get me a pan," Dr. Pierpont said minutes before the start. Dipping into the
green water, he hauled up a long drink and then passed the pan around. The
water, cool and clear, was more than sweet. It had the nutty taste of water
freshly sprung from mountain rock. And all about there lay nearly 3,000 cubic
miles of the stuff, a whole lot of the world's potable water. Dishwashing—a
chore on saltwater ocean racers where soap won't get sudsy and dish towels get
gummy—suddenly became as easy as dishwashing at home in the kitchen sink. Hot,
fresh water gushed from practically every spigot, and the little spray that
came aboard neither stung nor caked, nor crusted the lip.
the first geographic mark of the course, Whitefish Bay, the fleet finally
reached Whitefish Point at dusk—just in time to run out of wind. The boats were
over deep but brightly shimmering fishing nets installed beneath the surface
for a mile beyond the land to catch cisco chub, lake trout, or the whitefish,
for which Lake Superior is famous.
thermals off the land came in from astern—dictating a shift from genoa jib to
spinnaker. Then a full moon rose, and the temperature began its customary drop.
At midnight, in calm water, the helmsman was converted into an Eskimo—gripping
the wheel spokes with gloved hands, bundled in everything from thermal
underwear to shirts, sweaters and a ski jacket and fur cap. By the shafting
light of the aurora borealis, his breath was clearly visible as it puffed from
his mouth every time he exhaled.
It was the same
for everyone—and, seemingly, everyone was around. By the nature of the course,
the weather and the competition, the fleet—although strung out according to
size from head to tail—was bunched in clumps of similar-sized boats which
rarely lost track of each other. Aboard Snark, the sight of Tigress, Flying
Jenny III, occasionally Tamara and Alexa provided a constant urge to try
harder. Even during the evening cocktail hours—a luxury enjoyed aboard few
ocean racers but an indispensable part of Snark—only the weather was as
important as the nearby competition. "What do we do when ice starts to form
in the rigging?" asked a Pierpont son one cold evening.
"Chip it off
and stick it in a glass," came the quick retort from his father. Although
it often felt as though it might, ice never did actually form on the shrouds.
And by the fourth slow day out, Tuesday, the thermometer got so high that three
sons went swimming in the fathomless water. Jumping overboard with pink
complexions, they clambered back blue all over, despite swearing the water was
as warm as they had ever felt it. Not far away, meanwhile, the Coast Guard
escort vessel Naugatuck found the going so slow that a boat drill served as an
excuse for the crew to go fishing. Finally, radio reception remained poor, as
it usually is due to interference caused, so it is said, by the huge iron
deposits in the Mesabi Range. Daily reports from the boats were hopelessly
There were miles
of constant effort to keep Snark going in the fluky air, threading between
low-lying Devils and Rocky Islands in the Apostles, with the Porcupine
Mountains away to the southeast. And always nearby lurked Snark's constant
companions, the 33-year-old Tigress, one of a Sparkman and Stephens-designed
class called the New York 32, and the Pearson 43, Flying Jenny III, and Alexa,
the latter only 38 feet long. Somehow, no matter what was tried aboard Snark,
this little group refused to go away. Even at the last moment, as the vast lift
bridge guarding Duluth's harbor entrance emerged from the darkness before dawn
on the fifth morning, the group was still clustered.
crossed the line—not only to finish first but to win on handicap as well, a
difficult double play considering the weather conditions that usually favor
small fry. As for Snark, she took second in Class A and fourth overall behind
Flying Jenny III and Alexa.
"We came up
here thinking it would be heavy weather, and we'd do good," said George
Lyon, who owns Tigress. "Instead it turned out to be light—and we did good
He didn't really
sound all that surprised, however, since the 32s, although ancient by today's
standards, are famously swift. But his crew had another reason for the Tigress'
success. They pointed to Owner Lyon's bullwhip draped on the backstay. "I
think we must have changed sails on the average of five times every 20
minutes," one of them said. "We went from jenny to floater to spinnaker
and back again. You don't get action like that unless the skipper arms himself
beforehand." Thanks to their scrambling about, Tigress" speed never
dropped below one-half knot, despite the calm-bound course.
Meanwhile, as the
rest of the fleet dribbled in, the front-runners savored Duluth. It is not
Bermuda, Nassau, Newport or even Chicago. In fact, Duluth is more on the style
of Fall River, Mass., or San Pedro, Calif. Certainly, the town is not sailboat
oriented. "It must be a long lifetime since two dozen sailing craft were
making their way from the eastern end of Lake Superior to this port, all at the
same time," noted the Duluth News-Tribune in a lead editorial headlined
HISTORIC SAILING RACE. "And some child born here Wednesday may find his
birthday in the record books as the last day of the first Trans-Superior
sailing race," it continued.