Scuttlebutt Website SCUTTLEBUTT
Who's Online WHO'S
Log in LOG IN         

Forum Index: .: Dock Talk:
Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary
Team McLube


First page Previous page 1 2 Next page Last page  View All

The Publisher

Aug 19, 2009, 3:16 PM

Post #1 of 55 (358664 views)
Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary Log-In to Post/Reply

Tom Blackaller, one of yacht racing's most colorful and outspoken helmsmen, who twice won the Star Class World Championship and competed in three America's Cup campaigns, died a young man at 49 years of age in 1989. The 20 year anniversary of his passing will be next month on September 7th.

''Tom was a character unlike the rest,'' Buddy Melges said at the time. ''He was always fair and true blue, and always his own man.'' Paul Cayard added about Blackaller, “He was not a conservative person by nature, and he was a risk taker, and he’d live with the outcome happily either way. He was happy to be a warrior and live and die with the choices that he made.”

His contentious rivalry with Dennis Conner was legendary, with Blackaller commenting in 1986 about Dennis’ approach to the America’s Cup, “I have been at odds with him for some time about the bludgeon tactics that he uses to try to win races . . . $15-million programs and three-year programs. I don't think that's good for the sport. If you just go out and get more money and spend more time, it becomes less a sport and more like a business.”

In an era now when the top end of sailboat racing is highly professional, the colorfulness of Tom Blackaller’s character is sorely missed. The sport needs larger than life personalities, and he was one of them.

As we approach the 20 year anniversary of his death, it is time to relive the color and character of Tom Blackaller.

If you ever shared a race, a drink, a moment with Tom, it is time to relive his memory.

Please click on reply to post your story in this thread.

Thanks to the
LA Times, NY Times, and Sailing World for contributing to this report.

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

Attachments: blackaller.gif (13.1 KB)


Aug 19, 2009, 9:15 PM

Post #2 of 55 (358437 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

So many Tom memories ... a great one for me not widely known/shared was on-board his Gary Mull designed one-tonner in an Ahmanson Series Race to Ship Rock and back to NHYC with Tom, Gary Mull, Barton Beek and several others. Tom and Gary were racing the boat to enliven the results and success of the design (they also were trying to sell the boat). We ended up testing the boat's very constitution/construction as we hit, literally, Ship Rock around midnight. I recall Barton on the tiller, and after hitting the reef (very hard) at 8+ knots in the dark (G Mull being asleep in the port bunk where the boat hit the reef inches from his head) and Barton fearing we are going to sink as we assuredly put a hole in her, starts steering for the Isthmus. Tom sees we are heading off the course towards safety and loudly proclaims, "For God's sake Barton, if we are sinking, then head to deep water!" Always a man with his priorities in sync. God bless Tom Blackaller.


Aug 19, 2009, 10:28 PM

Post #3 of 55 (358408 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I first met Tom Blackaller at Newport Harbor YC in the fall of 1957. Tom was 16 and I was 12. Tom was a brash young kid living in his Starboat. He liked to brag that his beautiful all varnished Eichenlaub was built of hand picked cedar and was the lightest Star ever built at 1340 pounds (no weight limit in those days.)

Tom liked me for a crew because I only weighed 100 pounds, good for the light winds of Southern California. The competition in District 5 was intense, and Blackaller in the early days rarely finished higher than midfleet. But he talked a good race, and his friends knew him as Charlie Brown. partly because he loved to clown around, and partly because his Star #3938 was named GOOD GRIEF. Tom's early sails were red bags by Murphy and Nye.

Tom was active in experimenting with equipment, and he, Al Nelson, and Punky Mitchell had the first (home-made) ratcheting mainsheet blocks. Tom also had a self-bailing system for his Star which consisted of nothing more than a beveled aluminum tube that could be pushed out the bottom of the boat. I believe this predated the more sophisticated Bello and Elvstrom bailers by a year or more.

Just after taking delivery of GOOD GRIEF, Tom participated in the Christmas Regatta, 1957, held inside Newport Harbor. A cold front had just passed, and the wind was 30, gusting 40 inside the harbor. Only three Stars ventured out, all of them World Champs to be: Bill Ficker, Don Edler, and Tom Blackaller. Ficker took one tack and returned to the dock to sit it out. Edler, with son Kent as crew, and Blackaller, with Barton Beek as crew, managed to start and get to the windward mark, up by Lido Isle. They turned the mark and both were immediately dismasted in a mammoth puff. They then raced downwind with just their mast stumps.

Tom was a student of the game and on a steep learning curve. By the early 60's, he was one of the best downwind sailors in District 5, and soon climbed into the leading group of local sailors that included Ficker, Edler, Burnham, North, Rollins, Bennett, Buchan and others.


Aug 19, 2009, 10:38 PM

Post #4 of 55 (358403 views)
Re: [skipallan] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I raced two Transpacs with Tom. The first time was in 1971 on PASSAGE when we broke the elapsed time record and won overall on handicap. The second time was in 1985 on the ULDB 70 SAGA

The history, creativeness, and controversy surrounding starboard tack ballasting in Transpac is as old and colorful as the races themselves, and always elicits race time discussion and envy. Old photos show the 1939 Transpac winner with a hard dinghy stowed upright on the starboard side, presumably a repository for deck equipment and sails. Starboard tack bias has even extended into the construction of Pacific racers, as at least one maxi-sled had its permanent furniture arranged so the boat heeled several degrees to starboard with nothing aboard. In fact, the near ultimate in creativeness came in the 1998 Pacific Cup when PYEWACKET set the course record, assisted by the then legal use of water ballast bags hung over the weather rail in kevlar slings.

