Ugly is too severe a word for anything so inherently graceful as a sailing yacht, too harsh for Hoot Mon, a true beauty queen on the basis of handsome is as handsome does. Often termed an ugly duckling, the unconventional 39-foot yawl owned jointly by Lockwood Pirie of Chicago and Miami, Worth Brown of Miami and Charles Ulmer of City Island, N.Y. (SI, Oct. 18), has won top honors in the Southern Ocean Racing Conference for the second year running.
Last year this unusual boat had things almost entirely her own way in the southern circuit. This year she knew she was in for a fight when Carleton Mitchell's brand-new yawl Finisterre won the Fort Lauderdale-Bimini race with Hoot Mon in third place behind John Hertz's Ticonderoga. For the rest of the winter either Hoot Mon or Finisterre was first as they left the rest of the keen fleet grasping for only their class prizes (Hoot Mon and Finisterre both being in Class C).
Aside from the fact that both are yawls, both within a foot of each other in over-all length, and both with exactly the same rating under the complicated ocean-racing handicap formula, it would be hard to imagine two ocean racers as dissimilar as Hoot Mon and Finisterre. Where Hoot Mon has long overhangs, Finisterre's are short. Hoot Mon's beam is below average, Finisterre's far above. Finisterre is a shallow draft centerboarder, Hoot Mon a keel boat. While Hoot Mon is quite light and designed to sail largely over the water, Finisterre is heavy and sails through it.
In sailing qualities they are equally unlike, with the one common denominator that both are fast. Finisterre feels like a larger boat than she is, sails more nearly upright and can be driven hard in a strong beat to windward. Hoot Mon feels more like a day racing boat and must be sailed like one, nursing her way along on heavy weather windward legs and reducing sail early. Both have their strong points of sailing, neither any really weak ones. Hoot Mon is nearly unbeatable downwind; Finisterre appears better to windward. Hoot Mon is inexpensive as ocean racers go, Finisterre a real gold plater.
While the issue is still unsettled as to which is the faster all-round boat, there's no question about Hoot Mon being on top thus far.
After her third in the Bimini Race, Hoot Mon won the Lipton Cup Race at Miami. Finisterre seemed a sure second in this one until her wily skipper, Carleton Mitchell of Annapolis, gambling on a wild chance to win, went wind hunting, found only calms and dropped way down to seventh out of the 24 entries.
In the Miami-Nassau Race Hoot Mon got the start. In the early windward work Finisterre was gaining and seemed about to pass when she left Hoot Mon to sail what seemed to her, and to the others, a better course. Hoot Mon, however, proved to be the one which guessed right. She was still ahead when the wind faired and from then on it was just her dish. She won going away, with Finisterre second.
In the heavy weather, 30-mile windward-leeward Nassau Cup race a few days later it was all Finisterre, her victory being a little hollow due to Hoot Mon's failure to enter. Hoot Mon was thought to be sold and her owners didn't care to risk damage at that juncture. Finisterre went so well in this race that the consensus is that not even Hoot Mon could have touched her.
The St. Petersburg-Havana race which started on March 12 was the rubber match, with each of the two yachts having two wins. It was light, fluky and soon foggy. At midnight, 12 hours after the start, Finisterre and Hoot Mon were nip and tuck, so close they could spot each other through the murk. Then in the lightest possible air, when much of the fleet had lost steerage-way, they drifted apart. At daybreak there were several miles between them, with Finisterre to windward but both almost equidistant from Havana. Skipper Pirie and Watch Captain Ulmer here decided not to try to hold up high like Finisterre, even though they could just barely fetch the line. Instead, they hoisted mizzen staysail, gave her her head and drove off at high speed on a close reach. When the wind faired later, letting them reach up to Havana, they were home free, winner by a whopping 2 hours 23 minutes and 25 seconds. The runner up? Finisterre, of course.
For over-all Southern Circuit honors and the Florida Governor's Cup which goes with it, the superbly sailed Hoot Mon was first with 236 points, Finisterre second with 219.5 points and Bradley Noyes' 5-foot yawl Tioga from Marblehead third with 211.5.
Tioga, which is not unlike a larger Finisterre, was a consistent performer in her first year of southern racing, apparently destined to do even better in the future, particularly if Hoot Mon and Finisterre stay home.