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Boat racing has been a part of St. Regis life from the days when campers agreed that it would be sinful to race on Sunday, but there was no real harm in taking two boats and seeing who could get to church first. If the Idem was the perfect boat for St. Regis, St. Regis was the perfect spot for a one-design class.
For decades the same boats and skippers showed up on the starting line. Ogden Reid, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune, raced his Idem with a cigar clamped between his teeth, except in the intervals when he had to move his jaws to browbeat his crew. His strong-minded wife, Helen, peacefully raced her own. Publisher Reid is gone now, and so is his family's famed newspaper, but one of their Idems still sails on the lake.
Among the best skippers was Elsie Ely, who won her first race in an Idem in 1900, but still disclaims the credit:
"You mustn't forget that we always had professional skippers in those days. One year we had two—imagine! It was father's boat, and he raced it until he was 85, although in those last years he would stay in the launch, on very windy days, and then criticize every single thing I had done."
Of course, nothing is immune to change or the desire of someone to change it. Some time ago one Idem owner, Yachtsman Robert Huntington, hired Naval Architect Phil Rhodes to redesign his old girl according to the newest technology. Her sail plan was changed from the old-fashioned gaff rig to the modern triangular Marconi. Her center-board was altered. Stainless steel and dacron rigging was installed—and then the bedizened hussy sallied out to the starting line—to be thoroughly trounced by the frumpy old dowagers.
That was the last time that anyone whispered "time for a change" in the cockpit of an Idem. Year after year, the same sails are hoisted—many of them sails that were delivered with the boats in 1900, some of them sails that were added in the lush seasons of the 1920s. Idem owners claim that there is a new suit of sails made by Ratsey on one of the boats, but this sail happens to be made of canvas, and Ratsey hasn't made a canvas sail in 20 years.
Still, by St. Regis standards, that is new. There, races and decades blend together in a long haze of summer. Each season there is a crowd of modern boats, pitting themselves against the grandmas. In 1917, the O boats appeared, designed by John Alden and, of course, there is still a flock of these newcomers which haven't even reached the half-century mark. The E scows arrived in 1931, supposedly the fastest single-hull boats in the country, and while no one could claim that the Idems actually beat them, the Idems undoubtedly held their own. After that it was the turn of the Ravens—which came and flew and disappeared—and this year there is a brand-new fleet of fiber glass M-20s—high-strung beauties that dart across the lake like dragonflies.
But still there are Idems. Last year and this year and next year there are Idems. And the more the others change, the more they are the same.