But even this pales by the most humorous of scenes in the 1985 Transpac aboard the ULDB 70 SAGA. When the wind came aft and the spinnaker was set on the third day, Blackaller, inshore racer, sailmaker, and raconteur par excellence, couldn't believe we were going to carry 300 pounds of wet jibs the remaining 1500 downwind miles to Honolulu. Tom reached into his duffel, wrote DB the owner a check for the headsail inventory, and ordered the crew to jettison all the jibs overboard.

Cooler heads soon prevailed and the check was not accepted. But Blackaller never let us forget for the rest of the race. I can still hear his cackling lament every time he came on watch: "Just think how much faster we'd be going if we weren't carrying all these damn sails."


Aug 19, 2009, 11:04 PM

Post #5 of 55 (358394 views)
Re: [skipallan] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Growing up at Newport 50 years ago, Santana winds always provided memorable sailing for those who could launch and get away from the dock. Inland of Beacon Bay, there wasn't much more than sand dunes and sage to disrupt the hot NE gusts.

Santanas also provided the perfect conditions for honing heavy weather vanging and feathering skills, as well as getting whatever you could muster into the water up on a plane....You were likely to encounter Sprague, Ullman, Schock, the Twist brothers, Beek, Ficker, and Edler reaching down the Bay....Snipes and Metcalfs were jury rigged with traps, and Hickock and Carter Pyle match raced their Wildcat and P-Cat, for unofficial "fastest in the Bay."

So Blackaller is living in his Starboat at NHYC, while working at Rockwell. It's a full on Santana, and Emerson the dockmaster has pulled the plugs and sunk all the NHYC docks, standard procedure in those days to protect them from damage. Wind is E, 20 gusting 45.

Chuck Cotton shows up with an E-Scow he plans to break the Ensenada Race record with. They waste no time getting it rigged and launched. With Blackaller in command on the tiller-linked twin rudders, and Cotton, Yorston, Beek, and Lewsadder manning the sheets, running backs, and centerboards, the E-scow takes off towards Lido.

They manage to get it about, after going twice in irons in spume rising gusts. Blackaller now steers for the NHYC docks at a Mach 1 clip, and the E-Scow accelerates through the mooring field, much impressing the gathering spectators behind the sliding glass doors of the Pirates Den bar.

One of those 35 knot Santana gusts arrives just as Blackaller puts the helm down to tack. Instead of tacking, the E-Scow hull disappears in a cloud of speed and spray. Now Tommy is screaming "I can't steer!, "I can't steer!" not realizing the rusty weldment holding the starboard iron plate rudder has failed, and he is driving with nothing but a naked shaft.

With a mighty crash, the scow mounts the NHYC main float at 20 knots, and careens like a 28 foot skateboard across the dock, ripping off the remaining rudder. Emerson goes apopleptic. The spectators in the bar applaud. The mast falls forward in slow motion. For a brief moment in his life, Blackaller is speechless.


Aug 20, 2009, 6:13 AM

Post #6 of 55 (358289 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I had the pleasure of sailing against Tom Blackaller, some 25+ years ago at CORK in Kingston, Ontario in the Star Class. We were a couple of sailing instructors who had found an old wooden Star in the yard and convinced the owner we knew what we were doing and headed off to race in CORK. We were rigging the boat and looking around and realizing we were the only wooden Star. AS we were doing some "upgrades" before racing Tom Balckaller and his crew came over to have a look and made a few comments the one that sticks in my mind the most is when he looked at our backstay purchase and said That's not going to work, boys. Well being of limited resources we shrugged it off as some guy trying to get in to our head. We headed out to the first race in 12 knots of breeze "cranked" on the backstay and sure enough, it didn't work. So we spent the rest of the day fixing the mast that had severed. And the next day while we were re-rigging having missed a day of races Tom Blackaller came up and provided us a little more insight on why "it wasn't going to work" after which we improved our 3 to 1 back stay to at least 6 to 1. about half of what everyone else had. He did admire our drive to keep trying to get out there. He was definitely the large personality on the dock that week and did teach us all alot about Star sailing that week.

K Paisley
Toronto, ON


Aug 20, 2009, 8:39 AM

Post #7 of 55 (358200 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I'd sailed with and against Tom for many years, but when I was a young St. Francis YC junior trying to help Bob Nagy get a junior program started there, we were all aware of Tom's intimidating bluster, as he was one of our idols. So it took a lot of nerve for us to ask him to be our advocate with the older members of the club. But we had barely finished asking him before he was off campaigning for us and never showed us anything but kindness and enthusiasm. Thanks, Tom.


Aug 20, 2009, 9:55 AM

Post #8 of 55 (358156 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I had the privilege of spending three months in Fremantle for the '87 America's Cup. After a night of heavy partying in town with the crew of USA, we ended up living in the air-compressor shed outside of the StFYC's sail loft for two weeks. Every morning that big two lung compressor came on at 7am and our day started. Blacky was a fearsome dude to us but I think having his famous bumper sticker on our bikes ("We don't just want the Cup, we want the whole damn island") humored him.

I remember an Aussie gentleman with kids in-tow loitering around the compound as he came storming through one day, and the man cautiously asked for an autograph. Tom genially went over and reached for the picture and pen offered. Next, he yelled, "F@&K!" and crammed the stuff back in the startled man's arms.

As he cruised by us I laughed and asked, "what was that all about?" "F@#&*#$%G picture of Dennis!"

That pretty much sums it up.

Larry Whipple

Aug 20, 2009, 10:28 AM

Post #9 of 55 (358126 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

It was October 1973, and there was a tune up regatta two weeks before the Star World Championship in San Diego. I was 24 at the time, and for some strange reason going into Sunday’s racing we had a one point lead in the regatta, just ahead of Tom Blackaller. On the second beat we were dueling the lead with Tom, and he snookered us on starboard tack by heading low and then up, hitting us in the traveler area. Back then there was no 720 rule. I was surprised he hit us as he could have said, "We had to alter course, you are out”, as that is how it was in those days.

