SI Vault
Roger Vaughan
September 22, 1975
In boating's version of the 500, the One Ton world championship, a swift rat pack challenged a Pied Piper
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September 22, 1975

An Indy On A Fast, Wet Track

In boating's version of the 500, the One Ton world championship, a swift rat pack challenged a Pied Piper

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Piper was easily the most hydraulic boat in the fleet. Her headstay, backstay, baby stay and boom vang can all be adjusted to the nearest 100 pounds of tension by a hydraulic pump-and-valve system. Her mast, which can be moved through a 20-inch fore-aft arc at the tip, was the tallest and thinnest in the fleet. Mast and rigging were built by Tim Stearn, a Pied Piper helmsman who, at 27, is president of Stearn Sailing Systems of Wisconsin. "In a chop," Stearn said, "our mast causes less turbulence on the sails." Is mast turbulence really that significant? "When a 140-mile race is won by a boat length, it is," he said. But the philosophy aboard Piper was best revealed by her digital speed gauge, which reads in hundredths of a knot.

Unlike many skippers, who take the helm for the duration, North prefers the role of tactician and sail trimmer. He handles the boat at the start and takes a turn steering, but mainly he is mentally pacing the boat, calculating, calling tactics and observing the big picture. With great attention to detail, he does his share of scut work. At 4 p.m. on a lay day, the guy in the wet suit emerging from beneath Piper's hull was Lowell North. " Lowell doesn't let his ego get in the way of progress," one of his crew said.

North's crew is tops, and his navigator, Ben Mitchell, may be the best in the fleet. The night the Brazilian-owned Mach II went on the rocks at the finish of the middle-distance, 140-mile race, Mitchell took Piper nearly to Brenton tower before tacking for the finish line at the mouth of Narragansett Bay. "Didn't you sail an extra mile?" he was asked. "Yeah," Mitchell said, "but we didn't hit the rocks, and we still won."

Add a gorgeous collection of custom sails, and it is understandable why the amateurs gritted their teeth in the wake of the Pied Piper and other professionals spoke with admiration. "We went by them on one of the reaches in the 140-miler," said Sailmaker Bob Barton of Kindred Spirit. "We had on the double head rig I made for this series. It was a big thrill. I wanted to turn on the country music to let them know who it was."

There were other bright moments. After the North American championships, America Jane III lightened her keel and added sail, which substantially improved her performance. After A.J.'s third straight second, Scott Kaufman was so happy he challenged co-helmsman Warwick Tompkins to a hand-over-hand climb up the headstay—and laughed when he lost. Even the hole that Silver Apple's bow had made in A.J.'s topsides aft couldn't dampen Kaufman's mood. The Holland-designed Apple had failed to bear away during a close port-starboard situation in a breeze and had nearly come into A.J.'s cockpit. "It was just like Jaws, man," said Gary Weisman, who was at the helm. The collision ended Apple's otherwise respectable showing.

On the dock before the last race, a 318-mile hike that had 35-knot winds in store, Weisman listened to some free tactical advice about how to handle archrival Gumboots. "You can probably beat them," this guy was saying, "if you stay with them instead of going off trying to win the race." "Well," Gary said, "I guess we'll go off and try to win the race." And he did, and A.J. won. All in all, though, the One Ton was a well-deserved triumph for North. His speed edge alone was too slim to ensure victory. Piper had to be best in all departments, and she was.

It was also a good win for Peterson, but other designers are knocking at the door. After the last race Peterson was below in the soggy disarray of Pied Piper, listening intently to what Lowell North was saying. Peterson was calm, impassive as usual, hands folded, head nodding. But one had the distinct feeling he was thinking about his drawing board back home in San Diego.

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