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Sailor with but a single thought
Hugh Whall
August 12, 1963
A California skipper used every gimmick from gamesmanship to a soggy sweatshirt for his victory
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August 12, 1963

Sailor With But A Single Thought

A California skipper used every gimmick from gamesmanship to a soggy sweatshirt for his victory

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Like most planing boats, Finns do best when sailed as nearly upright as possible. And the hiked-out weight of the skipper is a prime factor in maintaining this balance. This requires strong leg and stomach muscles since the skipper may spend hours stretched out over the water with his toes hooked-under a hiking strap. Paul Elvstrom, the Olympic Finn champion, gets into tone by putting his feet under a dresser, then leaning back 25�, while he reads the morning paper.

Finn skippers resort to a startling collection of tricks for adding extra weight. Sprague can add a good many pounds to his total quite simply. "I put on eight sweatshirts," he says, "two sweaters, two pairs of socks and sometimes a pair of football pants." The football pants have padded knees which cushion the jolt he gets as he drops to the bottom of the boat during a violent jibe. To soak up additional poundage, Henry, looking like the Michelin tire man, jumps into the drink.

Strategies such as these form bones of contention that Finn sailors like to chew on. Generally, the argument rages between the heavyweights and the lightweights. As one bantamweight at Long Beach wistfully put it, "What's the difference between wearing eight sweaters dunked in water like Sprague and a nice life preserver with a 15-pound hunk of lead in it?" But Henry Sprague seems less concerned with winning arguments than with winning races. The gamesmanship he applies to this purpose was well illustrated at Long Beach during the break between the sixth and seventh races of the series.

"I took a 15th in the morning that really se me back. I was up against it, and I had to finish high up in the fleet to hold off the others in the last four races," explained Sprague. "I needed wind, and I didn't think there was nearly enough around." So Henry stalled.

Hoping that the wind would pick up in the afternoon to favor his ability to go in rough stuff, Sprague sailed over to the committee boat just before the start and complained that the boom on his boat was broken. It obviously was. "Take the spare boat," shouted the committee. "I don't want it," yelled back Sprague. While Sprague moved in slow motion, all the time looking upwind to see if the breeze were increasing, the boom was replaced. Still no breeze. The boom operation completed, Sprague let his boat drift far downwind from the line as he busied himself coiling lines like an automaton. Finally, he sailed back to the committee boat. "I need time to tune up," said Henry smoothly, and the race was further delayed. When the race finally was over, Henry finished a healthy fifth. Afterward Sprague said of his delaying tactics, "Any Finn sailor in my position would have done the same." And on the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club beach there were few of his defeated rivals who would deny it.

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Henry Sprague 1 0 0
Long Beach 138 0 0
California 4412 0 4
Paul Elvstrom 9 0 0
Florida 2932 0 5