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Original Issue

Now the Nassau Triangle

How can a boat that doesn't race beat one that does? How can a boat sail into oblivion? Welcome aboard, you are about to be initiated into the puzzling SORC

It was fortunate for Columbus that the rules and strange workings of the Southern Ocean Racing Conference were not in effect back in 1492. Had they been, little Niña probably would have been protested as unseaworthy before the Pillars of Hercules were down behind her. Pinta quite possibly would have been protested and disqualified for not leaving the Canaries to starboard. At her arrival off Watlings Island in the Bahamas, the Santa Maria would probably have been declared a nonwinner by the Arawak Indian Yacht Club because she failed to sail to her rating upwind.

There also is quite a financial similarity between Columbus' venture and the six-race series of the Southern Ocean Racing circuit which ended last week in the waters he first explored. To finance Columbus, Queen Isabella hocked her jewels, and in her lifetime Spain got scant return. So it is every year on the Southern Ocean circuit: the boat owners put up a bundle and for it get a taste of glory and silver mementos—the bulk of the profit going in time to designers, builders, sail-cutters and other entrepreneurs.

For example, in the series-opening race, a 130-miler from St. Petersburg to Boca Grande, Fla. and back, one of the entries was Circus Maximus, an ultralight, wooden-shelled bomb costing at least $175,000 and designed specifically to go like blazes off the wind. Although she got her kind of wind for half the Boca race, she ended up 68th in fleet rankings, and in the next three races came in 72nd, 47th and 73rd. In her final attempt before retiring—the 193-mile test from Miami to Nassau by way of Fort Lauderdale—with frontal weather giving her a chance to reach and run, Circus Maximus finished 30th. By that time she had earned a variety of nicknames, among them, "Circus Minimus" and "Honeymooner," the latter suggesting that her best hope for a win might be in a race over Niagara Falls.

To understand the scoring and whimsical rules as applied on the SORC, one needs the genius of a master statistician and the sort of patience gentle Alice displayed in her encounter with the Mad Hatter. For reasons no one seems able to explain, Super Jay II, a $23,000, Class D "stocker" owned and skippered by Jack Judges of Canada, fairly and squarely completed the Boca Grande race (in which five flashier and more costly hulls lost their masts and six others failed to finish), but does not appear on the final scoring list. Inspector Clouseau, another Class D boat that did not start in any race, does appear, placing 21st, one notch ahead of Robin Too II, which did compete. How can a boat that does not race beat one that does? Who knows?

Before the six-race series was over, the same sort of vagaries that cast poor Super Jay II into oblivion were affecting some of the very elite in the racing fleet, notably, Love Machine, Infinity, Williwaw, Mr. Jumpa and Evergreen—boats that represented much of the best of yesterday and today. In the Boca Grande race, a Class C English boat named Marionette, from last summer's winning Admiral's Cup team, broke her mast. For the past two years a boat that does not finish has been awarded the placement of last in fleet. Such a penalty makes it virtually impossible for a nonfinisher to win series honors in either class or fleet. Noel Coon, the American who chartered Marionette this year, had raced a smaller boat in 1977 under the same scoring system. Last year, when he did not suffer a dismasting, he had no objections. This year, when his boat lost the spar, he felt the rules should be reinterpreted, merely scoring a DNF as last in class, not last in fleet. Three races after his dismasting, he filed a written protest to that effect and, incredibly, the race jury upheld it.

The merits of the case are immaterial: in football and Indian hand wrestling, in sailing or any kind of game, you do not reinterpret the rules in the middle of the competition—and you certainly do not make the change retroactive. If her rivals had known a change of scoring would suddenly put the very capable Marionette back in contention, some of them might have played their hands differently. Under the rescoring, Love Machine held first place comfortably, but Infinity was pushed down to third and Evergreen finished out of the money. Because the jury did not reach its decision until almost 24 hours after the last race, there were a number of unhappy sailors, some silent, some cussing.

Largely because of misunderstandings all around, the closest fight for class honors generated the most heat. Through the whole series in Class D, Mr. Jumpa, a New Zealand one-tonner up for sale to John Wysocki, a Massachusetts plastic surgeon, battled against a somewhat similar laminated one-tonner. Rogues Roost, designed and skippered by Bill Cook of Connecticut. After two races, Rogues Roost led by two points; after the third, the two boats were tied; after the fourth, it was Mr. Jumpa by 1.5.

