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FROM THE ARCHIVES: HALF TON, ALL RACE
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The Publisher
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May 9, 2012, 11:15 AM

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: HALF TON, ALL RACE
By Hugh D. Whall, Sports Illustrated
(August 16, 1971) - This last weekend Milwaukee offered a revolutionary sailboat competition. No handicaps, no adjusted finishes - Just fastest boat wins. And forget it if you don't know what 'half ton' means. Nobody does.

Until very recently, distance racing in sailboats was governed - to everyone's everlasting boredom - by a handicap system. After measuring various parts of the boat's anatomy, including hulls, sails and shoe sizes of the crew, ratings were computed. These ratings were then applied as handicaps, which usually led to the paradox of winning boats with large handicaps crossing the finish line long after losing boats. It was a strange way to run a race.

But last week, off Milwaukee on Lake Michigan, a revolutionary kind of sailboat racing had its coming-out party. It is called "ton" racing, and, curiously, it works this way: the fastest boat is the winner. "When you finish first you know who won," said Sailmaker Fred Bremen, co-skipper of Tiger Moth, the quarter-ton winner. What will they think of next?

The call for a real race, sponsored by the Milwaukee Yacht Club, One-Design Offshore Yachtsman magazine, and the Midget Ocean Racing Club, brought entries from all over the country to compete in the quarter-ton and half-ton divisions. Quarter Ton? Half Ton? Most of the people hanging around the yacht club dock had not the slightest idea what the figures meant. The racing boats, which were being slaved over by crews armed with drills, hacksaws and knives, obviously weighed far more than 500 or 1,000 pounds.

So what did it all mean? "Ah, forget it," an official advised. "Quarter Ton and Half Ton doesn't mean a thing. Just remember that half-tonners may not rate more than 21.7 feet and quarter-tonners more than 18 feet even." Essentially, sailboat racing has always been a handicap event; now the event is level, but the name becomes the handicap.

At Milwaukee the race was the show, and a thrilling one right from the starts, which sometimes resembled the old mad opening dash at Le Mans more than any traditional sail-away. For the first half-ton distance event, an overnight race to Waukegan, 50 miles down lake and back, the fleet took off with the starting horn more like a bunch of 2-year-old maiden fillies going 3˝ furlongs at Hialeah. The boats crashed the starting line in such a crush that one of them - aptly named Impulse - sent race committee members scurrying for safety as she rammed their anchored boat. Shortly afterward, during a quarter-ton start, the officials had to reach for their preservers again as Prim Vent slid right into the committee boat's side. "It was like a war out there," one official back from the front shuddered later.

The finishes were just as good. It took a sail-off between Tiger Moth and Foxy Lady to determine the quarter-ton champion, and the margin there - a minute and four seconds after 15 miles, a matter of about four boat lengths in the calm waters - was the closest anybody could recall in an event of national importance. "It was nerve-racking," said Tiger Moth crewman Pedro Morillas. "My heart was beating just like I'd been in an airplane crash."

The whole matter was decided when Skip Boston, sailing Foxy Lady, decided to get a spinnaker only yards from the finish line. In the dark, spectators could see the sail fill with wind and moonbeams, for a second. Then a foul puff strode across the lake and cruelly blew back into the crew's faces. Tiger Moth, remaining safe and snug under her biggest jib, took the same puff to pull over the line the winner.

The half-ton result was not quite as dramatic, but the dark-horse winner, Raider - a boat that was supposed to be a contender only in heavy weather - had to overtake three boats on a dying breeze down the stretch to become the surprise victor. The Raider crew - co-captained by an unemployed airline pilot named John Hokanson - also included a farmer, a law student and a pair of hands from Palmer Johnson, the boat's builders. They yipped and roared as soon as they crossed the line, for there was no need for slide rules and adjustment tables to figure out a winner.

"This even racing is the only way to go," Foxy Lady's Skip Boston said later. "Five years from now everyone is going to wonder why in hell we didn't do this sort of thing before."

