Sunfish Worlds 1990 report

by Will White

The super-efficient folks of the Orlando Yacht Club, who run the largest-lake-regatta-in-the-US Red Lobster Cup on Lake Monroe in Florida in December, agreed to take on the job. Tom Raster, who had so enjoyed the Worlds in Nassau that he had fallen in love with the whole idea, offered to take on the job of notifying the qualifiers for the 20th and lining them up to attend — the toughest single task a Sunfish lover can take on (speaking here from personal experience.)

Then, just before the end of the year, the great 100-boat fiasco blew up in our faces. Someone promised us 100 boats, or someone thought we had been promised 100 boats, or something. When I asked, “What happened,” I was told, “You don’t want to know.” I think he was right. I don’t want to know.
Anyway, we had 80 boats and 23 too many American qualifiers lined up, since we were trying to accommodate qualifiers for the 1989 Worlds as well as for the 1990 Worlds. As always happens in such situations, the second-guessing flew back and forth across the continent by telephone and fax and mail. Everyone who had a right to an opinion expressed it, and a whole lot who didn’t. The upshot, in the end, was a qualifying series at the beginning of the week for the 50+ Americans to fill the 30 available slots. Tom Raster took some of the responsibility on his shoulders, although he had nothing to do with the boat problem, and dropped out. So did some of the US officers. Tom came anyway, so his son Jason could try to make the cut.

Friday, February 2 — Already there are problems. The beach has not been reserved. There is no sand, as had been promised so the new boats wouldn’t get scratched on rocks. One trailer load of boats is missing. Will there be a regatta?

Saturday, February 3 — Many old friends from foreign lands — Aruba, Bahamas, Bermuda, Curacao, The Netherlands, Peru, Puerto Rico. Sonny DeCosta, born in Bermuda, and Mark May, born in England, are sailing for their respective homelands. None will be able to sail until after the American qualification series, but they don’t seem to mind. There are other things to do, like those things provided by Disney World, Sea World, jai alai, the dogs .. Florida is, after all, organized for vacationing. Many seem content… delighted … to sit in the sun around the pool and exchange news of the last two years.

The Americans are a little tense. The boats are supposed to be assigned starting at noon today. The trailer-load of boats has arrived, but they must be unpacked and lined up in double file on the lawn above the beach. A wide lane of plastic sheeting has been laid down in lieu of sand to protect boat bottoms, and a wide lane out the shallows to deeper water has been marked with PVC pipe and floating line, creating mooring spots for setting up boats and for scratch-proof parking between races.
Harry League and a couple of other have been here for several days, practicing in their own or borrowed boats. For the others, no boats today.

Sunday, February 4 — Finally the boats are ready. They are assigned on a first come, first-served basis, a system as random as the drawing by lot used in previous years. The competitors can now make their boats race-ready, however they define race-ready, within the Class rules and the special rules of this Worlds, which had been distributed weeks before. The guiding rule of the Class must prevail. Paraphrased: “If it’s not specifically permitted, it’s not permitted.”

There is no formal boat inspection; the rules are clear, and the boats are new, within plus or minus three pounds of the ideal weight, as one-design as a careful boat-builder can make them. The Chief Measurer patrols the beach, answering questions and interpreting the rules, pointing out discrepancies that he sees or that are called to his attention by other competitors. Some sailors are hard to convince … “I’ve always done it that way, and nobody has complained before” … and others shrug their shoulders, but all comply.