Feeling that the fore and aft trim of his rival seemed to warrant a higher rating, Cook filed a protest the day after the fourth race, requesting remeasurement of that particular. Somehow it was not done before the Miami-Nassau race. On the first fair day after that event, John Wysocki sat aboard his boat much of the morning waiting for a measurer, or a committeeman, or somebody. Meanwhile, the measurer had posted a notice on the official SORC bulletin board at the Nassau Yacht Club requesting that he be contacted about measuring. Because the bulletin board was a good mile from Mr. Jumpa's mooring and because there were plenty of bars closer by, the failure of any of Mr. Jumpa's crew to make it to the Nassau Yacht Club is understandable, if not excusable.

Whatever the failure by whomever, by late afternoon the wind was up too high for easy measuring, and so was the irritation level of several of Mr. Jumpa's crew. When the measurer, a onetime third-string Georgia Tech quarterback named Bunky Helfrich, showed up with protesting skipper Bill Cook, they were greeted by strong, vibrating language. During the contretemps, the irritation of a few members of Mr. Jumpa's crew—New Zealanders unaccustomed to the casual whimsy of the SORC—increased when it was discovered that no record of Mr. Jumpa's rating certificate was on file with the race committee. Jumpa's men had given a copy to a measurer in Clearwater, Fla. He did not remember receiving it. Unless a certificate could be produced or a jury convinced that the crew had done its best to deliver one, Jumpa would be disqualified from the whole series. Because of all the hoo-ha, both the measuring of Mr. Jumpa and the decision as to her eligibility without papers was postponed until after the final race, the Nassau Cup, which was sailed over a truncated Olympic-style course of 26.5 miles. Going to weather, reaching and running, Mr. Jumpa and Rogues Roost scrapped it out, crossing the finish not a boat length apart, the latter winning by 18 seconds on corrected time.

Curiously, the cloud under which Mr. Jumpa sailed the last race spread over the Class B leader, Williwaw, skippered by the world's best competitive sailor, Dennis Conner, who had Class B honors comfortably tucked away. Because the division title goes to the skipper who makes the highest score against his class rivals, Williwaw had a 2.5-point lead over the next-best class leader, the now-provisional Mr. Jumpa. Ironically, if the jury threw Mr. Jumpa out, even if Williwaw took her class she would end up in a tie with Rogues Roost, each boat having five wins and a second. In that case, because such ties are broken by reckoning the margin each class winner has over the second boat in her class, Rogues Roost would take the division title.

In Class A, the only group whose scoring was not mucked up by jury room wrangling, Ted Turner on his beloved antique, Tenacious, lost to the brand-new Acadia, a beauty driving through the sloppy seas and moderate air prevalent during the series. It didn't hurt that Acadia had one Aussie aboard, Lee Killing-worth, formerly of the America's Cup challenger Australia, and one sailmaker, Olympic medalist John Marshall. Acadia's owner, Burt Keenan, and the rest of the crew are middle-aged Louisiana boys. Notable among them are Buddy Friedrichs, the 1968 Olympic Dragon titlist, and John Dane, a Sears and Soling winner. The Southern homogeneity of the Acadia crew harks back a dozen years, when Turner and his good old boys first unsettled the Yankee Establishment at the SORC the way Jeb Stuart did when he rode around McClellan. But the similarity is only superficial.

Unlike Turner, Keenan is a quiet man; his Acadia crew does all the talking—lots of it. It is not true, as reported, that in the heat of one of their arguments while readying Acadia, they were thrown out of a restaurant in Bradenton, Fla. They never left the restaurant; the other guests did. John Marshall, the Connecticut sailmaker, observed, "Those guys can produce results in an easygoing way. All the talk can drive you up the wall until you realize they really know how to make a boat move."

Twenty-four hours after the last race, most of the ruckus had calmed. Mr. Jumpa was measured and found to be as rated. The jury decided that the loss of certificate was not the crew's fault, so Mr. Jumpa held her first place in class, and Williwaw thereby became the division champion.

But there were still a few loose ends. In the first scoring list, a boat named Arieto went unreported, although she was plainly seen to start with her Class B rivals. Another hull was clocked at the finish, although several rivals said she was not in the race.

A boat went unscored. Boats that never raced were placed. A boat that started did not finish. One that did not race did finish. To judge by it all, it should be no surprise next year if the ill-fated Mary Deare showed up and saved her time on the whole fleet.


Acadia beat Tenacious to capture Class A.