thereafter found more skippers opting for the left side of the course with the right side continually proving to be a disadvantage. In the first race Wright, Blackaller and Scala all found the latter to be unhappily true. Melges, who had previously been something less than great in light air, ended up a strong fourth and he was later to comment that this was his most difficult and important race. Buchan, one of the few early leaders to stay near the top, finished second with Sundelin hot on his tail.
The first attempt at a second race began to show that this was not an ordinary world's. Albino Fravezzi, one of several Italians who are increasingly showing their great boat speed and smart tactics, sailed fast enough to make the time limit but a little too fast he had already been disqualified for an early start. To compound his misery, he finished between the wrong finishing marks. Quite a distance behind was Johann Schroeder from Stockholm, whose every effort short of paddling failed to make the time limit by 10 seconds. The only happy ones were those stuck back in mid-fleet or worse.
The first of two races the next day got off smoothly after one recall. Blackaller, Buchan and Gorla came in from the left side to meet Melges, who had played it up the middle, at the first mark. Then came Mankin, Uwe Mares and Wright, who touched the mark and lost 20 boats in the re-rounding. On the second beat Melges and Blackaller immediately tacked for the left corner, Melges leading after a small lift and consolidating with a few of his patented well-timed tacks. After two races it looked pretty much as it ended up, with Melges holding only a slim lead over Buchan. The weather for this day was reminiscent of San Francisco: 15 knots with a confused short chop.
The trend to go left was in full swing by this race. The problem now was having the boat speed and pointing ability to stay free of bad air. John Albrechtson, hitting the left corner the hardest, led Blackaller at the first mark. John was able to hold off Tom and Melges until the jibing mark, where Blackaller came over him in a puff. Albrechtson returned on an equally rewarding puff to regain a slim lead at the leeward mark. There he tacked immediately to go left, but had to sail to leeward of ten reaching boats. By waiting a minute longer, Melges and Blackaller avoided the bad air. Melges stayed on port just a little longer than Blackaller to take the lead while another tacking battle developed between Wright, Scala and Albrechtson. Buddy hung on to win the Paul Smart Trophy, and at the mid-week presentation he gave a heart?warming and thoughtful speech about the late Commodore Smart's lifelong contributions and dedication to the l.S.C.Y.R.A. and the sport of yachting.
At this point Melges
was sitting on a comfortable lead with a fourth and two firsts. Buchan
and Schoonmaker were the only other two who had sailed with any consistency.
Blackaller, however, assuming that he would eventually throw out his disastrous
first race, had two daily seconds. Thus Melges' basic strategy was now
to stay to the left but to prevent Blackaller from beating him by too
Something had to go wrong the next day because for the first time, it was sunny and warm with a near perfect 12-14 knot steady breeze. Because of the sharp contrast with the day before, just about everyone soon found out that there was little or no adverse current and that it would be an ideal day to start at the pin end and go left. It was a sound philosophy except for one problem: everyone else planned to do the same thing! Though the race committee tried just about everything, i.e. lengthening the line, favoring the committee boat, etc., they were unable to keep the major, indistinguishable body of the fleet from being early. After the first few recalls the mass psychology had set in that seemed to compel each skipper to think to himself, "I'm not going to let this so-and-so to windward of me reach over me, and I refuse to let this other guy get a safe leeward on me." At last, with most of the afternoon gone, it seemed as if the fleet finally got off the line but little did they know that only seven boats had crossed correctly and that the l.R.C. was considering giving DSQ's to the other 71. Finally it was agreed that everyone should get a good night's sleep and begin afresh in the morning. Later, Frank Gordon admonished the fleet that there would be no general recalls and that spotters would be placed "dangling from the highest yardarm of the committee boat" to catch the violators.
The next morning the breeze settled in at 12 knots from the west. Sure enough, it was the most perfect start of the regatta as the committee boat was slightly favored. A huge mass of boats assembled at the weather mark with Wennerstrom, Blackaller Wagnef and Thomas Lundqvist near the top. By the jibe mark, things had spread out a little as Melges, Sundelin and Wright jibed behind the leaders but just in front of a huge pack of boats. Sundelin chose the correct tactic of being the aggressor as he trailed Melges by two boat lengths. As Melges faced aft to free a snarled mainsheet block Sundelin seized the opportunity to attempt a windward overtake. Unfortunately, he executed the manoeuver a little too anxiously and came too close to Melges. As Melges reacted with the proper countertactic, contact occurred which would later result in Sundelin's disqualification. Meanwhile, Blackaller took over the lead early into the second beat as a gusty 25 shift hit the fleet turning the major portion of the leg into a very close reach. Mankin and Melges were caught slightly on the wrong side of the shift, enough so that Peter Wright and Barton Beek could catch them. As the puffs came in on the downwind leg, Mankin showed incredible technique as he easily overcame Melges and Wright. The wind lightened up somewhat on the last beat and Blackaller won handily over Wennerstrom with Wright in third.
The last race began that afternoon in much the same conditions as the morning race except that the breeze was steadier. The committee boat end was more favored than ever and the fleet bunched up as everyone attempted to gain the initial advantage. Buchan, Petterson, Schoonmaker, Scala, Blackaller, Binkhorst and Lundqvist all had early starts and received DSQ's. For Buchan it would not have mattered as he finished second overall anyway. But for Schoonmaker and Blackaller it cost them a shot at third or fourth place. Petterson and Scala were later reinstated as they sufficiently proved to the jury that they were mistakenly identified as premature starters. Alexander Hagen, the talented young West German, battled Scala, Blackaller and Buchan for the lead at the first mark. Melges, who had already clinched the gold star, fouled out and quickly retired. A thrilling seven boat tacking duel ensued in which the lead changed hands several times. As it turned out after the second beat, the right side was favored and Scala was the quickest of all the boats who went that way. All three of the Italians were very fast throughout the series, able to point very well without loss of hull speed. With his usual excellent downwind technique, Bill Gerard caught Hagen and moved into second place on the fifth leg. Wright fought off surges by Gorla and Raudaschl to finish a couple of boat lengths behind Hagen. It was a rather uneventful end to a very eventful series. After all the protests and reinstatement hearings were settled, the award presentation was given at midnight at the Marstrand Society House. And in traditional Swedish style, the hosts decided that they had to leave the sailors with more than just memories of fine sailing in the North Sea and hence the very lovely dancing girls left everyone with a memorable image of beautiful Marstrand Island.