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On the eve of the Feb. 5 Miami-Nassau race, the sailors gathered in Florida for the opening of the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit were howling mad. A report had been carried to them by a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED correspondent that the competition in the Southern Circuit had been described up north as "strictly bush league." Aware that this comment summed up a long-standing opinion of southern racing held particularly in the Long Island Sound area, the Nassau fleet was further stung by having a couple of its better-known yachtsmen singled out as "Saturday afternoon sailors."
Lockwood (Woodie) Pirie, former world Star class champion and skipper of Hoot Mon (below) when she swept the Southern Circuit two years in a row, beating Finisterre the last time, was maddest of all.
"Bush league?" snapped Pirie. "That's ridiculous. Tell whoever said that to come down and we'll eat him up. Ask Carleton Mitchell. We've talked about the circuit many times, and he agrees with me that it's one of the finest series in racing."
Mitchell, who won the circuit last year with Finisterre and then beat the best in the North in the Bermuda race (SI, July 2, 1956), tended to agree. "The Southern Circuit is potentially the best racing in America," he said, leaning a little on the "potentially." "You get such a variety of conditions. You have steadier wind, and different wind, and different points of sailing. And if you don't do well in one race, you have a chance to make it up later."
The other top racers heading for Nassau weren't buying any part of the bush league business.
Richard Bertram, winner of two international Lightning titles and one of the finest ocean racers anywhere, had this to say: "Calling southern racing bush league is plain nonsense. The performance of top-name northern yachts down here speaks for itself. Consider Revonoc. She's always a contender up north. She has won the Miami-Nassau twice, but not in recent years.. Brad Noyes's old boat Tioga is just about the cream of the fleet up there. She didn't win when she came down here. Neither did Escapade, which cleaned up on the Lakes. That also goes for Figaro, a consistent winner on the Sound."
John Hanafourde, an official in the past 10 Miami-Nassau races and a participant in seven full circuit programs, fired back what was perhaps the most damaging shot of all. "It's one thing," he said, "to race a few months each year and then sit at a bar and talk about how good you are all year. In the South, sailors race 12 months a year, get more experience and for that reason have a better touch."
Having thus unburdened themselves, the defenders of the Southern Circuit went out and proved their point in the Jan. 25 overnight race from Miami to Gun Cay, the first trial in this year's circuit and perhaps a preview of the upcoming thrash to Nassau. In wind conditions that varied from light to steady, Dr. Luis Vida�a's Criollo, out of Havana, served notice that she was going to be tough to pry loose from the Miami-Nassau title she won last year. Rated scratch boat in the Gun Cay warmup, she got out far enough ahead to finish first, save her time against the handicapped boats and win on corrected time. Second, Hilaria, owned by Hugh Schaddelee (see cover); third, Finisterre; fourth, Comanche; fifth, �a Va, under charter to Jack Curtis of Miami.
With that much of the circuit well in hand, the southern fleet pointed for the Feb. 2 Lipton Cup and ultimately for the Miami-Nassau. In the meantime, it could be satisfied that it had made a handsome start, both verbal and nautical, toward defending its hard-earned honor. Most satisfied of all, perhaps, was the genial Schaddelee, who was neither surprised nor disappointed at finishing second in the Gun Cay, as he had in the point totals for-the entire circuit last year. "I think I've got the best second-or third-place boat I've ever seen," said Schaddelee. "Second in Class A and third in the fleet would be my hopes for the Miami-Nassau." As for the business of being a Saturday afternoon sailor, Schaddelee couldn't see that the charge was either valid or insulting. "We don't race quite so hard," he admitted, then added, "but we're trying all the way. You never see the boys quit. But," he concluded with a laugh, "we go down there for fun. If I didn't think it was fun I wouldn't have any part of it. They can have their blood and guts."