I took the boat to the Kettenberg yard for repair as the damage was quite extensive. When the repair was completed I was handed an invoice, which I knew I had no way of paying and was sure they would keep my boat until I paid. But the invoice was already marked ‘paid’. I looked at it in disbelief, thought it was a mistake, but soon learned that Tom had paid it. Later that week I saw Tom to thank him and say that I would pay him back, but then asked, "Why did you do that," meaning the bill he paid, to which he responded, “To teach you a lesson.” As I went back to my boat I realized he meant hitting me on the race course, not the repair bill.

As we launched for the tow out to the race course for the first race of the Worlds, Tom's crew came up to me and said, "Whip, don't worry, Tom only hits people he thinks can beat him." I know he didn't mean it literally, but it was clearly a compliment. That was the Tom I raced against for years - aggressive, tough, and at the same time very kind hearted, as my friend Paul Cayard can attest to.

Larry Whipple

Annie Hauer

Aug 20, 2009, 11:17 AM

Post #10 of 55 (358113 views)
Re: [Larry Whipple] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

In 1982 I was taking care of a boat called "Bullfrog" that Tom was driving at Long Beach Race Week. I was standing on the dock as Tom and another crew member were standing at the mast. Tom was telling a rather ribald joke in Italian and laughed hysterically at the end...he looked over at me as I was laughing too and I told him in Italian "ho capito tutto" that I understood, he actually blushed...then let out his famous cackle...making Blackhaller blush was a major accomplishment!


Bruce McPherson

Aug 20, 2009, 12:10 PM

Post #11 of 55 (358093 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Many stories involving Tom Blackaller, who always called when he was in NYC, wanting to know where the action would be after work. We joined him one evening at a well known watering hole near Grand Central Station well above ground level, only to see a pair of "suits" get into a brutal, bar-no-holds-or-punches donny-brook right in front of the elevator. This was more than even Tom wanted: he promptly lead us to the kitchen, into the elevator there, down to ground level, and out the service entrance, as if he'd been there, done that, many at time!

Best remembered, however, has to do with his Star competition with Dennis Conner. At the Olympic Trials for Stars off Newport, RI in the 70's, the racing was held out near the America's Cup course. The waves were running 10 to 12 feet as I recall. On the RC boat, we had to put two anchors, one 10 feet above the other just to get the starting line marker to "stick" where dropped in 125-feet. Then we found, if the RC boat and the pin were both in troughs, we couldn't see the pin, so we had to raise the flag poles!

I was on the starting line with the Recall Flag to call the Start. Both Tom and Dennis hit the line at the start at top speed at the crest of a wave as close to the RC boat and each other as possible! They were each dead EVEN and WITHIN ONE INCH of the line when the gun sounded! What a performance! That was a day when many in the Flying Dutchman fleet, in the same conditions, suffered seasickness!

Bruce McPherson


Aug 20, 2009, 4:45 PM

Post #12 of 55 (358004 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Chris Caswell
Tom Blackaller was so much larger than life, from his passion for red sports cars to the weird espresso machines in his office to playing ice hockey on Wednesday nights, to saying what he believed without first stopping to think.

When Dennis Conner said, in 1987 in Freemantle, that the only reason Michael Fay and Chris Dickson would build a fiberglass 12-meter was to cheat, that wasn't good. But it was Blackaller on the podium who set off 'glassgate' when he said loudly to the gathered press, "Uh-oh, he shouldn't have said that!". It was Blackaller who chose to spin a few donuts in his van on Dennis Conner's lawn in Newport (with a young Gary Jobson as shotgun..sorry, Gary), causing Conner to snap, "How can you run a Cup campaign with a 12-year-olds mind?"

There was a memorable sail into the Sacramento Delta for the Tinsley Island Stag Cruise aboard a One-Tonner. Along with Tom, there was designer Gary Mull, another irrepressible personality who often acted as the flame to Tom's gasoline, and yachting historian John Rousmaniere (who may be trying to forget this particular piece of history..sorry, John). Let's just say that it was an increasingly drunken voyage highlighted by several end-for-end spinnaker jibes in narrow channels by persons barely capable of standing.

And who can forget Blackaller and Bill Munster sailing their Star underwater on the San Francisco Olympic Circle. When I arrived on a chase boat, all that remained were the two sailors laughing like kids next to the still-floating transom with the words, 'Good Grief!'

Tom once said to me, "Everyone chooses to be a color in life. I choose not to be gray". I miss you, Tommy boy.


Aug 20, 2009, 7:18 PM

Post #13 of 55 (357977 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I had lunch with Tom the day before he died, we were both racing Sports 2000's race cars in those days. Although we were "competing" sailmakers we had both really gotten into car racing. We would often have lunch in Sausalito and talk shop, often with Al "Punky" Mitchell, also a sailmaker.

Tom was practicing that day at Sears Point, he did manage to pull off the track just before he died.
Cant belive it has been 20 years!!!

Howard Macken


Aug 20, 2009, 10:05 PM

Post #14 of 55 (357926 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I have fond memories of Tom at Tinsley Island in the early 1980's. He was there with Sally Baum and they would weave down the dock to the boat after an evening of drinking on the island. In the morning they would wake up from sleeping on the bow of the boat and we would all worry that they would fall in the water. Unfortunately, Sally died in the Sausalito mud. They both loved life, water and sailing.

betsy whidden

Aug 21, 2009, 4:50 AM

Post #15 of 55 (357872 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I have to set the record straight! Chris Caswell had it half right: Tom Blackaller was circling our Newport driveway in 1980, but Gary Jobson was not his co-pilot. It was Russell Long. Our two children (then 3 years and one-and-a-half years) were in the middle of the circle with a babysitter while I was in the hopsital with my husband Tom (Whidden) who having foot surgery. Was I furious? I'm sorry Tom B. isn't around to recall our phone conversation! But in typical Blackaller style, we put that behind us and enjoyed a great friendship. I have this great photo of my Tom and Tom B. at a press conference during the '87 Cup. Some comment got them going and the eye contact between the two created ripples of laughter throughout the audience. He was a one-off who is clearly missed!