There is an elimination race scheduled for this afternoon, but many people are not ready. The start of the elimination series is postponed until Monday, when two races are scheduled, with the final two on Tuesday. That means the Championship won’t start until Wednesday afternoon. Which means we’ll probably sail on Saturday, usually reserved for emergencies, unless we can get in more than three races each on Thursday or Friday.
Meanwhile, many of the non-US sailors would like to have a chance to use the remaining thirty boats to practice, “just like the Americans.” After all the Americans have been assigned their boats, the foreign sailors and the American pre-qualifiers (former World champs, top 10 last year, officers) are assigned theirs, first come, first served. .
Quite a few get out in the afternoon to practice, but quite a few are still on the beach, lending and borrowing and working with pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches, sandpaper and duct tape to tune a little second or two per mile of extra speed into their boats.
The Holiday Inn on City Island in Sanford, race headquarters and home for most of the sailors, is as typical a Holiday Inn as you’ll find anywhere, but is untypical of most Worlds headquarters hotels in the way they take us in. At many we have been treated as if we were a bother and darned lucky to be there. Here it’s not so much that they treat us with extra hospitality, but that they treat us hospitably, just like any other guest. It’s a subtle difference, but a refreshing one.

We are on a man-made peninsula, an island really with a causeway from the mainland, it serves to protect a large marina. The town of Sanford is sort of a ghost town full of civic buildings and banks, but if you want to buy something you almost always have to head out of town to US Routes 17 and 92, known locally as “1792”, where the malls and shopping centers and lumber yards and car people and fast food outlets stretch on for miles. Lake Monroe itself is big and round, part of the St. Johns River system that, unlike most other rivers in the US, flows north. The terrain is flat and featureless, at least to New England eyes.
That night we have an opening party at Rosie O’Grady’s, part of a new and fantastic re-creation of the Gay ’90’s around Orlando’s old railroad station.

Monday, February 5 — A quick check of the boats as the Chief Measurer walks the lines to see if all infractions have been corrected. Some sailors are still making last-minute changes and corrections, with much conversation about the ideal spot on the boom for the goose-neck. But soon all are on the water in a good North breeze. A couple of general recalls — there always are at the start of a major regatta, as the adrenaline pumps and the contestants all try to reach the best spot on the line together at the gun.
It’s a beautiful sight. The sails are all what is probably the prettiest pattern ever made, the one that goes from deep blue at the clew through the red spectrum to yellow at the peak. I watch the start through the picture windows of the committee room at the hotel with Dick Tillman, Laser guru, and his mother, who are cheering on Dick’s wife Linda. They think it is she who makes such a great pin-end start and holds starboard for quite a while. They have binoculars, and think they can read her numbers. But they’re not sure. A young man with binoculars of his own reads quite different numbers.
I am rooming with George Seary of Binghamton, NY, whom I have just met, and I’m cheering for him to make the cut. I have never seen anyone come to a regatta so well prepared. He has had two big boxes shipped ahead, one of them full of tools and the other parts and fittings and materials — a dozen different glues, for instance.
This evening the Advisory Council, which considers class measurement rules changes, and the World Council, which considers the Advisory Council’s recommendations and everything else, meet in that order. We begin with a good steak dinner, followed by the two meetings. Gordy Geick and Paul Odegard have put together extensive agendas; it looks as if Lee Parks will win a bet she has made with Odie that the meetings will last beyond 9:30. Considering how much Sunfish sailors love to talk about their favorite boat, the odds are with her. All Sunfishers have been invited to observe, but few have the patience.
A number of changes to the measurement rules have been proposed over the last year and a half, and are discussed by the Advisory Council. About half are approved, half turned down. To a proposal that the rules be frozen for two years, the consensus is that, if a change makes the boat safer or more convenient but does not make it faster, it should probably be allowed, and that you can’t stop Sunfish sailors from noodling safety and convenience gadgetry. Tuesday,