The father of all this - the sport of bumping about in small cruising boats on big oceans and lakes - is Patrick Ellam, one of those fabled Englishmen who does not know when to come in out of the sun. Ellam is a veteran of the Dunkirk evacuation whose insatiable curiosity once led him to answer an advertisement for army officers who spoke French fluently. When he woke up, as he describes it, he found himself dangling from a parachute over enemy lines. Ellam will give you an Alec Guinness stare with two blue eyes, only one of which is good, and tell you blandly how his professor in safe-blowing, who had graduated from a British prison, used to insist, "Not too much or it'll blow the box to smithereens, not too little or the bang will bring the peelers and won't open the door."

Having survived several jumps and lots of jolly close calls, Ellam finally wound down his war and got back to sailing. At that time he owned, and still owns, a tiny, cabin-less, supped-up sailing canoe with which he used regularly to crisscross the English Channel in weather that astonished even stiff-lipped British tars. It was this little boat, named Theta that gave Ellam the idea for a kind of boat, a different boat, that would foster a new breed of sailor and a new brand of sailing.

What he eventually ordered was a 19-foot Cockleshell type of boat, which he named the Sopranino, after the smallest wind instrument in music. "I wanted a boat that would be inexpensive to build," Ellam says, "and one that you could race like an open dinghy, yet also cruise and race in relative comfort anywhere you pleased. Furthermore, because she was so small, you could keep her in your backyard on a trailer." Sopranino looked like a miniature submarine and was so small that Ellam could practically wear her like a pair of pants. Having donned his boat, he could stand on her keel with her deck at waistline level and practically touch the water to port and starboard. Yet down below she was a veritable space capsule, with a pair of bunks, chart table, lockers and even a two-burner stove.

For a while Ellam was content to play with Sopranino, racing her to various Channel ports, and then across the wild Bay of Biscay to Spain. He also formed a club, called the Junior Offshore Group, for like-thinking wild men, but he came to realize that the best way to advance Sopranino's qualities was with a spectacular feat. So he signed on a fellow named Colin Mudie, who specialized in long-distance endeavors, and they took off from England for Barbados, 3,500 miles away.

Mudie was later to fail in an attempt to cross the Atlantic by balloon, but this time he and Ellam made it in the Sopranino. It was the smallest racing-cruising sailboat ever to complete such a voyage. Wrote Ellam of the accomplishment: "We had opened up the possibility, for thousands of young people who cannot afford to buy or run large seagoing boats, of owning their own little boats in which they can go out onto the wide seas away from the artificial surroundings of modern life and learn the many things that such an experience has to teach."

Today manufacturers are turning out small descendants of Sopranino like cookies, and the number of those interested in the sort of pursuits Ellam espoused seems to be doubling every year. Appropriately, Ellam was on hand himself in Milwaukee for the first truly national half-and quarter-ton championships and the half-ton division award that Raider won was named the Sopranino Trophy.

The nonstop schedule called for five races in each division. The competition was fierce, for the regatta's big-bore caliber promised sail and boat sales for the winners. As a result, there were almost as many pro sailors in Milwaukee as there are breweries. The professionals earned their keep, for the Midwest was freezing beneath the coldest summer spell in years, and particularly at night the cold bit hard on the men in the little boats. "I kept doing this," said Tiger Moth's Fred Bremen, piling one hand on top of the other and pressing down on his knee, "but nothing I could do would make my damn leg stop shaking."

"Well, if we are indeed pros," said Designer Bob Finch, "then there isn't enough money in the world to pay us fairly for what we endured out there last night."

But if the crewmen worked like professionals, they lived like gypsies. Twenty-eight-year-old Lee Creekmore, with a Ben Turpin mustache and gold-rimmed granny glasses, rode up from Miami to Wisconsin in a rental truck, with the boat he designed, Tiger Moth, astern on a trailer. He and his crew rigged up a pair of huge pipes to siphon air into the back of the truck to cool sleepers cocooned in hammocks. When they reached Milwaukee two crewmen moved aboard the Moth and two stayed in the truck, but Bremen chickened out to take accommodations in a nearby hotel.

