If Young Bill Buchan Jr., the Seattle skipper who piloted a Luders 16 to a clear-cut victory in the annual North American Sailing championships, remains anything close to the coolheaded, calm-browed competitor he was this last week at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, it is going to take some doing to beat him in future races.
FOR WINNERS—A CUP
The championship brings with it the Mallory Cup, a large, silver tureen that once belonged to the family of Lord Nelson and which in three short years has become just about the most coveted of all small-boat sailors' trophies. It takes its name from Clifford D. Mallory, the founder of the North American Yacht Racing Union, but it is not Mr. Mallory's eminence or the cup's historic origins that accounts for its drawing power. For the majority of entrants the real point is that Mallory competition offers a true test of racing skill. There are first numerous local and then eight area elimination regattas on the way to the finals. Participating sailors might be asked to sail Stars in the local championships and then Lightnings in the regionals. In no two successive years are the same class boats used in the finals, and in all area, regional and the final racing series skippers trade off boats so everybody gets an equal shot at the fast and slow ones. If you manage to win, it is a sure thing you and not your boat did the winning.
And that is what makes Bill Buchan's triumph all the more remarkable. When the 20-year-old University of Washington junior, who bears a striking resemblance to Tony Trabert without the crew cut, arrived in Detroit with his father on the Friday before the first race on Tuesday, he had never sailed a Luders 16 before. With his father and Ron McFarlane, friend and third crew member, Buchan worked out for two days. By Sunday he was good enough to win an informal race against competition that included Gene Walet, twice the Mallory Cup winner and up to this point again the favorite.
September 18, 1955
How well Buchan learned his lesson was demonstrated almost before anyone else moved. Maneuvering the by-now thoroughly familiar Luders through a heavy wind that kicked up three-foot waves on shallow Lake St. Clair, Buchan took first place on Tuesday morning and then came back that afternoon to beat the pack again. His 16½ points was all the cushion Buchan needed. While his six American and one Canadian opponents were forced to gamble the rest of the week, Buchan settled down to some sound sailing.
Once, though, he slipped. Perhaps playing it too craftily, Buchan took a fifth in the fourth race and led George O'Day, the pride of Massachusetts, by a scant 1½ points. Alfred Dowrie of Chicago was 3¼ back and Walet 4¼. In the fifth race Buchan made up for his lapse with a vengeance. With an 18-to 20-knot wind blowing across the triangular six-mile course Buchan got to the line late but had a clear wind.
Here he used good judgment. Instead of splitting tacks with the leaders he strapped his mainsail in hard, gave just enough slack to the jib and lit out in pursuit. Halfway to the first mark Buchan was in the lead and now it was the rest who had to tack clear.
The wind appeared too far abeam and too strong tor spinnakers on the first reach but not to Walet. He cracked it on and after some trouble closed on Buchan. Accepting the challenge, Buchan Sr. and McFarlane set theirs in smart fashion, and that was the race to all intents and purposes.
Needing only a fourth in the eighth and last race no matter who won, Buchan sailed to keep out of trouble. O'Day and Walet, forced to gamble for first, dropped far back and when they finally worked up to fourth and third respectively, they were both a quarter point behind Dowrie in second.
All three of the leading challengers sailed well enough to win, but Bill Buchan sailed brilliantly. None of the other finalists had quite the knack of making his boat go fast. None got a better start when the series was young.
It was in judgment, however, that Buchan shone. In last year's Mallory finals he had finished a distant fourth, sailing fast and sometimes well but often recklessly. This year he had as much nerve but when he went off on a long tack it was based on good judgment, not wishful thinking. When behind, he was content to whittle away at the boats ahead rather than gamble.
Inevitably, part of the credit for Buchan's triumph must go to his father, an amateur boat builder and designer with as large and tough a pair of hands as ever handled a spinnaker. Buchan Sr.'s spinnaker was drawing almost as soon as the windward mark was passed and was never doused until the bow reached the leeward one.
"It takes a crew of five carrying it to the mark," said Bill Sr. after the race, but anyone who had watched knew better. It took three.