February 6 – Three races have been completed, and neither Linda Tillman or George Seary are in good shape. Both will have to sail a lot better today to make the cut. Bob Findlay, North American champ in ’87 and Midwinters champ several times, would be running away with it with a first and a third if Scott Greenbaum weren’t so close with two seconds. Bob’s in-laws, Don and Jean Bergman, aren’t doing as well; they usually dog his heels. A lot of people are saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if Super Grandma won the Worlds?” A lot of others are rooting for another rapid lady, Nancy Haberland, or some of the senior citizens like Don Bergman, Gordy Geick, or Sonny DeCosta. One of the great things about our class is that you don’t have to be a gorilla with teen-age reflexes to be competitive.
The winds are much a duplicate of yesterday’s and the final scores don’t change much from the day before.
After the race, the boats of those who are eliminated are re-assigned to those who have not yet received boats — former champions and class officers, for the most part. Since the boats have already been set up, most sailors have little left to do, or so one would think. But each has his or her own preferences and convictions on how a boat should be prepared for racing, so many wrenches and much duct tape fly again.
Most of the officers who have dropped out to make way for other American qualifiers will have boats after all, because some of the overseas contestants haven’t made it. By a cruel irony of fate, I draw George Seary’s boat, but he is as enthusiastic in helping me set up as if he were starting the championship series himself tomorrow.

Tonight is billed as the 20th Anniversary BBQ Dinner and Class Association report, followed by a live band at Fitzgerald’s, “(bring your Sunfish memorabilia.)” Our newly elected ISCA President, Alan Scharfe, is ready with his report, and Class Historians Donna and Bob “Rapid” Buttner with some great scrapbooks they have assembled from previous Worlds desiderata, but the nightclub, behind the Holiday, is not the right venue. There’s no place to gather, it’s dark, and the noise is unquenchable. No one seems to mind; next to sailing, Sunfishers like partying.

Wednesday, February 7 – The day dawns warm and sunny, and without a breath of air. We’re supposed to start at 10, but about 9:30 a gun goes off and the postponement flag droops from the flagpole behind us. Finally, a light breeze starts to fill in from the Northwest, the flag comes down, and 80 Sunfish head for the starting line.
After the usual general recalls, a beautiful start, with just about every contestant on the line at the gun and moving. At first, the left is favored, and starts to pull ahead, then the right seems to get extra wind. In the end, the left wins out, and most of the fleet gets around before the wind starts to die and the leg becomes a beat instead of a reach. The top 20 or so leaders get scrambled several times by fickle puffs from around the compass, but finally get around the second mark. It’s now a drifter, and a beat again, with Tony Elliott moving well out in front and several others of us stretched out across the course fighting it out for second.
The committee boat, stationed at the third mark and still quite some distance away, decides that there’s no way we are going to finish within the time limit, so … another gun and the race is abandoned, the wind never does fill in, so their early decision is justified, and a merciful decision it is, too, considering the baking sun. Several motor boaters rally around and tow the fleet back to the polyethylene beach.
We have all-attraction passes to Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island for the evening, but it’s over an hour away, and the sun and tension have tired many. Still there’s a respectable representation at Disney’s newest attraction. Consensus: The Adventurers Club is the top attraction, although the Comedy Warehouse and XZFR Rockin’ Rollerdrome are worth the time.

Thursday, February 8 – We’ve lost two days of championship sailing, and the committee decides we have to get serious. They are a little cranky about the first two general recalls. Sailors reply reasonably that the line isn’t square, so what can you expect? The wind is light, a more normal Southeaster, and it finally settles down. The line is reset, the black flag goes up, and we’re off on what we all are confident is Race One. It turns out to be a keeper, and new president Alan Scharfe wins it.
At lunch, the wind picks up, as it always seems to do. We should get three races in easily.
But the wind starts to die as we reach out to the start, and it keeps slowly dropping
the rest of the afternoon. Whatever it’s doing, ’86 World Champ Scott Kyle seems to like it; he scores two bullets, the last one in twilight that makes many of us wonder how the committee can see the sail numbers of the tail enders. But the line is short, as it should be, and the committee has sharp eyes.
With his two firsts and a 16th, Scott leads with or without a throw-out. And Jean Bergman is second, the only sailor to score in the top 10 in all three races! Consistency eludes everyone else – Alan Scharfe has followed his initial victory with a 26 and 21; ’75 North American Champ Joel Furman has a 2, a 41, and a 52; Malcolm Smith of Bermuda and Michael Scriver of Michigan each have a 3 and a 6, but Malcolm also has a 38 and Michael a 39. And Bruce Sutphen, who has been representing the Class while working at Pearson and has put in incredible hours and energy helping to get the boats ready on the beach, starts a disastrous campaign with a DSQ, a 24 and a 26.
The inconsistency of very good sailors is caused not so much by wind shifts as wind pockets and holes. For a lake, Monroe has relatively steady winds, although there are long-term oscillations of a few degrees. The secret to consistency is to be where the wind is … and away from the holes and cartwheel pile-ups at the marks. Jean has impeccable wind sense.
No official events tonight; there are many early-to-bedders.