Aug 21, 2009, 5:18 AM

Post #16 of 55 (357855 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Tom B.and Dennis C. had at least one Race Comptetiton that occured "on the hard" in Middletown ,R.I. Whilst also competing for the America's Cup, they engaged in a little early morning Drag Race. Each was driving his own Porsche at about 0230 on West Main Road; repoprtedly their speeds exceeded 100 MPH. Always Competitors !!!!

Gary Jobson

Aug 21, 2009, 8:55 AM

Post #17 of 55 (357761 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

It was my great fortune to partner with Tom Blackaller for the Defender/Courageous America’s Cup effort in 1981 - 1983. Of course there were many great moments over that period sailing with Tom, pitching to supporters etc. But there is one start that I’ll never forget against Dennis Conner and Liberty. As the seconds counted down to the start, Liberty was trying to close the door between Defender and the committee boat. Tom had to make an instant decision on whether to circle around or sail through the gap and risk fouling Liberty, the leeward boat with the right of way. As only Tom would do, he went for it. We were sailing at 9½ knots. The gun went off with our bow right on the line. Liberty was head to wind, almost dead stopped. Their bow never got within eight feet of Defender. To this day I have this mental image of Tom, with his silver hair and dark glasses, shrieking at the top of his lungs, “Take that Dennis!”

Gary Jobson
Defender 1983


Aug 22, 2009, 6:09 AM

Post #18 of 55 (357488 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

It is easy to find a smile on my face when I remember Tom Blackaller - the man who drove 3000 miles after a regatta to make it to our wedding - the man who found something funny about almost any situation - who enthusiastically (at times celebratory?) would call from wherever he was in the world not caring that it was 3 o'clock in the morning in the S.F.Bay Area. It got to a point where we knew the 3am phone ring would always be Tom. One memory that stands out was during the Star Boat World Championship in Marstrand, Sweden. Tom instigated - with a little help from Gary Mull - drilling a few holes in the deck of Lowell North's Star boat one night. The bet was to see if Lowell would find a use for them in the next race. He did as I remember.

Fred Roswold

Aug 22, 2009, 5:37 PM

Post #19 of 55 (357424 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

In 1973 Tom and Commodore Tomkins brought a new six meter named Saint Francis VII to Seattle for the Six Meter Worlds and I took a week off work to watch and photograph the regatta with my Sea Ray powerboat.

There wasn't any wind the first day and I chatted with Tom and the boys as the sixes all sat around in the middle of Puget Sound waiting for breeze. The first thing they did is ask me if I could run into Edmonds and buy them some lunches, which I did, returning 40 minutes later with a box of tinfoil wrapped hamburgers from Safeway, which they ate but not without some rude comments about the quality of the Safeway food and they tossed the balls of tin foil into the sound which floated like a trail behind their drifting boat. When the racing was called off for the day they then recruited me to tow them back to CYC with my Sea Ray because Tom figured my 50 mph craft could probably get them there ahead of all the other six meters being towed by the local whaler chase boats. I'm not sure all the reasons he wanted to go so fast, probably a combination of just wanting to beat the other boats as well as kill the boredom but the collection of girls waiting for the crew at CYC probably contributed.

Anyhow, we hooked up a heavy line from my ski bar to their mast and I headed off at about 6 knots. Tommy urged me to go faster and faster but when I got to about 12 knots I refused to put on any more power. The sight of that six meter going 12 knots at the end of a bar tight mooring line was enough for me but Tom wanted more. I think he wanted to get that six onto a plane, which was clearly never going to happen because the boat was already digging a hole in the water as big as it was.

I got them to the dock first but not far enough ahead for them I suppose because by the next day they had lined up a mahogany ski boat which, while it wasn't any faster then my white Sea Ray, had more class I guess and a more compliant driver. They also had box lunches with lobster for the rest of the week, and the collection of girls spectating from the roof of the CYC grew every day too. These guys were clearly haveing fun in Seattle.

Saint Francis VII won the regatta but Tom and Warwick never picked up the trophy. They and the crew headed for the airport before the awards ceremony. I guess they had another party to get to back in San Francisco.

William Tuthill

Aug 23, 2009, 7:19 AM

Post #20 of 55 (357382 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I had recently bought an ice cream business in Newport, R.I. and was working 'round the clock 7 days a week to get things up and running. My friend Cam Lewis came into the store and said that I needed to get down to the dock in 20 minutes -"no excuses".

When I arrived, there was a large group aboard a Formula 40 catamaran and Tom Blackaller was at the helm. Sail was raised, and I was impressed by how quickly the boat picked up speed. We were still in the crowded confines of Newport Harbor when we hardened up to skirt the north edge of the harbor. Tom was relaxed and chatting - I was observing - somewhat in awe of what the boat was doing. Soon [very soon] we were bearing down on a large stinkpot docked at Goat Island, but there was no apparent reaction from Tom.

Waiting.... waiting... I knew that no matter what happened it wouldn't be my problem, but just the same, the time to tack seemed to have come and gone. We were accelerating straight at this multi-million dollar wall of fiberglass, yet Tom seemed unfazed. I wasn't worried, but..........

All at once, and with two fingers he threw a jibe [not the expected tack - the one that would lead us out of the harbor and into more sea room] and the sail went "POP".

