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Original Issue

Win, lose or sink, the best were out sailing

September's winds, as usual, blew hot and cold on the sailing world's effort to find a champion but, even though no single racing sailor could be acclaimed "the world's best," the search was a lively one

There is a Latin motto engraved on the silver cup that symbolizes the sailing championship of North America. "Palmam que meruit ferat," it reads—in very free translation, "May the best man win." In the annual season's-end championships taking place all over the continent during the last two weeks, a host of good men and true were out on the water, each of them trying to prove himself the best, but when the last sails were bagged once again and the last boats hauled, the question—as it does every year—remained unanswered.

The sailor who got his name on the Mallory Cup along with its Latin motto as the official champion was a 33-year-old Californian named James DeWitt who raced for his title against seven other regional champions on Chesapeake Bay. But DeWitt's lead over a New Yorker named Norman Freeman was so slight that the committee had to reach deep into the rules to find out who really was better. At the end of an eight-race series in lively Mobjacks, DeWitt and Freeman each had 42½ points. Each had taken two first places. Freeman lost out only because he had no second-place finish to match his rival's.

On Long Island Sound, where the world's finest 5.5-meter sailors were competing for the international championship (SI, Sept. 16), the official best-of-all turned out to be a sailor who had not even intended to race. It took the disqualification of one top contender, the crucial breakdowns of two others, an unexpected fire in far-off Finland and the vagaries of a weird Olympic scoring system to give New Hampshire Naval Architect Ray Hunt his 5.5 championship. When he did win, Hunt was not sailing as an American at all but as a Finn.

Hunt, one of the world's top 5.5 designers, stepped into the Finnish boat Chaje II at the beginning of the series when her owner had to hurry home to investigate a fire in his boatyard. Throughout the week he was closely pressed for the lead by Texan Ernie Fay, Connecticut's Bill Luders and Norway's Crown Prince Harald. Then Luders got himself disqualified by altering the keel of his boat before he had received formal permission. Fay scuttled his chances by fouling out in one race and breaking a spreader in another. The prince spoiled his score by breaking a head stay. After each remaining sailor had wiped the results of his worst race off the score sheet—in accordance with the hotly argued Olympic system—Ray Hunt was declared the winner, but who could say if he was best?

One of the best, if not one of the winners, was a Star-class sailor from Soviet Russia who braved a gale on Lake Michigan when everybody else lurked prudently in the lee of a protecting breakwater. Competed for by sailors from 15 countries, including Japan, Portugal, Switzerland and Monaco as well as the U.S., the Star world championships off the Chicago Yacht Club were raced mostly in light airs. But before the next-to-the-last race, a hard breeze rose to lick the lake into a vicious chop. "We can't find anybody with a powerboat that wants to go out in that," an apologetic lady at the yacht club explained to a crowd of would-be spectators eager to go out and watch the slaughter. "Then why is that boat out there?" asked one disgruntled heckler. The lady did not even have to look at the frail Star bucking the gale. "Oh, that," she said, "That's Pinegin. He's practicing."

Ten minutes later Russia's Timir Pine-gin breezed back past the breakwater on the crest of a creaming wave. "Is rough out there," he said, mopping the damp from his brown eyes.

Later in the day when the wind had moderated enough to permit racing, the other sailors dared follow where Pinegin had led. Four of them lost their masts as a result. Pinegin was not one of the four, but neither was a young sailing instructor from Boston named Joe Duplin and, when the final scores were tallied, Joe Duplin turned out to be the best. That is, he got the points needed to win the championship.

Dink Vail, a sailor from Norfolk, Va., was named World Champion in the Jollyboat class. But when it came to picking the best sailor among the 76 crewmen and skippers competing off Nags Head in North Carolina, the title could well have been given to anyone who survived the second race of the series. A 25-knot breeze was blowing as the 18-foot centerboarders headed for the starting line. Four of them capsized on the way, but there were still 34 left to start the race. Then, in the space of a minute, the wind squalled up to 45 knots and 29 more of the molded plywood craft went over. While the rest drifted helpless on the torn sea, the five Jollys still upright doused their sails and dropped anchor. Coast Guard helicopters and a small flotilla of fishermen sped to the rescue, but it was hours before some of the sailors were pulled from the water. "We were lucky," said one race committeeman, "to get off without losing anyone."