Other crews lived in everything from a Volkswagen bus to borrowed rooms to the cramped cabins of their tiny boats. It was a far cry from the luxury dished out to the crews, pro or amateur, by the owners of big gold-platers. But then, so much of it was a new experience, with boats that seemed no more alike than sharks and porpoises battling each other, only lengths apart, all the way to the finish line. It all pleased Ellam. It showed that although boats and gear may change, the old Sopranino spirit remains intact in the people who sail midget boats on the mighty lakes and oceans.


The Publisher
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Jun 11, 2012, 2:21 PM

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From D.D. McNicoll, Sydney, Australia:
You ask why sailing keeps reinventing itself (in Scuttlebutt 3608), so boats that finish first can win the race? Anyone old enough to remember the quarter, half, three-quarter and one tonners of 40 years ago has the answer. By the time the designers had twisted the rating rules to the Nth degree, these boats were the ugliest, most difficult to sail and the slowest bloody vessels ever lumped on their hapless owners. Rating modern yachts might still be a nightmare but at least they sail faster than six knots.




The Publisher
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Jun 11, 2012, 2:22 PM

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From: Fred Roswold, SV Wings, Trinidad
To: editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com

Are quarter, half, three-quarter and one tonners "the ugliest, most difficult to sail and the slowest bloody vessels ever"? That is a bit extreme. We think our old IOR boat is a good, all around, sailing boat. Just this weekend we sailed in a regatta in the Caribbean, short handed, and did quite well, thank you, and several people came up to us afterwards and complimented us on our "beautiful boat".

And many people will fondly remember years racing in the fun, competitive, level rating regattas that the large numbers of these boats produced. Many of the old ton boats are still out there sailing PHRF or IRC, they are not the miserable boats that, with each ongoing year, the myth increasingly makes them out to be.

Yeah, newer boats are faster; they always have been. And I'd love to have a nice IMS/IRC 50 footer, or whatever the newest thing is, so I could plane off downwind at 20 knots, but I don't and my old live-aboard two-tonner, going seven knots, is just fine. Quit knocking it.




ms
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Jun 12, 2012, 12:40 PM

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From Ted Jones:

As the first chairman of the NAYRU Level Rating Classes Committee, I wanted the trophies to be unique and special. We named the NA Half Ton trophy for Patrick Ellam's ocean crossing 20 footer Sopranino. A recent technology of the time allowed objects to be totally encased in a solid, clear polymer. I commissioned a coppersmith to hammer out a pair of sails representing Sopranino's sail plan, and had them molded into a clear solid block. A wooden base provided space for plaques telling of each winner. I had not calculated the mass of the plastic which was large and heavy. Carrying the theme further to the Quarter Ton Class, which was named for designer Bill Shaw's 24 foot MORC yawl Trina, I had the same coppersmith create Trina's four sails(genoa, main, mizzen staysail, and mizzen) and had the same polymer molder encase these in clear plastic. The effect was startling, and to my dismay, the solid block of polymer turned out to be huge -- roughly four times the volume of the Sopranino Trophy.

I thought I had learned my lesson when it became time to come up with the NAYRU One Ton Trophy, which we named for the first U.S. One-tonner designed by the late Bill Tripp for a Connecticut River syndicate which named it The Hawk. I was acquainted with John The Blacksmith, who sculpted nifty things out of metal in his shop in Westport, CT. John was happy to have the opportunity to sculpt a hawk in iron for the trophy. I envisioned something close to life size which would be impressive and unique. John had a better idea and the resulting hawk, wings spread, was approximately four times life size. OMG somehow I got the huge bird to San Diego for the NAYRU One Ton Cup Championships. I rescued a piece of driftwood from the beach near the San Diego Y.C. and had Gerry Driscoll fashion a base from it for the trophy (I admit it was a stretch having a hawk perched on a dock piling, but I was desperate). Ted Turner let it be known that the Hawk Trophy was "unsuitable" and I had to agree. Iron hawk and sawed off piling together weighted close to 100 pounds -- well maybe not that much.