The Iceboating memories came flooding back and a lush of goose flesh crept up my spine. Perhaps THAT one incident can explain my enduring obsession with multihulls.

Will Tuthill/ Jamestown, R.I.


Aug 23, 2009, 4:30 PM

Post #21 of 55 (357344 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

20 years - it's been that long. How can anyone forget his super comp spirit whether it was tackle football on Marina Green or tackling the crowd at a local watering hole. He lives on in all of us that knew him.



Aug 24, 2009, 6:42 AM

Post #22 of 55 (357306 views)
Re: [cjcaswell] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

One September morning a while ago, I joined the crew of a 38-foot sloop for a delivery from Sausalito up the Sacramento Delta to the St. Francis Yacht Club’s Tinsley Island station, where the club was putting on its annual stag cruise. My shipmates were Tom Blackaller, Warwick “Commodore” Tompkins, and Gary Mull - three of San Francisco Bay’s most talented and vivid personalities—plus that fine boating writer Chris Caswell, plus Mull’s secretary’s non-sailor husband. The latter would soon experience more thrills than he or I ever expected because neither of us, unlike the others, had ever sailed with Tommy Blackaller.

The castoff was delayed by the patching-up of the holding tank, and we repaired to a nearby saloon for intense contests of the then cutting-edge computer game Pong and a few rounds of amber-colored fluids. Starting out in mid-afternoon with the prospect of 60 miles of sailing into a head tide, we set the spinnaker off Angel Island and in semi-racing mode ran across San Pablo Bay and into the San Joaquin River. Around this time Tom, in boisterous Blackaller mode, made it understood that he would not let go of the wheel until we reached Tinsley.

Hearing this, Tompkins, who knew Tom very well, took command of the navigation. I believe (or at least like to think) that the only liquid he drank in volume that night was coffee. The rest of us were drinking other things.

Running at high speed in the dark, Tom ably kept the bow in the middle of the narrow, sinuous channel between the Delta levees that block the river from spilling down onto adjacent farmland. Still, when Tompkins ducked below to check the chart, Tom (goaded by that other trickster, Mull) could not resist the temptation to gleefully wander off toward the tulies, the reeds along the bank. Alerted by whoops and hollers from the cockpit, Commodore stuck his head out the companionway and persuaded Tom to reconnect with the channel.

Up on the foredeck we were having our own fun jibing the spinnaker. At a critical moment during the first jibe, Chris Caswell belatedly learned that the high-tech pole-end fitting was a mystery. Ignoring a barrage of raucous commentary from the cockpit, he figured out how to open and close it. He should have kept the bowman’s job, but we were of the tipsy opinion that it would be much more fun to rotate positions. This gave each of us the opportunity to get out on the bow and try to figure out the pole anew.

In a state of uproarious semi-chaos we continued for many hours up the river until Tinsley’s lights appeared and a last wild jibe put us into the lagoon. Shouts arose from shore: “There’s Blackaller! Tommy, where have you been? Having a good time?”

“You bet, guys!” our skipper yelled back. “Save a drink for me!”

At another Tinsley cruise, I asked Jim McCurdy, the yacht designer, if he made a point of coming out every year. “It’s too good to come every year,” he replied. Tommy Blackaller made it seem that much better.

John Rousmaniere

The Publisher

Aug 24, 2009, 6:58 AM

Post #23 of 55 (357297 views)
Re: [JRousmaniere] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

There has been a couple references to Tinsely Island, an annex of the St. Francis Yacht Club situated in the Sacramento Delta, and the site of the club's infamous cruise. The land and facility are remarkable, as is the trip up the Delta.

Here are a couple links for images:

Scotty King

Aug 24, 2009, 7:11 AM

Post #24 of 55 (357292 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

In 1983 I sailed (a little) and worked (a lot) with Tom and the crew on Defender. We were selected that summer to not lose the American Boat Cup to the honor that eventually went to the boys on Liberty. During the run up to this historic event Defender sailed often against Liberty in the trials. Once Liberty made a move against Defender that so incensed Paul Cayard, the starboard trimmer, that he was shouting at Dennis and banging on the side of the hull with a rubber mallet. His displeasure, and that of the entire boat, was very clear. Not your normal pre-race exchange. Dennis shouted to Tom to, "Control your crew!" which caused immense amusement for Tom and the entire crew on Defender. While I don't remember the exact response Tom gave it is safe to assume that it was neither polite or what Dennis had in mind!

It was a great crew...and Tom brought out the best in us all.

Scotty King

Pelle P

Aug 25, 2009, 8:37 AM

Post #25 of 55 (357195 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Tom Blackaller was my very best American sailing friend.

We first met 1969 in San Diego, CA where I managed to beat Tom in the very last race of the Star World Championship to win the title. Tom finished second, and insisted that I had poisoned his crew, Gary Mull, the night before with Swedish Aquavit.

At the 1974 Star Worlds in Laredo, Spain, I had the lead in the beginning of the series, but Tom out sailed me and won his first World Championship title.

At the 1975 Admirals Cup, approaching the finish line of the Fastnet Race, out of the thick fog with maybe 100 meter visibility, I heard a loud shout. “Is that you Pelle?,” said Tom. “What the hell are we doing out here.” We ended neck and neck.

In 1979 there was the 6 meter World Cup in Seattle, WA. This was my turn to win with Tom in second. But what I remember most was the wonderful treatment I got from Tom’s mother and father, Tom Sr. I had the pleasure to design and build a 6 meter for Tom and St. Francis Yacht Club in the mid 80s. This time Tom beat me in the final of the America-Australia Cup at Royal Prince Alfred YC (AUS). Tom even found time to crew for me in the Congressional Cup in Long Beach.

