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Courtly confusion at Copenhagen
Hugh Whall
August 15, 1966
The glamour of kings and princes compensated for mix-ups at the Royal Yacht Club birthday party
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August 15, 1966

Courtly Confusion At Copenhagen

The glamour of kings and princes compensated for mix-ups at the Royal Yacht Club birthday party

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In the history of European yachting there has never been anything like it. The 100th anniversary of the Royal Danish Yacht Club celebrated at Copenhagen last week was a magnificent spectacle, the largest fleet of its kind ever assembled, with everything in the way of color, crowds, weather, pretty girls and parties—and sailing misadventures—to make it unforgettable.

"This thing's been a bit of a disaster," said a veteran observer, studying the program. The program was an exhaustive, beautifully printed document with instructions in both English and Danish. The only trouble was that the instructions were different in each language. In a Dragon-class race the English-reading sailors went one way, the Danish-reading sailors went another, neatly dividing the fleet. At first the furious officials disqualified all of the yachts for having taken the wrong course, only to wash out the races altogether once they discovered that the instructions were wrong.

Racing skippers, a testy group as a whole, are seldom inclined to enjoy spectacles, but as a spectacle the centennial was unsurpassed. There were days such as Danes rarely see, with a sun that warmed but did not burn, and visibility that made Sweden, five miles away across the sound, seem almost touchable. There were the huge, square-rigged training ships—Danmark, Christian Radich, Georg Stage—reviewed by the King of Denmark from his white motor yacht. The big ocean racers came in from the Transatlantic Race from Bermuda, led by Huey Long's Ondine, winner for the second straight time. There were small yachts, as small as Snipes, Finns and O.K. dinghies (13 feet), middle-sized Dragons and the larger 5.5-meters—800 boats in 20 classes, from Russia, California, Texas, South Africa, the Bahamas, Brazil, Morocco, India, Hong Kong. It was as though every sailboat from every corner of the world had suddenly drained into the string of tiny artificial ports that lie north of Copenhagen.

King Olav of Norway was there, with his 5.5-meter Norna X. So was his son, Crown Prince Harald, with his Fram III. King Constantine of Greece strolled around the docks before sailing his Dragon class Protefs. King Olav did not stroll; he fell on a slippery deck and thereafter hobbled around on crutches. There was so much royalty strolling or hobbling around the docks before each race that, as at a movie premiere, picking out names was more interesting than the show itself. You heard such nautical conversation as this:

"Ah, look, it's Constantine!"

"No, it's Harald. That's a Norwegian flag on his boat."

"Who's that majestic one in the white cap?"

"That's a policeman."

More than the Transatlantic Race, more than the 5.5-meter championship and the Dragon-class world championship, the One-Ton series was considered the most important in the centennial celebration. Competition for the cup goes back to 1899, and for many years six-meter yachts competed for it. Nowadays the six-meter class is about as popular as the one-piece bathing suit, and the cup has languished. Revived in 1965, the One-Ton is raced on a boat-to-boat basis, like the races for the America's Cup, but in these small ocean races the only thing the One-Ton boats have in common is their rating (22 feet or less).

One reason why the One-Ton series was so important at the centennial was that the Danish skipper, Hans Albrecht, was defending his title. The caliber of competition he faced also had something to do with it: Ted Hood, the king of sailmakers, with newly designed Robin; Sir Max Aitken, the son of Lord Beaver-brook, with Roundabout; Dick Carter, a budding genius, who designed and steered Edward Stettinius' Trina (which won). The Americans also won the 290-mile race from Elsinore to the northern tip of Denmark with the 72-foot ketch Ticonderoga.

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