Fortunately, Ted didn't win it. Doug Peterson's Ganbare did. Doug, I know you're out there in Scuttlebutt Land. However did you get the thing home? And do know what has become of it? Unsuitable for its purpose though it was, John The Blacksmith's creation was a marvelous piece of work.

I join Jim Mattingly in wondering what has become of these historic but outsized trophies. I was there in Milwaukee along with Patrick Ellam and we witnessed Raider's victory which was complete and impressive. I hope no one dropped the trophy on their foot. I also hope it isn't at the bottom of the lake serving as some sailboat's mooring.

Epilog: When the U.S. created the International Three-Quarter Ton Cup I was determined to redeem myself and come up with a suitable trophy which was unique, distinctive, and -- most importantly -- easily transportable. I drafted yacht designers Alan Gurney and Tom Norton to help, and together we spent a pleasant afternoon surfing antique shops along New York's Madison Avenue. There we located an antique leather-bound collapsible brass telescope which could have been used by John Paul Jones himself. Boatbuilder Eric Christensen made a handsome teak base, designed by Norton, which, together with the collapsed telescope, fitted neatly into a small piece of luggage, a woman's train case. Fantastic! The trophy was named for diminutive Parisian lawyer Jean Peytel, who was generally considered to be the father of level racing worldwide. NAYRU president, Jim Michael presented the trophy to the Offshore Rating Council at the ORC's annual dinner in London. Disappointingly, Jean Peytel was ill and could not attend. As Jim got up to speak, I produced the train case from under the dinner table. Nearby, IYRU president Beppe Croce, upon seeing the train case turned to his dinner companion -- Gay Edwards, wife of ORC chairman, David Edwards -- and whispered soto voce, "Do they have Jean Peytel in there?"


ms
*****

Jun 12, 2012, 1:39 PM

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From David Munge:

Sopranio trophy. Does anybody know the where abouts of Sopranio? What happens to old boats like that?


The Publisher
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Jun 13, 2012, 2:45 PM

Post #6 of 11 (29508 views)
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In Reply To
From Ted Jones:

As the first chairman of the NAYRU Level Rating Classes Committee, I wanted the trophies to be unique and special. We named the NA Half Ton trophy for Patrick Ellam's ocean crossing 20 footer Sopranino. A recent technology of the time allowed objects to be totally encased in a solid, clear polymer. I commissioned a coppersmith to hammer out a pair of sails representing Sopranino's sail plan, and had them molded into a clear solid block. A wooden base provided space for plaques telling of each winner. I had not calculated the mass of the plastic which was large and heavy. Carrying the theme further to the Quarter Ton Class, which was named for designer Bill Shaw's 24 foot MORC yawl Trina, I had the same coppersmith create Trina's four sails(genoa, main, mizzen staysail, and mizzen) and had the same polymer molder encase these in clear plastic. The effect was startling, and to my dismay, the solid block of polymer turned out to be huge -- roughly four times the volume of the Sopranino Trophy.

I thought I had learned my lesson when it became time to come up with the NAYRU One Ton Trophy, which we named for the first U.S. One-tonner designed by the late Bill Tripp for a Connecticut River syndicate which named it The Hawk. I was acquainted with John The Blacksmith, who sculpted nifty things out of metal in his shop in Westport, CT. John was happy to have the opportunity to sculpt a hawk in iron for the trophy. I envisioned something close to life size which would be impressive and unique. John had a better idea and the resulting hawk, wings spread, was approximately four times life size. OMG somehow I got the huge bird to San Diego for the NAYRU One Ton Cup Championships. I rescued a piece of driftwood from the beach near the San Diego Y.C. and had Gerry Driscoll fashion a base from it for the trophy (I admit it was a stretch having a hawk perched on a dock piling, but I was desperate). Ted Turner let it be known that the Hawk Trophy was "unsuitable" and I had to agree. Iron hawk and sawed off piling together weighted close to 100 pounds -- well maybe not that much.

