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Two Texans shoot it out with a pair of 5.5s
Hugh Whall
September 16, 1963
Ernest and Albert Fay (right) take on the world in a month-long race series in rugged Olympic sailboats
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September 16, 1963

Two Texans Shoot It Out With A Pair Of 5.5s

Ernest and Albert Fay (right) take on the world in a month-long race series in rugged Olympic sailboats

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"What satisfaction," asks Ernie of the world in general, "can a designer get from copying someone else's boat?"

At some $30,000 apiece, boats of the 5.5-meter class are far more expensive to design, to build and to race than any one-design of comparable size. And there are many sailors who believe they are not worth the trouble or the money. These dissenters say the 5.5s are too demanding and too dangerous to race. They claim that spinnakers up to 800 feet square are too big for the boats, and they point to the number of 5.5s that have taken spectacular knockdowns while racing before strong winds. Ernie Fay disagrees. "For the Olympics you need a demanding sort of boat," he insists. "The Olympics are meant to be a test of athletic prowess, and Olympic sailing shouldn't be any exception. In 5.5s," adds the sinewy sailor, "you expect that sort of test. Furthermore, the crews like the boats because of the challenge they offer. If they didn't, they'd be sailing in Dragons or," he laughs, "that old man's boat, the IOD [the similar-sized International One-Design]."

What Ernie Fay neglects to add is that it helps to have the agility of a Nijinsky, the bravura of an Errol Flynn and the endurance of Gibraltar when crewing on a 5.5. When not trimming the jib or working the running backstays, the two crewmen demanded by a 5.5 huddle in the bottom of a chest-high cockpit or pump out the gallons of spray that slosh dismally over the foredeck going upwind. Running before the wind or reaching across it with an overfed spinnaker, the crew keeps just as busy trimming the sheet and guys and wondering whether the next puff will suck the boat completely out of control or knock it flat. "You've got to be rugged," says Ernie Fay, "to sail a 5.5."

Rugged Ernie and his rugged brother Albert will have some rugged competition to contend with during the next month. Norway's young Crown Prince Harald is a top 5.5 sailor who needs none of the special advantages given to his sailing father, King Olav. "A Norwegian told me," says Ernie Fay, "that in Norway it always pays to follow the King across the starting line because, early or not, the race committee never dares to call him back." The sailing skippers from Russia, Naval Captain Konstantin Alexandrov and Mill Hand Viktor Gorlov, offer competition from behind the Iron Curtain that should give the Goldwater backers from Texas plenty of trouble. An even more potent threat comes from Sweden's Gold Cup winner Lars Thorn who managed to slip in ahead of the Fays for the U.S. title. Then there is the current Olympic champion, Philadelphia's Dr. Britton Chance. Whether or not any of these should beat them, however, the fiercest competition Albert and Ernest Fay will face on Long Island Sound will be that provided by Ernest and Albert Fay. Off the water they blend like Texas and Cadillacs, but on the water they have a tendency to forget that they are related. "In one overseas regatta," says Albert's daughter Marion, "we were way out ahead of Uncle Ernie. We must have had nine boats between us, but all Daddy could do was fuss about Uncle Ernie. 'What's he doing?' he'd say. 'Why's he tacking now? Where's he going? Why's he doing that?' When Pride got hidden by some other boats, Daddy couldn't keep still. 'Where's he gone now? Why can't I see him?' You'd have thought there weren't any other boats in the race. When Daddy's racing he thinks Ernie's got him snake-bit."

It may be that before the racing is over on the Sound this month a lot of other 5.5 sailors will have the same sentiments about both brothers.

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