During the 1986-87 America’s Cup in Freemantle, Australia, I was then involved with another team, but Tom secretly sneaked me into his shed for advice about his 12 meter USA. He was in doubt concerning certain appendage and steering systems.

Here and there we also found time for some nice rounds of golf. Whenever I have rounded the Tom Blackaller buoy that is close to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, it always provokes these many memories to pop-up. For Tom’s adventures in Sweden, those I would rather not put in print.

There is of course a lot more to be told of this truly charming, enjoyable, open-hearted man. It was a great privilege to have been his friend.

Pelle Petterson


Aug 25, 2009, 9:04 AM

Post #26 of 55 (356590 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

It was 1966 or 7, not sure but Tommy was guest skipper on ANDALE Cal 32. She was berthed at StFYC and we were on the way to the start. Half way down the channel, we saw an attractive girl the side of the Marina Green wall. Tom yelled “want to go sailing” she said yes and the rest is history. Later, on the downhill leg after dropping the spin and rounding Blossom, the boom cracked, we made temp repairs and headed for the barn. Bill Stewart (owner) later told Tommy, “you can’t race that boat like a Star”. Can’t remember that far back, but I think he guest skippered one more time the following year.

Andy Macdonald

Aug 26, 2009, 9:55 AM

Post #27 of 55 (355870 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Whether proper decorum is running uncharacteristically rampant, or perhaps sailors are becoming a more polite arm of society (oh, where is Tom when we need him?), there has not yet been mention in Scuttlebutt of the great feats of the MAGICIAN Tom Blackaller. As a compliment to his ferocious competitiveness on the water and on the track, he was also famous for making the girl you were courting in some bar in some Newport on some arm of the sea MAGICALLY disappear at about the same time he did, right before the bar tab arrived. But his most famous MAGIC that has ever been seen (I witnessed the aftermath), was one night when he caused an entire swimming pool to disappear from its perch alongside Biscayne Bay, never to be seen again. But some of those directly involved in that particular Blackaller magic are still among the living, so it should be left for them to tell the story. Sheer MAGIC! GOOD GRIEF!

Andy Macdonald

John Jourdane

Aug 26, 2009, 10:06 AM

Post #28 of 55 (355854 views)
Re: [Andy Macdonald] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Tom was sailing with us on the Nelson/Marek 49, Crazy Horse, in the Long Beach Race Week. Tom was steering, we were reaching with a spinnaker in light air, and ended up sailing very close to a fishing barge. The fishermen were not happy, and one yelled, "Hey dummies, we're fishing here!" Tom yelled back, "Hey fish head, who's the dummy? Look at your boat and look at ours."

John Jourdane

Mark Reynolds

Aug 26, 2009, 10:10 AM

Post #29 of 55 (355851 views)
Re: [John Jourdane] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

In 1980 Tom, Vince Brun and I were standing in the middle of the San Diego North Sails loft floor chatting. I had recently started working with Vince in the One Design department and Tom was in upper management just visiting our loft. He may have been in charge of the west coast North lofts at the time.

I had known Tom well from the Star class as a growing kid, probably not always getting the best education if you know what I mean. Anyway, literally at our feet was a kid on his hands and knees cutting a sail from a floor pattern. Behind us handworkers were finishing sail corners and above us on the mezzanine were seamstress’ sewing sails. Tom looked down at the kid on the floor and loudly said he was going to start a union, and then in an even louder voice, asked if anyone wanted to join his new union. He went on a bit more about an hourly increase and commenting about the poor kid crawling on the floor.

As I remember, Vince didn’t think it was as funny as Tom did.

Terry Rapp

Aug 26, 2009, 10:56 AM

Post #30 of 55 (355806 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I have many memories of Tom.

He came to an Annapolis Star regatta shortly after he won the Western Hemisphere Championship in 1968. After the first day my dad, Ted Rapp, and I were leading the series. My dad and I went to dinner that night at the Marriot in Annapolis. We were in a crowded restaurant and Tom spots us from across the room. He yells, "Rapp, I am going to kick your ass tomorrow." Of course it was all in fun. He did beat us in the race, but we won the series. He was always very open about sharing his boat speed secrets with us. The fact that he let us copy his set up for the regatta was a great testament to his love of competition. We probably would not have beaten him, if we had not gotten to his speed.

Terry Rapp Past Commodore Riverton Yacht Club. Riverton NJ

Bill Lee

Aug 26, 2009, 11:00 AM

Post #31 of 55 (355796 views)
Re: [Terry Rapp] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

When the Santa Cruz 70 Blondie was new Tom raced with us in the 1985 Windjammer Race from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, CA. With gusts over 30 and spinnaker set, we roared past the windiest point on the course, that being Davenport.

Tom was steering and he tested the steering both port and starboard. He did this several times. Finally he looked at me, the designer and builder, and said: "This boat isn't goosey enough. How do you trade some of this control for more boatspeed?"

Peter Grimm, Jr

Aug 26, 2009, 11:27 AM

Post #32 of 55 (355777 views)
Re: [Bill Lee] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

The best stuff about Tom is unprintable...

Circa 1975...I was 17 at the time racing a one tonner with him in one of the day races in the SORC. All his guys were say 10 years older, and I was so focused cause I was sailing with Tom Blackaller after all. Tom noticed I was quiet so he asked me to do a few little detailed things as he would tend to do. I was mouse like, navy seal he broke the mood for me right then and there. He said, "Grimm, what did your dad say was the most important thing about racing." Me being Peter Grimm Jr.(at the time I thought my dad was perfect..not so much anymore), thought I'd better come up with a good answer most 17 year olds. I replied, "Mr.. Blackaller, would it be concentration?" He said "HELL NO THE GUYS WITH THE TROPHIES GET LAID!"

Never forgot that..

It's one of my lines to the young guys..

