SI Vault
Carleton Mitchell
May 18, 1959
The Mosbacher brothers, Bus and Bob, are currently the hottest skippers going. Here is the story of how two great helmsmen grew, and the secrets of their success
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 18, 1959

Kings Of The Class-boat Sailors

The Mosbacher brothers, Bus and Bob, are currently the hottest skippers going. Here is the story of how two great helmsmen grew, and the secrets of their success

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

On a smoky day in a chill sou'wester off Newport last September, Vim and Columbia , the two great contenders for America's Cup honors, squared off for one of their last battles. Corny Shields, at Columbia's helm, was already tasting victory: "Just let her stick her nose into the clear," he exulted, "and she cannot be beaten." But aboard Vim, Helmsman Emil (Bus) Mosbacher and a superb crew were ready and waiting, and at the preparatory signal Vim made her move. Like a great jungle cat, she pounced on Columbia 's stern. Corny Shields circled vainly, trying to escape, finally broke and headed for the line. But he was slightly early; Columbia had to bear off and Bus Mosbacher had the opening he was waiting for. He rode his rival past the buoy, in complete control, until Shields let go the wheel and placed his hands on his hips in a gesture of resignation. He could have paid no greater compliment to his young competitor, who on that day, as on many others, had won the race before it had officially begun.

A week later, before the spray had even settled in Newport, another Mosbacher named Bob was at the helm of a 210 class sloop off Rye, on Long Island Sound. When that contest was over, Bob had won the North American Sailing Championship for the Clifford D. Mallory Cup, establishing himself as the year's unquestioned master of fleet racing.

The Mosbacher brothers, Bus and Bob, are a phenomenon of the sort that yachting—or any other sport, for that matter—sees only seldom. For an entire year now they have been whipsawing their competitors with impressive regularity. Bob led off in the early spring of 1958 by winning the Southern Ocean Racing Conference championship. Transferring to smaller boats on sheltered waters, he followed this with the impressive series of victories that finally qualified him to represent the Texas Yachting Association in the climactic Mallory Cup competition. Bus came heart-stoppingly close to winning U.S. yachting's greatest honor when Vim was barely nosed out by Columbia in the cup trials. When the summer of the 12s was finished he turned to ocean racing, skippering Callooh in the Southern Circuit with such impressive skill that she won the SORC championship, and he had his name engraved alongside Bob's.

The careers of the two brothers are at once parallel and divergent. Both were born in Westchester County, N.Y., Bus in 1922, Bob in 1927. The sailing lives of both extend back to earliest memories. "I guess I was 4 4� when I first went out," recalls Bus" "Dad bad a shell boat, about 12 feet long, a cat-rigged, flat-bottomed little boat equivalent to today's dinghy. I was allowed to come along." Bob considers himself 5 when he started. "I used to think it was great fun to turn the boat over. I remember I stopped when nobody helped me right it again. The older fellows did the pumping at first. When I had to do it myself, it ceased being fun."

To both, life afloat was "a natural sort of evolution, since Dad was interested in sailing." The elder Mosbacher, a successful independent producer of oil and gas, with extensive real estate holdings in addition, loved sailing and gave his sons every opportunity to excel. As youngsters, the Mosbachers owned a succession of boats, which passed from the elder to the younger brother as some families pass clothes. There was the shell, then a Comet, then a Star, which both consider of great importance in their nautical education, especially in developing feel to windward. Most helmsmen watch their sails almost constantly, especially the luff of the jib. The Mosbachers agree they do not. "We were so small when we started sailing Stars," Bob says, "that we couldn't crick our necks to watch the sails. All we could go by was the angle of heel, the look of the seas ahead and the water passing to leeward, with maybe an occasional glance aloft."

"Actually," Bus says today, "watching the sails is only one of the important factors which you must watch during a race. It's like a football game: when a quarterback is running off a play he must know what all his other team members are doing, not just the end to whom he's going to pass. Watching only the jib is like watching only that one end.

"There are so many it's during a race. If it's rough, you must watch the sea. If it's fluky, you must watch for direction changes, keep an eye on the cat's-paws. You must watch the balance of the boat and trim the sails. And all along you have relative-motion problems particular to your own position. The scene is always changing; every puff means something in relation to your opponent."

The senior Mosbacher played an important role then not only as a provider of boats and an encourager of sailing but as an active coach. He owned a power launch, and each Saturday and Sunday followed the boys in their respective classes. As Bus recalls it: "Whenever I saw the bow wave of my father's boat rise I knew I had done something wrong. It meant he was leaving me to watch Bob. If he was back a short time later it meant Bob had done something wrong."

In the evenings after races Emil senior sat down with his sons to recapitulate the day's events. Everything from starting maneuvers to spinnaker handling to turning tactics came under discussion, and both boys learned there had to be a reason for every move they had made.

These evening sessions are still lively in both the brothers' memories. "Of course," Bus recalls today, "as often with father and son, Dad might become outraged by our mistakes, but by the time we met for dinner he was usually fairly calm and peaceful. I don't recall him ever blaming us for our mistakes. What he was more apt to do was ask us why we made them. Why did it take two minutes to get the spinnaker up, why did I tack at a certain point? At the same time, he was most sparing with his compliments, and he could be very sharp. If we pulled a really bad blunder we would arrange to have dinner with a friend. There were one or two occasions when we even stayed away for the weekend."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5