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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The One Ton Cup world championship, sailed off Newport this month, might have been called the Peterson world championship. Twenty boats from this very hot, very expensive ($75,000 and up), level-racing class arrived to compete for a cup first offered in the 1890s. Today's One Tonner, far different from its 19th century predecessors, is 34 to 37 feet of get-up-and-go. Of the 20, 10 were from the drawing board of San Diego's 30-year-old Doug Peterson, three by the 28-year-old New Zealand designer, Ron Holland (who lives in Ireland these days), and five other designers had one each. Sparkman & Stephens, which once ruled the class, managed only two, one old and one new, and both finished poorly. Last Saturday, at the end of three closed-course races and two bouts in the ocean, the Petersons once again ruled the class with finishes of 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9 out of the top 10. "Winning isn't automatic with a Peterson anymore," one observer noted. "There are too many of them."

Pied Piper, a brand-new Peterson from Chicago, built by Carl Eichenlaub and named in co-owner Dick Jennings' self-image (he runs an exterminating company), led the rat pack through most of the five exhausting races and thus became the second U.S. boat ever to win the championship, the Dick Carter-designed Tina having taken it in 1966.

Pied Piper won the North American championship two weeks before in the same waters, and she picked up right where she left off. Halfway to the weather mark of the first race she took the lead and never looked seriously like losing thereafter. Her worst finish was fifth. Her brain trust, chaired by co-owner Lowell North, the sailmaker, showed great tactical sense in a variety of weather that included dense fog, rain, dead calm and a near gale, Indian summer heat and early winter chill. With an additional slight edge in boat speed, Pied Piper finished 1, 5, 1, 1, 2.

Several boats were going well enough to win, but Germany's Gumboots was the only one of 10 foreigners in contention to the end. Winner last year as an English entry, Gumboots was driven hard by Sailmaker Berend Beilken and a crew new to the boat. She finished third in every race and placed second overall.

Californian George Tooby came along with America Jane III, the first One Tonner by young Australian Designer Scott Kaufman, and blew the first race, finishing 15th, but then showed a ton of speed with finishes of 2, 2, 2, 1 for third overall. Oh, that first race! The Long Island Sound boats Kindred Spirit and Artemis, Ted Turner's Vamp and Silver Apple from Ireland showed flashes of brilliance and overall quickness, but ultimately each lacked the consistency needed to place in this tough fleet.

It was indeed a tough fleet, with positions changing on every leg of every race, but the competition was marred at times by sail handling and navigation that were below standard. There was one collision, and one boat went on the rocks.

Nevertheless, the One Ton event has become the Indianapolis 500 of sailing. It is a showplace for top-of-the-line everything—design, sails, hardware—and it has a big-business, big-money aura about it. As the skipper of one nonfactory-team boat said, with just a touch of bitterness, "It's interesting to see the pros out there going at it. I'm sure it means a lot to them for business reasons." It does. The pros took the top four places.

Such concentrated attention was being given to hull shapes, sail shapes and go-fast technology, the races seemed at times more like design-engineering conferences than a regatta. " Peterson's Ganbare in 1973 did for One Ton racing what the rear engine did for auto racing," said one sailing buff. "Now the basic design is being refined for specific sea conditions and wind ranges. It's like the gearboxes are being changed for every race." Dockside deepthink was so pervasive it was refreshing to hear Skip Purcell say Kindred Spirit's major weakness was "when we make a mistake."

The man who made very few mistakes and who put it all together in a most enviable way was Lowell North. An ad for his sails is headlined WINNING IS EVERYTHING, and North races as if he believes it. He is a multiple winner of the coveted Star world championship, among several hundred other victories, and one can't quarrel with the results: North sails dominated the One Ton fleet.

North sailed on Ganbare in 1973 and with Dennis Conner on Stinger (now Vamp) during this year's SORC triumph. When it came time for him and Dick Jennings to build a One Tonner, they knew what they wanted. Pied Piper's "gearbox" is designed for maximum performance in choppy seas in almost any wind.

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