Bugs Baer

Aug 26, 2009, 11:40 AM

Post #33 of 55 (355772 views)
Re: [Peter Grimm, Jr] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I was co-manager of the 1980 America's Cup campaign of Russell Long's Clipper. Things weren't going very well for us. We were beating Ted Turner in Courageous, but Dennis Connor, in his first campaign, was beating us. Connor had a lot more money and a lot more sails; it was the start of escalation in spending and equipment that continues to this day.

So Russell looked for a rabbit to pull out of the hat. He came up with Tom Blackaller, who joined us in Newport in mid-campaign. Tom and Dennis were old rivals from their Star class wars. And with Tom came the urge to annoy and torment his rival.

One night, probably after a few beers, Tom managed to infiltrate the Connor team crew house. Each of the teams had rented one of the great Newport summer homes; we had ours and they had theirs. Tom managed to find a way to set off the fire alarm, as I recall, after midnight. Bells clanged. Bodies stirred, jumped up, ran around. Somebody thought to go to Dennis' bedroom and make sure he was ready to run to safety.

The report that came back the next day was that when he was awakened, Connor listened for a moment, then said, "It's just Blackaller," and went back to sleep.

Bugs Baer

Ron Bartkoski

Aug 27, 2009, 11:09 AM

Post #34 of 55 (355413 views)
Re: [Bugs Baer] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I’ve been enjoying this thread so much I thought I’d write. I didn’t know Tom very well importunely but I did get a valuable sailing lesson from him once.

During the ’81 SORC on what I think was the St.Pete / Lauderdale race, we were beating on the northerly leg up the Gulf Stream in some nasty conditions. I was a newbie racing on Irv Loube’s new Frer’s 46, BRAVURA and we were well aware of a boat overtaking us from behind. Of course we all assumed it was a bigger boat, and told ourselves that it was probably a big boat that we had passed somewhere the night before. Turns out it was Tom, with his silver mane flying in the wind, sailing a Peterson 43 (Louisiana Crude if I remember correctly) in the class behind us.

He blew thru our lee about fifty yards off so fast it had our heads spinning. Although the conditions made it impossible to exchange any conversation, you just knew Tom would want to know where Dennis was. (Conner was sailing a boat call WILLIWAW). A half hour later Tom was off our bow and had thoroughly put us away. By then I could clearly see his #4 sheeted all the outboard to the rail and we were struggling with a #2 on the inboard track. Even though they never pointed as high as we were they were going upwind higher and faster. I never forgot that lesson.

We lost that race but went on to win quite a few after that. That lesson from Tom probably contributed to some of our success.

Thanks for the opportunity,

Ron Bartkoski

David Johnson

Aug 27, 2009, 11:20 AM

Post #35 of 55 (355408 views)
Re: [Ron Bartkoski] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I had the great fortune to sail with Tom in the 1988 Citizen Cup match racing event here in Auckland.

The event in those days was sailed in Stewart 34s - a boat entirely new to Tom but he came up to speed in them very quickly.

Another new innovation at that time was the use of on the water umpires and the “y” flag to draw their attention to your competitor’s transgressions.

When we explained this new process and showed Tom the ‘Y’ flag he smiled and said, “That’s an oil flag!” Of course he was talking about the flag that they used on the racetrack to signal that there is oil on the track ahead.

Thereafter every time we went into a pre-start and as soon as the Y flag was flown, Tom would start yelling to the other boat, “Slow down you guys - there’s oil on the track,” eventually screaming in one pre-start where the ‘oil flags’ came out several times, “Oh my god there’s so much oil on the track - there’s gonna be a helluva crash if you don’t slow down.”

He was a charismatic and entertaining guy to sail with. The week was full of anecdotes from his sailing career but he was no rock star getting a lift off the boat after the race. He pitched in with packing the boat up each day, sponged the bilge with us, etc. He also mentioned each and every one of us at the prize giving even though many of us were just local amateur sailors.

We were genuinely saddened at his passing.


Dave Johnson

Tom McCall

Aug 28, 2009, 6:50 AM

Post #36 of 55 (355293 views)
Re: [David Johnson] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I am an avid follower of Scuttlebutt and a retired windbludger who has done a fair bit of Sailing including the last Clipper Cup in my yacht Exador where we lost our rig in the last race, and after that did several Kenwood Cups under Ken Morrison's watch.

I am also in the Motor Industry and have been following the comments about Tom Blackaller. I may have missed it but I do not recall reading anything about Tom’s motor racing period in the in Formula Pacific/Atlantic, which I was involved in as a mechanic with my elder brother in the late 70's and early 80's.

Tom was a bloody competitive driver. He ran with Ric Shea in the US, an American race car owner, and came down here to NZ and drove in what I think was a RALT, and did the NZ Grand Prix series in the early to mid 80's and was among the top finishers.

Tom was an excellent guy who used to have a lot of trouble crossing his legs because of the size of his cojones, and about as diplomatic as a yellow Bentley Car. I can clearly recall when the Squadron was launching a three boat Admirals Cup Team at Westhaven, and they had a vast assembly of Squadron Members and dignitaries along with one of the Maori Kaumatuas (Elders) there.

When they were launching one of the yachts - I think it was Ian Gibbs one tonner "Swuzzlebubble" - this Maori gentleman announced to the assembled audience of hundreds, “In Maori Culture it is normal practice to launch a new WHAKA (War Canoe) in the presence of a Virgin Maori Maiden.”

I was standing right beside Tom when he said to me in his loud booming voice, “Hell Tommy, where the hell are you going to find a virgin in this town to launch it.”

The Commodore at the time was a man of very little humor and when the assembly turned around, and as I was standing right next to Tom Blackaller at the time, the Commodore said to me, “I might have known Mr. McCall that it would only be one of your bloody Mates who would say something like that at such an auspicious occasion.”