Friday, February 9 — More of the same -light air, Southeast, but at least it’s there early. Three more races today, but it’s still sunny when we come in after the third race. Just as frustrating, though.
Jean wins the first race, then takes a seventh, and looks to be on her way, especially since Scott Kyle drops to a 20 and 12. Then, in the sixth race, things become unglued for both of them. Jean takes a 39, and Scott has to retire. Meanwhile, Len Ruby has been pretty consistent, and leads with 51 points without throw-out…but a throw-out is assured because we have finished more than four races. Mark May must do well tomorrow because he has a DNF to throw out, but he can take it all. Others with a mathematical chance include three-time World Champ Donnie Martinborough of the Bahamas, Larry Suter of New York and Steve Manson of New Jersey.
“It’s the post-race killer party,” the original schedule says, but since there’s still a race to go, the party is a little subdued. It’s at Fitzgerald’s, and that’s a nice spot. Saturday, February 10 -More wind! It’s out of the Southwest today, with more steam in it than in any of the championship series yet. Scott Kyle tells everyone he’s mathematically out of it. Jean gets lots of
encouragement to get back her top-ten habit. And Len Ruby is in the best shape of all – a 14th or better, and he’s probably got it all.
But nobody has solved all the riddles of Lake Monroe yet. Len pulls a 27, Larry Suter a 32, and Jean an unbelievable 42. Scott wins again, and it turns out his arithmetic has had a slight flaw. He takes it by three-quarters of a point over Len, who hits the beach believing he’s the new World Champ. The bitter math pill is soon presented, and although official results won’t be announced until the awards dinner tonight, the word is soon up and down the beach that Scott has done it again.
The rest of the day is spent turning in boats. Pearson has issued many warnings that the boats’ condition will be closely examined, and as a result, almost all the boats are stripped clean of duct tape residue – the air is ripe with the odor of acetone – and returned in pristine condition. Most of the boats have been sold to a handful of Florida dealers, who turn over more than 60 of them right there, that afternoon, on the beach. Joel Furman buys one and has it shipped to Bermuda; Alan Scharfe buys another to keep right there in Florida, both in anticipation of many weekend getaways to come. The Sunfish jet set!

It’s been a good regatta. The John Gardners, father and son, know how to pull off a major regatta and make it look easy. Don Sornenson, race course chairman, runs a regatta for the sailors, not for the race committee, with grace and good humor. The judges, as they should be, are firm but relaxed, and include old Sunfish hand Andre Roche of Venezuela, working on his sixth (?) Worlds. It’s good to see him.

As usual, the awards banquet is a bittersweet affair, with joy for the winners and a sadness at parting with old friends. The traditional dunking of the Champ is accomplished in a horse trough outside Rosie O’Grady’s. Scott doesn’t seem to mind too much…in fact it becomes obvious that he doesn’t mind at all when a bevy of Southern belles rallies around to offer sympathy and comfort.
Yes, it’s been a good one. Hope most of us can qualify again. See you in Curacao?

In addition to the race winners, special trophies were awarded to:

Youngest sailorJody Lowe (BHS)
Oldest sailorLarry Cochran (USA)
Top WomanJean Bergman (USA)
Cuthbertson Trophy awardJean Bergman (USA)
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