Fortunately, Ted didn't win it. Doug Peterson's Ganbare did. Doug, I know you're out there in Scuttlebutt Land. However did you get the thing home? And do know what has become of it? Unsuitable for its purpose though it was, John The Blacksmith's creation was a marvelous piece of work.

I join Jim Mattingly in wondering what has become of these historic but outsized trophies. I was there in Milwaukee along with Patrick Ellam and we witnessed Raider's victory which was complete and impressive. I hope no one dropped the trophy on their foot. I also hope it isn't at the bottom of the lake serving as some sailboat's mooring.

Epilog: When the U.S. created the International Three-Quarter Ton Cup I was determined to redeem myself and come up with a suitable trophy which was unique, distinctive, and -- most importantly -- easily transportable. I drafted yacht designers Alan Gurney and Tom Norton to help, and together we spent a pleasant afternoon surfing antique shops along New York's Madison Avenue. There we located an antique leather-bound collapsible brass telescope which could have been used by John Paul Jones himself. Boatbuilder Eric Christensen made a handsome teak base, designed by Norton, which, together with the collapsed telescope, fitted neatly into a small piece of luggage, a woman's train case. Fantastic! The trophy was named for diminutive Parisian lawyer Jean Peytel, who was generally considered to be the father of level racing worldwide. NAYRU president, Jim Michael presented the trophy to the Offshore Rating Council at the ORC's annual dinner in London. Disappointingly, Jean Peytel was ill and could not attend. As Jim got up to speak, I produced the train case from under the dinner table. Nearby, IYRU president Beppe Croce, upon seeing the train case turned to his dinner companion -- Gay Edwards, wife of ORC chairman, David Edwards -- and whispered soto voce, "Do they have Jean Peytel in there?"



From Ken Legler:
Thank you Ted Jones for your many contributions and rekindling memories of my One-ton days. I include a picture of the "Hawk" trophy (right after awards at the 1979 USYRU One-ton champs) and two one-tonners I competed on in 1979 (Firewater) and 1983 (Celebration). One-tonners were about 37' (IOR rating 27.5) until 1982, then grew to 40' (IOR rating 30.0). Level racing was really cool with all different boats rating the exact same. William Donovan's Not By Bread Alone, with its mast head genoa could out point everyone while the fractionals were faster at reaching. Old friend Moose McClintock sailed on Perry Harris' Special Edition. He welcomed me aboard their "Ten ton Tanton Two-ton" and tweaks got their rating level for the series.

I got to campaign "Firewater" as tactician and alternate helm for the '79 Worlds. We lost the worlds to John MacLaurin's "Pendragon," which had been a 3/4 tonner. They elongated the boat with bow-sprit, longer daggerboard and spin poles and won a mostly downwind series. Second was Graham Walker's "Indulgence" a British speedster with Lowell North in charge. Bob Barton captained "Firewater" and although winning the Worlds was our goal, winning the NA's was pretty cool.


Indulgence had a 1-1-1 going into the LD race (240 miles crisscrossing Rhode Island Sound). We rounded Buzzards Tower three times, on a crystal clear night, on a hazy morning, and in a zero visibility t-storm the second night. Indulgence dropped their chute in the water on the second time around, cut if free, and blew by us on the long beat to Montauk. That error may have caused their mast to go on the third time around, allowing Firewater to win with a 5-2-2-3. "Rush," with Nelson & Marek aboard, won easily the next year in Leland, MI.


Photos:

Firewater crew 1979.jpg left to right: James Bildahl, Jim Cullen, Richard Lang, ? O'Connell, skipper Bob Barton, Dooie Isdale, and Ken Legler


Celebration Cook 40.jpg in the 1983 SORC


Cook One-ton Firewater.jpg in the 1979 SORC




Brianb
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Jun 14, 2012, 1:43 AM

Post #7 of 11 (29287 views)
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Sopranino is at present fully restored and sails around the Solent and attends regattas occasionally. She looks fantastic under sail. She lives at Cowes classic boat museum on The Isle of Wight (www.classicboatmuseum.org). There is a short video about the museum with some footage of her sailing at www.cowesonline.co.uk

I saw her in her unrestored state before she was shippedback to Cowes whilst on a visit to Boston a number of years ago. I had just read Patrick and Colins book and knew she was at the Boat museum at Rhode Island so drove down from Cape Cod and spent a great couple of days there looking at the boats.