I was in more trouble than the early settlers for a while at the R.N.Z.Y.S..

Kind regards

Tom McCall

Marc Hollerbach

Aug 31, 2009, 11:41 AM

Post #37 of 55 (355091 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Unfortunately, I did not know Blackaller well but I did have the opportunity to witness his huge personality. At the pre-race meeting to draw boats for a Congressional Cup in the mid-70’s, Ted Turner had just paid the outrageous sum of $1 million for a pitcher for the Braves (Andy Messerschmidt, how do I remember this crap?). Blackaller started in needling Turner suggesting a number of other ways he might have spent that money. Turner did his best to respond which, with Turner, is no small thing. They had the room in such an uproar that it took the Race Chair about 15 minutes just to get the meeting started.

Blackaller was tactician for Pelle Pederson that year. In our race, we had them pinned heading away from the line on port. At some point Tom decided that they had room to jibe so he threw the main across as Pelle headed the boat down. We sailed our Cal 40 into their cockpit on port at about 6 knots. No umpires in those days so into the protest room where the judges decided that they had jibed too close. I can still hear Tom’s reaction to that decision echoing through the club.

The next year I was in Newport for some event and strolled into a compound where Tom was working on a 12 meter mast. As soon as he saw me he picked up his rant as if no time had passed and proceeded to let most of downtown Newport know what an idiotic decision the judges had made. After a bit, he suddenly stopped, threw back his head and laughed in the way that only he could. He clapped me on the back and said “Wasn’t that something!”.

Marc Hollerbach

Terry J. Kohler

Aug 31, 2009, 11:44 AM

Post #38 of 55 (355087 views)
Re: [Marc Hollerbach] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I never sailed with or against Tom Blackaller, but I had the perhaps MORE interesting experience of trying to "manage" him inside North Sails back in the middle 1980's. I'll let everyone imagine in their own way what that might have entailed from 1984 when I "acquired" North Sails, until his heart attack driving a sports car, a sport we shared, but Tom and I became very fast friends.

Tom even Christened our Sheboygan WI office where I worked "alone" as the "Intergalactic Headquarters of North Sails," since there already was a World HQ, and a United States HQ. There resides in Sheboygan at our SYC near the US Sailing Center, Sheboygan (USSCS), a trophy named after him, the Blackaller International Sled Match racing Invitational Competition (BISMIC). It has been since retired, but I think it is time to re-dedicate it on the 20th anniversary of his passing!

In the Sydney AUS airport in 1987 my wife Mary & I were having a tad or two waiting for our plane back to the states, and Tom walked up behind my wife and shouted, "GUESS WHO!" My wife mildly replied, "Hello TOM!"

Great memories of a great guy!

Peter Isler

Sep 1, 2009, 9:36 AM

Post #39 of 55 (354666 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

When I was coming of age in the sport, Tom Blackaller was a larger than life figure, one of the "superstars" of sailing. So when he signed on to be one of the coaches at a US Olympic Sailing Team Development program (for select up and coming sailors from non-Olympic classes) that I was running at the Squaw Valley Olympic Training Center, I was a bit nervous. But that event turned out to be one of the highlights of my coaching days and the beginning of many seminars that I would do with Tom. He was a great teacher and clearly loved sharing his knowledge.

To this day I still pass on some of the wisdom that he shared with a group one evening in San Diego (amongst the speakers that night was his arch rival Dennis Conner). He was talking about putting a team together for a big campaign. And he said that if he had the choice between someone with more experience or someone with a better attitude and less experience he would always pick the latter. His point was that the guy/girl who had the desire and enthusiasm would be a much better team member from the start and ultimately, become the better sailor too. Attitude first, experience second! It's a good rule that really applies in real life, outside of the sailboat too.

And as an aside, at that first seminar at the Olympic Training Center, the sports doctors thought it would be fun to run the "coaches" through some of the same physical testing that the athletes were being subjected to. There was a test of "explosive power" which entailed running up a set of "wired" stairs as fast as possible. Tom's result was off the chart - the doctor's were amazed. His result was better than all the sailors by far, and (as I recall) the highest score ever recorded by any athlete tested at the Training Center (which of course included all the alpine stars of the day). No wonder he liked driving those race cars... he could put the pedal to the metal with the best of them!

Peter Isler

Scott Kaufman

Sep 1, 2009, 11:20 AM

Post #40 of 55 (354609 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Remembering Tom Blackaller - 20th Anniversary [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I had the great good fortune to be a friend of Tom's for more than 20 years. From the days when he came to Sydney to race 6 Meters and to the house for Christmas Day, to the days when he skippered some of the boats I designed for Italian owners. Suspense and Vanina come to mind, but he was very much a fixture in Italy in the late 70's.

I do remember sailing with Tom in the Half Ton Cup in 1975 in Chicago on Checkered Demon. We sailed in late October (what were they thinking of) and soon after the start of the middle distance race, a huge wind shift sent us from the lead to almost last place. We rounded the leeward mark and sailed all night across the lake, hard on the wind. Tom steered the whole night. Checkered Demon was a simple boat without any wind instruments and Tom steered without any lights on the tell tales. Just a compass and a speedo.

As an anxious navigator, I was on deck all night hoping to find the windward mark. We passed boats all night.... just Tom and the wind and by the time we reached the turning mark we were back in the lead. I've never sailed with anyone else who had that kind of feel. He was in another class. Besides all the fun he was to be with, Tom just was a fabulous sailor.

Scott Kaufman

Scott Kaufman Yachts
145 Avenue Of The Americas, # 6C
New York NY 10013
212 421 1412 Ph

Viewing the Forums: No members and guests
First page Previous page 1 2 Next page Last page  View All

Search for (options) Contact Forum Forum FAQS Markup Tags Forum Rules