SI Vault
Coles Phinizy
February 23, 1981
The ubiquitous nonentity of World War II sails on as the mascot of real-estate magnate Jim Kilroy's latest Kialoa, the high-tech heavyweight of the SORC
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February 23, 1981

Ahoy! Kilroy Is Here

The ubiquitous nonentity of World War II sails on as the mascot of real-estate magnate Jim Kilroy's latest Kialoa, the high-tech heavyweight of the SORC

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The old Kialoa—now designated Kialoa III—was aluminum. The new hull, launched in December, is made of space-age stuff: a balsa core sheathed in Kevlar fiber, carbon fiber and S-glass. She weighs only 77,000 pounds but, unlike her predecessor, gets a decent credit rating for it. The new Kialoa is about two feet longer overall and on the waterline than her older sister. She is lighter in the ends. Her flat, fair body is about six inches deeper in draft, her keel span two feet greater. She has only 3% more wetted surface but nearly 9% greater sail area. As a consequence of these sneaky architectural advances, she should prove devastating on all points of sailing in big winds and seas, and a hellion running and reaching in all conditions. Regrettably, as the Lauderdale race amply proved, despite the talent of all her deck animals, in a dead calm Kialoa does no better than Noah's ark.

Kilroy and the experts supporting his effort were fearful that the new Kialoa, because of her lighter displacement and broader beam, might be slower upwind in light air than Kialoa III, but in pacing trials against the older boat she has proved a few 10ths of a knot faster and more weatherly. Because the bow is not sharply veed and she has no skeg at all, the new boat is harder to keep in the groove, but in time that should prove to be no problem because on the wheel will be what mariners used to call "hard old hands with a soft touch." At the helm most of the time will be either Kilroy or his project manager, Bruce Kendell. Between them they steered Kialoa III for almost all of her 130,000 miles of ocean racing.

Although in his crazy-quilted early life Kilroy wandered occasionally up unprofitable ratholes, and although at age 58 he is still somewhat a jock at heart, limber of mind and limb, he rarely goes into anything half-cocked. Quality attracts quality, and for love or money, the new Kialoa has drawn a lot. She was designed by Ron Holland, the New Zealander whose light-ended little 40-footer, Imp, won the 1977 SORC. The keel configuration was projected from NASA specs by Holland with the aid of Dr. James Burke, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory aerodynamic astrophysicist who is perhaps best known to the lay public as a collaborator on the first successful man-powered flying machine, the Gossamer Condor. David Pedrick, the naval architect responsible for Kialoa III, is in charge of the performance instrumentation of the new boat. Dr. Allen Puckett, chairman of the board of Hughes Aircraft, has contributed to the development of the new Kialoa, and so have Arvel Gentry, a senior aerodynamicist for Boeing, and Dr. George Mueller, a senior vice-president of Burroughs Corporation. When the whole fancy electronic conglom of instant readouts and analytic computers are finally pouring out data to help Kialoa make her way over the briny, there will even be a "bogey meter" that will scold the helmsman if he fails to make the boat perform as well as the computer knows she can. Kilroy readily admits that the art of sailing has moved along since the days of Melville and Conrad. "Show me a man who says he still sails by the seat of his pants," he says, "and we'll knock his block off."

The Irish have a way of making their names unforgettable while they themselves remain anonymous. Potatoes are called murphies and there is a Murphy bed and a Murphy's Law, but almost nobody knows which Murphy was responsible for any of them. "It's the real McCoy" is a familiar phrase, but not even scholars agree as to whether the first real one was a boxer or a bootlegger—if either. In all the theaters of World War II the notice KILROY WAS HERE was scrawled everywhere, on walls and windows, inside teapots and on the bottom of beer mugs. So common was the Kilroy phrase that the Nazis used it as an ambush ruse, posting it in villages to delude advancing Yanks into thinking other GIs already had the area in control.

The omnipresent, fictitious Kilroy was a fraud. There have never been many Kilroys here, there or anywhere. For example, in the phone directories for the five boroughs of New York City, which has been melting Irish immigrants in its various pots for more than 150 years, there are 2,617 Murphys listed but only 23 Kilroys. Back in the old country, in the Dublin directory, there are 1,781 Murphys and only 30 Kilroys. There was so much blarney associated with the name Kilroy that lexicographers today are at odds about it. The Dictionary of American Slang defines a Kilroy as a "nonentity." The ponderous Webster's Unabridged maintains that a Kilroy is an "inveterate traveler." Sufficient for this discourse, Kialoa's Jim Kilroy started out life in compliance with the first definition and today certainly lives up to the second.

On the sloping transom of his new Kialoa there is a global portrait centered on the Western Hemisphere. Hanging over the northwest edge of the globe is the familiar cartoon image associated with the legendary Kilroy of World War II—two little hands and a bald head with a long nose. The artist who painted the globe on Kialoa's transom deliberately placed the cartoon character's nose over Alaska, for that is where Kilroy was born, in Ruby, a tiny village on the Yukon that has been long famous for its sled dogs.

Kilroy's father, George, had migrated from Ireland to South Africa, and from there to Alaska, where he was a competent editor, ghostwriter and gold miner and an unlucky gambler. After Mr. Kilroy had lost one too many placer stakes at the poker tables, Mrs. Kilroy took her family to the lower Forty-Eight, ending up in Southern California when her younger son, Jim, was four.

In the depressed '30s, when the hapless, homeless and jobless of the U.S. headed for Southern California, the area turned out not to be the Promised Land. The unemployment lines were long, in part because of one factor not heretofore recorded. There were few jobs available, because by the time the Okies and the other luckless started pouring into Southern California, young Jim Kilroy was well on his way to becoming a one-man labor force.

At age 10 he was copartner of a bicycle repair shop. Through the Depression he earned his dimes and dollars in a wide variety of ways. He sold magazine subscriptions, he mowed lawns, he hauled trash, he sold scrap paper. He made up newspapers, and sold them and delivered them, doing his crowded city routes on a skate-wheeled scooter and serving residential areas on his bicycle. He was a lifeguard, a grocery-store checker, an inventory stocker, a haberdashery clerk. He was a sometime butcher and worked with a baker but never was a candlestick maker. In the faint dawn before school, he swamped out a buttermilk plant. In his single college year at Santa Barbara State, one job given him was grading comprehensive exams in advanced courses he had never had. "Beats the hell out of me how I got the job," he now says. "They gave it to me, so I did it." Reflecting on it all, Kilroy adds, "What a beautiful thing it was to grow up scrounging. It gave me a lot of smarts, although I don't exactly know how it helped. I still know how to swamp out a buttermilk vat, a stinking job, but I don't know anything about making buttermilk."

Kilroy's early hardscrabble life allowed him no time for sports, but he found the time nonetheless. At South Gate High, on the southern edge of burgeoning Los Angeles, he played a year of football and four of basketball. In the spring he sprinted, long-jumped and hurdled. Before he graduated, he had run the 120-yard high hurdles in 15.1, back in a day when few hurdlers had bettered 14-flat. Kilroy tried to imitate the movie action he saw of Olympic Champion Forrest Towns, throwing both arms forward to get more drive with the lead leg. "When I tried it," he recalls, "I came down over the hurdle so fast I broke my nose on my knee."

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