Photo Credit: FRIED ELLIOTT /

1972 US Olympic Trials

1972 US Olympic Trials

The 1972 US Olympic Star Trials, which determined the US representative at the 1972 Olympics in Kiel, Germany, were raced on San Francisco Bay in winds over 25 knots every day. The entrant list was impressive with many champions among the 27 entries.

When the wind gusted to 50, Tom Blackaller and Bill Munster "just drove the aptly named Good Griefunder".

Lowell North, winner of the 1968 gold medal in the Star class at Acapulco, Mexico and three-time Star Worlds champion (in 1972 – he won another Gold Star later), sailed with Peter Barrett, his 1968 crew. Another Olympic medallist was William Parks with a bronze medal from the 1960 Olympics in Naples, Italy. Bill Buchan and Douglas Knight were also two time World Champions in 1972, Dennis Connor had won the Worlds in 1971 and was competing with his World’s Crew Jim Reynolds (father of Mark). Also competing were Ding Schoonmacher, 2nd at the 1970 Worlds and 3rd at the 1972 Worlds (champion in 1975) and Tom Blackaller, 2nd at the 1969 Worlds, and eventually World Champion in 1974 and 1980, sailing with Bill Munster.

But the winner was 1967 North American champion Alan Holt. Holt and Richard Gates led throughout the 7 day, 7 race series with their consistency earning them a 3.6-point victory over Buchan who actually won three of the seven races and beat Holt in four out of the seven races. 

The first two races started in 12 to 15 knot winds that built to 25, a pattern typical of the regatta. Holt won the first race, followed by Ding Schoonmaker, Dennis Conner, Lowell North and Bill Buchan. The next day it was Buchan's turn and he beat Holt by just five seconds after 11 miles of racing. Conner, North and Don Trask were third, fourth and fifth.

The third race, with the most moderate conditions of the series, was won by Dennis Conner. Throughout the series Conner was one of the first boats at the first windward mark only to fall behind as the race wore on and the wind freshened. Holt was runner-up this time followed by North, Schoonmaker and Buchan, which left Conner a distant second overall, just .3 points ahead of Buchan for the series.

Buchan edged into second overall, winning the fourth race in conditions from 15 to 18 knots at the start to 20 to 25 by the finish, with Schoonmaker in second and Holt third, followed by North, Blackaller, Steve Haarstick and Conner who had dropped to seventh.

Lowell North and Peter Barrett on a screaming plane. North was sailing #5662. North won this final race in a 40-knot breeze, but finished 3rd overall. In the background are Allan Holt and Richard Gates 5703 (PS) the eventual winner of the Trials, Bill Buchan and Douglas Knight 5660 (PS) and Tom Blackaller and William Munster 5550 (WSFB)

The start of the fifth race was two hours earlier than scheduled to try to get lighter airs. It was blowing 10 to 12 at the start and picked up to 18 or 20 by the finish. Conner and Buchan exchanged the lead during the early part of this race and it was not until the final beat that Holt overtook Conner. Holt went on to win this one by 30 seconds followed by Conner, North, Buchan and Pete Bennett. The sixth race was started in a fluky 8-knot breeze with wind eventually freshening to about 15 before Buchan scored his third win.

Then came the final race. Small craft warnings were up and fog wrapped around the Golden Gate Bridge towers. Mathematically, Buchan was the only skipper who could beat Holt. In order to do it he had to either get a first with Holt finishing fourth or worse, or get a second with Holt finishing fifth or worse.

This race was the toughest, with the Coast Guard posting gale warnings for winds exceeding 40 knots as the race was in progress. Eleven boats hopelessly out of the running decided not to start. The wind was up to 25 for the first start, which was recalled, and the 16 boat fleet finally got underway in about 28 knots. Within minutes it was blowing 30 and most of the race was sailed in winds of 35 to 40 knots, gusts to 45, accompanied by a short, very steep chop.

Steve Haarstick, Don Trask and Tom Blackaller

 Lowell North showed that he could handle such conditions better than anyone, leading around the course. Barton Beek lost his stick while running when a backstay block exploded and Blackaller sank his boat while charging for the finish line in second place. Blackaller and Steve Haarstick had taken a big wave over their bows and filled the boats with water. As they tried to sail the next beat, Blackaller's boat sank in front of Haarstick. As he was also sinking fast, Haarstick dropped his main, and planed off with just the jib. Ending up on the beach, Haarstick and Chris Gould held the boat off the shore until help arrived.

Buchan and Holt both played it safe all the way. Buchan tried to get enough boats between himself and Holt but ultimately they finished second and third, giving Holt the trip to Kiel.