Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thirty Years Ago: 1981 International Canoe Worlds; The Prelude

Thirty years ago, this very week, I raced in the International Canoe Worlds in Marion Massachusetts (Buzzards Bay). Organized by Steve Clark, it was the first International Canoe Worlds held in the U.S. I had been racing the International Canoe for about six months, definitely a greenhorn in these very tricky craft, and I arrived with no great expectations. Setting up the International Canoe at Tabor Academy (the dinghy park, the dorm housing, and the meals were completely run out of this school), I was gratefully surprised to find that most of the fleet was new to the International Canoe as well.

In the fall of 1980, Steve Clark had very generously given me one of his production International Canoes as a Chesapeake Bay fleet starter boat. Steve had started building composite (glass hull/wood deck) International Canoes in a converted grocery store in a sleepy upstate New York hamlet on the eastern shore of Lake Cayuga, a town named King Ferry, a town with one crossroad and four buildings staking out the four corners. Steve had picked up a used Manana design International Canoe in the mid 70's, and had become completely smitten with the speed, the twitchiness, the feel of the International Canoe as a racing dinghy. Steve had found the U.S International Canoe class (or the decked sailing canoe as the old timers would say) in a sorry state, had been for years. Moribund, geriatric, and insular, the American-style International Canoe was only raced out of Grants Boat Yard in City Island. To change that, on a true believers mission, Steve had set out to find some converts.

Like a true Johnny Appleseed, Steve had decided to seed his modern English-style "King Ferry" International Canoes around to the major yachting centers of the U.S, putting them into the hands of those who had backgrounds in tippy dinghies. I became a seedling, Del Olsen and Scott Young of San Francisco became West Coast seedlings. And these seedlings were now arriving at Tabor Academy for a World Championship, along with the British, Germans, Canadians, and Swedish.

The pre-regatta form book certainly had the Swedes and Steve Clark as favorites, they at least had several years experience and Steve, coming out of nowhere, had given the Swedes a major fright when he competed on their home waters in the 1978 World Championship. The English International Canoe fleet had seen a recent influx of top ranked International Moth sailors, Colin Brown, Chris Edwards, and Chris Eyre. But they were all new to the International Canoe and, though certainly used to sailing tippy boats, an unknown quantity.

As far as the American newcomers; we had raced a couple of drifter regattas on the East Coast that summer; we were expecting the Buzzards Bay Southerly Buster, we were expecting to be hammered and upside down quite a bit, we were young and ready for the challenge. The battle to come would be not so much against competitors but against this strange, narrow, wonderfully fast sailing dinghy with a sliding seat.

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