Friday, March 1, 2013

Stuart Walker's Tales of Cars and Trailers and International 14 Destruction

This past Wednesday, Stuart Walker gave a talk on crewing at Fawcetts,the local chandlery, but two weeks before that I sat down at Stuart's table during a pot-luck dinner (non-sailing related event) and, given the two of us, the talk turned to sailboat racing. Stuart, as expected, has a wealth of stories and somehow the conversation turned to sailing dinghies and cars and trailers. I present two of Stuart's stories.

Sometime in the late 1950's, an International 14 team from Montreal, Canada, was trailering their 14 down to Massachusetts for the Buzzards Bay Bowl, one of the premier events during the early years. As they were getting close to Marion, passing through one of the small Massachusetts's towns, they noticed a fire truck, sirens going, in their rear view mirror. They pulled over on the shoulder to let the fire truck go by, but, instead, the fire truck pulled in right behind them. Sixty years ago there were no custom formed bunks on trailers; this 14 team adopted a common practice of placing a mattress on the trailer and then strapping their 14 on top of mattress on top of trailer. At some point in the trip, this duo, rocking down the highway at a high rate of speed, had tossed a cigarette out the window and, unluckily, it had landed on the mattress, where it started smoldering. The smoke from the fire had been blown flat at sixty miles-per-hour but when they slowed to navigate through the towns, it was obvious to bystanders watching them go by that this car was towing a trailer and boat that was definitely on fire, hence the fire truck was called and responded. Stuart dryly noted that enough of the bottom of this International 14 was charred to be a total write-off.

In story number 2, Stuart told of an English gent who, again in the early days, was finishing off an International 14 in a workshop situated in a room at the back of his garage (to save a few quid, the DIY crowd would buy a cold molded shell from the professionals and then build in the interior, centerboard trunk and gunwhales). The International 14 was nearly complete, just short some varnish coats when the builder's mother somehow drove her car through the garage door, through the intervening wall to the workshop, into the boat, through the back wall to the house, depositing the whole mess in a pond in the back yard. Sailing stories become more and more apocryphal with age, so to see if I could corroborate Stuart's account I went back to the list of English International 14 numbers that Tom Vaughn put together in his International 14 history.

Sure enough, K 736, named Delight built by Ian Cox (a very accomplished 14 skipper) was "Destroyed in accident" in 1960. The next year, Ian Cox, had put together K 753, this time, given the anguish and teeth gnashing that must have happened after the first 14 was destroyed, Ian named the new 14 Despair, (just as Stuart had told the story).

Stuart turns 90 years old in little over a month. He still races his Soling at every opportunity, especially enjoying the winter racing. I asked Stuart if he ever kept track of how many races he's done over his lifetime. He said he doesn't have an exact number but he estimates he has over 6000 hours of racing!


Tillerman said...

How wonderful to be able to hang out with SW like that.

So he is 90 and estimates he has raced 6,000 hours. I wonder how many hours of practice?

Given that conventional wisdom is that you have to spend 10,000 hours at any activity before you become world-class at it, 6,000 in 90 years doesn't seem like very much.

I sincerely hope I will still be racing at 90, but somehow I doubt it.

Tweezerman said...


Good point. I never did ask how he calculated the 6000 hours (in say the normal 7 hour day on the water for a regatta, does he just count the racing time?) Plus, many of the week long championships in the Solings just did one race a day.

Stuart is an amazing story teller. In his talk on crewing, he had at least 10-12 anecdotes, some involving Gold Medalists like Buddy Melges and Jesper Banks and others featuring local sailors from the 1960's.

George A said...

Rod: Glad you made it over to Fawcett's for Stuart's talk. I thought about it before driving to/from Gulfport but was too tired to go Wednesday after washing the boat and recovering from the trip. Hopefully he'll give another talk in the near future. I see you're still in love with Capcha...