Team Racing, Match Racing, & The Rusty Rudder..

– P/C Steve Harris, BLYC Historian

This fall, I had the opportunity to serve as the Principal Race Officer for the US Team Racing Championships for the Himan Trophy sailed in Cleveland’s inner harbor. To say the least, it was an privilege. It was also an opportunity that made me quite apprehensive. One of the “marquee” events in the U.S., I was more than a little bit nervous about how it was going to work. Team racing is (was) not a discipline with which I had a lot of previous experience and this was the “big one.” It was a phenomenal event! I had a great crew, The Foundry was an amazing host, and the weather was (mostly) favorable. We ran 178 races in three days!

Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with “typical” sailboat racing – all of the boats line up for the start, sail the course, and the finishes are recorded. Sometimes fleets are just a few boats in size, sometimes they may number up to one hundred. Team racing is quite different. In most sailboat racing, one’s goal is simply to finish first – to sail better and smarter than the competition. In team racing, however, teams of three boats sail head to head and the goal is to have a better combined score than one’s competition. With six boats in total (2 teams), a finish of 2-3-5, for example, gives a team a win over their competition (1-4-6). Tactics, strategy, and a keen understanding of the right-of-way rules are key. The races are usually only 6-10 minutes long over a relatively short course with multiple turning marks. These boats will often tack (change direction) upwards of 2 dozen times in a race in an attempt to exercise right-of-way over the competition. It’s not about winning the race, it’s about making sure that the competition loses! At the Hinman, we had 18 teams racing in a complex round-robin elimination series. After 3 days & 177 races, it all came down to one final race to determine the winner.

Another, similar, discipline is match racing. For those who follow the America’s Cup, you may be familiar. In match racing, two teams of one boat each race head to head. Just like in team racing, tactics and strategy are as (maybe more) important than sailing skill. While both match and team racing are seeing an increase in interest lately, it isn’t something that is normally seen at the club-level. Well… not usually.

So… you may ask, “What does this have to do with BLYC history?” In 1851, the schooner America, representing New York Yacht Club, sailed to England to participate in a regatta at which they dominated in the “All Nations Race” winning the 100-Guinea Cup – an 8 pound sterling silver ewer. NYYC, seeing an opportunity to promote international competition in sailing, re-christened it “America’s Cup” and extended the challenged to all nations to compete head to head with them to take it back. For 132 years, the US never lost… until 1983 when Australia II came back from a 2-0 deficit to win four of the next five races beating the U.S. entry Liberty and breaking the longest winning streak in the history of international sports.

After losing the Cup, the United States, embarrassed by the defeat, redoubled its efforts to win the “Auld Mug” back. The whole country got into the excitement as Dennis Connor and his Stars & Stripes syndicate from San Diego Yacht Club defeated a record 13 challengers in the Louis Vitton Cup to win the right to challenge Australia and take the cup back – which they did in 1987.

Around that same time, an unusual “artifact” was discovered buried on Watkins Island. In 1992, then BLYC Governor, Frank Foster, IV wrote about it in his April Log article…

As the hole was being dug for the new BLYC swimming pool, an old item was turned up from the ground. It was a disgustingly old rustry thing that my father salvaged. 1987 was also the year that Dennis Connor won the America’s Cup back from the Australians after losing it to them in 1983. This event (Dennis Connor’s win, not finding the rusty thing) stimulated a great interest in sailboat racing and match racing in particular.

Since the America’s Cup was on every sailor’s mind and since we had an old rusty thing, it was decided among the racing members of the Cruising Fleet that we would have our own America’s Cup and name it after an old rusty thing salvaged from the depths of Buckeye Lake. Hence, the “Rusty Rudder” was born.

It was an ugly thing being buried for God knows how long. The crustiest old sailors became nauseous and young children were brought to tears upon a mere glance at it. We welded a metal rod to it which was stuck in a piece of driftwood and nestled in the bushes that are on the way out to the race shack.

Since we were pioneering new territory at Buckeye Lake, we proceeded with caution. Our goal was to make the Rusty Rudder as prestigious and dramatic as the America’s Cup. There were a few small things we were forced to change. Instead of $3,000,000 yachts, we decied upon $10,000 MacGregor 25 sailboats. Instead of inviting the whole world to compete, we decided to keep it a little more local and exclusive and include only BLYC members. Instead of having 5 different series of races lasting 5 months, we decided to do it all in one weekend.

A weekend in May 1987 was chosen and after a double elimination series of about 4 boats, Tom Eisert as skipper and Ryan Eisert as crew emerged as the first ever victors of the coveted Rusty Rudder. After it was all over, we looked back on what we hd built and were quite proud.

“Team Foster” – Frank III and Frank IV – would go on to win the Rusty Rudder the next three years. It appears that the event died out in the early 1990s.

I recall the Rusty Rudder being rediscovered in 2005 when we redid all of the plantings in front of the Clubhouse. This time, it had been buried for years under overgrown bushes instead of Buckeye Lake muck. For awhile, it was still on display in the flowerbed although attempts to revive the event were unsuccessful. What’s become of this unique piece of history today is unknown. I hope that it wasn’t haphazardly discarded by someone who didn’t appreciate both its historic and humorous value. Too often, that is sadly the case with such things.

The last few years have been tough on sailing at Buckeye Lake, but under the leadership of Governor Paligo, I think we’ll have a good 2019 season and hopefully reinvigorate some of the fun and camaraderie that BLYC members enjoyed in the past.

Want to learn more about sailing? Join us for the Speaker Series on February 21st, when I will present “Sailing for the non-Sailor,” an introduction to the sport. – SGH

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