Sopranino was little more than a wreck in a corner of the yard. Whilst in Newport, Rhode Island, we blagged a sail with a nice local chap in the harbour and saw a few of the 12 mtr AC boats sailing in a regatta. Enjoyed the hospitallity of I think it was the Black Pearl bar/restaurant. Great time.





The Publisher
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Jun 14, 2012, 3:04 PM

Post #8 of 11 (28931 views)
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From Ted Jones:

I know where Sopranino is.

Sopranino was found abandoned in a vacant lot on Long Island, NY in the 1970s, about to be bulldozed to clear the land for development. Something about the boat spoke to the contractor who guessed that she might be special. He was right, of course, and his inquiries led to Tom Benson, then curator of the Museum of Yachting, in Newport, RI., and Sopranino was rescued. The boat was filthy, but essentially complete. Benson wanted to display her in her “as found” condition, and she was stored in a back room while the museum’s directors decided how to proceed. Most wanted her restored. I had the special privilege of sitting in her unrestored cockpit, imagining what it must have been like for Patrick Ellam and Colin Mudie, sitting where I sat, as they crossed the Atlantic ocean in this tiny sailboat.

Fast forward 30 years. Tom Benson had died, and Sopranino had been moved into an obscure storage vault at Fort Adams State Park, where the museum is located. An inquiry from the Junior Offshore Group (JOG) in England led to negotiations with the museum which culminated in Sopranino being transferred to the JOG, and shipped to the UK where she was painstakingly restored to her original sailing condition. I believe she has now been retired from active racing with the JOG, but Patrick Ellam and Colin Mudie, who sailed her transatlantic in 1952 were recently reunited with Sopranino by special invitation of the JOG members to celebrate her 60th anniversary.

Photo: http://www.jog.org.uk/...;ItemID=289&src=




riracer
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Jun 17, 2012, 5:18 AM

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I have pictures someplace sent by MOY of Sopranino, restored and sailing. I was delighted to hear she'd been sent home and brought back to life. My only regret was not knowing finding out she had been here in RI before my father died, so he could visit his old boat. He and my mother owned Sopranino after Patrick and did sail from City Island (last subway stop so the furthest away they could keep boats from Manhattan, back in the day). When I sent the photos of the restored little boat to my mother, she said what SHE remembered most about Sopranino was being too pregnant with me to fit through the hatch! Much fun hearing that all those years later!


ronbreault
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Jun 26, 2012, 4:53 AM

Post #10 of 11 (27896 views)
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Trina is now for sale. Located at Monument Beach, Cape Cod - a classic. To read about her go to http://dolphin24.org/history_Trina.html





Oskar Persson
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Jul 18, 2012, 5:59 AM

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Ted Jones stories about trophys brought a smile to my face remembering the Half Ton Championship in Miami sometime in 1973 or 74 that Mr Jones officiated. After the first 4 races of offshore and round buoys sailing in breezy conditions the first three positions were locked in. Mr E. Ridder and L. Bergstrom and their excellent crew had four 1st place finishes ( I don't remember the 2nd and 3rd boats). The 5th and final race of the championship was to be a 144 mile crossing of the Gulf Stream and return (equates 2 Gulf Stream crossings) in a forecasted 20-30 knots. With the regatta results already decided, the skippers thought better of risking boats and crews in those conditions and decided to scrub the last race. So many years have passed since, and my old memory is dull, but I remember Mr Jones anger at the crews decision and he decided not to award any trophies. Having seen the trophies at the hosting yacht club at the beginning of the regatta (I believe it was Coral Reef YC) I've always wondered what happened to those silver bowls. Hopefully Mr Jones can shed light on this old and almost forgotten incident. Thank you, Oskar Persson, Stockholm Sweden. 18 July 2012


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