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Original Issue

Making a big splash by himself

Single-handed, Jim Hahn let it all hang out to win the O'Day Trophy

Pity poor Jim Hahn, who sails for the Annapolis (Md.) Naval Sailing Association. When Hahn stomped ashore last week after putting on a dazzling display of consistency off the Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club at Beach Haven, N.J., he received a piece of chicken, a few handshakes and a hunk of hardware called the George D. O' Day Trophy. But no one gave him the ceremonial greeting usually awarded victorious skippers. No crewman tousled his hair, no mate grabbed him by the seat of his britches, and no deckhand pitched him into the drink. It was not that Hahn had a crew of nontraditionalists; he had no crew at all. When it comes to sailing or celebrating he does it single-handedly, and by winning the O'Day he proved that when it comes to working alone no one in North America does it better.

Sixteen solo sailors, chosen by eliminations in eight areas of the country and from the Intercollegiate Yacht Racing Association, raced for the most important single-handed trophy. With more hair than face, the 28-year-old Hahn typifies the gypsyish skippers who take to this sort of racing. Self-reliant, he thrives on being a muted one-man band, handling all the lines and sheets that control a single-handed boat, steering, working out tactics, watching for critical wind shifts and all the while tracking the opposition. To keep the boat fiat requires weight, so he trains on pizzas. But lest his 185 pounds of pizza power get out of apple-pie order, he stays trim by running and by riding a 10-speed bicycle.

After a stint playing end at Ohio Wesleyan and a hitch in the Navy as an E-3—he proudly managed to remain an E-3 throughout his enlistment—Hahn says that virtually all he has done since 1966 is single-handed sailing. He travels around the country in a dark green van with a bunk and stove on which he cooks huge, cheap meals. At Beach Haven, where contestants were housed in private homes, he startled his hosts by immediately going out to buy armloads of TV dinners for his diet.

Hahn, who is also a sometime sailmaker, last October bought himself a Laser, the 13-foot catboat selected for the O'Day series, "just to keep my hand in." It is a good thing he did, for one of his toughest challengers, Don Trask, is a Laser builder.

At 43 Trask is an old man by single-handed standards, and his age showed itself in the form of a variety of aches and pains. The California representative was forced to visit a chiropractor from time to time throughout the series to remove the kinks in his back. Otherwise he was the picture of health. Trask weighs 227 pounds, and every ounce of it is perfectly distributed. Single-handers do not walk, they stomp, and when Trask stomped down the dock, it shook. Their stomping comes from hours spent with their feet hooked under hiking straps as they hang as far and as low out of the boat as possible. In previous single-handed regattas this year, Trask had whipped Hahn. Now the younger sailor was ripe for some stomping of his own.

The Laser is the perfect boat for this kind of racing. With a small cockpit and a single sail, it is not so simple that top sailors find it boring, yet it is unsophisticated enough for beginners to handle, providing the weather remains docile. In a blow this slip of a boat can turn into a speck of light that flits from wave to wave—when it is not capsizing. Good sailors can right their Lasers so fast it is virtually part of their racing technique. Skippers often don wet sweat shirts weighing a maximum of 24.2 pounds for better ballasting in heavy winds. At one time any number of sweat shirts were allowed, and lighter sailors often ended up as wide as they were long. In the interests of safety, this practice is now forbidden.

The 10-race series began on a sparkling day, and two factors that would remain constant throughout the regatta immediately became evident. An expanse of water uninterrupted by land. Little Egg Harbor is a nearly perfect racecourse for small boats, but it also suffered from an incursion of floating eelgrass that fouled both rudders and centerboards. Some sailors quickly developed a technique for clearing centerboards without losing much ground, while others were still having trouble in the 10th race. All sailed with their rudders partially cocked up. That meant less grass, but also poorer control for the skippers.

The other thing that soon became clear was that Hahn knew what he was doing. In one-design regattas it usually takes a leg or two of the course before one boat can work out any sort of lead. Somebody forgot to tell Hahn the custom; by the time he reached the first mark of the six-leg Olympic course he led by more than a minute. After winning the first race by 45 seconds over Talbott Ingram of Rumson, N.J., Hahn said modestly, "I'm not that much better than the others. I must have had a fast boat or been on the right side of a wind shift."

At the start of the same race young Bill Pagels from Sayville, N.Y. became embroiled in a dispute with another sailor named Ed Shaw that led to Pagels' disqualification. Pagels went on to compile a record that was severely dented by his outburst. He won the second and third races the first day. Hahn finished second and 10th to lead on points at the end of the opening day.

That evening club treasurer Carl Beck, who has sailed Little Egg for years, predicted strong winds the next morning. He was right. With over 20 knots of breeze flinging the tiny boats about, the second round of races was made for the heavyweights. By the lunch break the lighter sailors were all in favor of calling it quits for the day in hopes the next would bring quieter conditions. Trask and the rest of the heavies wanted to sail a third race. "Would you like me to go out and give the committee the benefit of my advice?" offered Trask hopefully.

Hahn favored going out—but only if he could defeat Trask. "It wouldn't make me happy to beat some of the 140-pounders, but beating Don, that would make me happy," he said before the day's last race. He did it by one place and a gap of more than a minute. "I don't like getting far out in front of the fleet," grumbled Hahn afterward. "There are no tactics involved out there. All you have to do is sail the boat."

The lightweights received no relief the next day when a low-pressure cell shoved across the New Jersey coast. The wind was wild, the harbor woolly. Hiking straps began to pull out under the strain of feet tugging against them, and boats were capsizing in every direction. Some crashed to starboard, others to port, and some tried to go end over end. At the conclusion of the only race that day, Talbott Ingram had survived to take first. Hahn was second.

Everyone except Ingram had capsized at least once, and Ogden Ross from Maine gave up counting after his 10th mishap. Trask did not actually turn over, but he twice heeled so far that it was decided to give him an honorary capsize. The fleet sped over the course in less than 50 minutes, which must be a record for these small boats.

By finishing a very safe second Hahn practically ensured himself overall victory—providing he was cautious during the final day's races. He was precisely that and went on to beat Trask by a whopping 18.3 points. Chris Boome, a boat hardware salesman from San Francisco, finished third with 74.2 points.

When he came ashore from the final event soaked and tired, Hahn looked around half expectantly. But of course there was no one on hand to throw him into the water.