To Carlos de Cardenas and his son, Carlos Jr., pictured at left in the colorful clothing of sailing's ruling class, there is nothing in the world like winning a boat race. And these two have a habit of winning. They are at the moment world sailing champions in the Star class, and there is some reason to believe that they will still be champions after the world title series November 19-26 over their home waters in Havana harbor. The importance of their position is not lost on the elder Cardenas, a barrel-chested corporation lawyer of 51 who has dedicated much of the last 31 years to the winning of Star boat races. Nor has it escaped Carlos Jr., the world's No. 1 Star crewman and an unequivocal admirer of his father.
"There are two titles that make you important in yacht racing circles," said Cardenas recently. "The Bermuda race is one, and the Star class championship is the other. And," he adds, "the best sailors are in Stars. If you are a Star champion, everyone who knows about yacht racing knows you have really achieved something. You are pointed out in any yachting group. 'That's the fellow who won the Star championship,' they say."
There are 3,683 Star boats in the world today, spread over 28 countries and six continents. There are a few classes with more numbers—Snipes, for example, have more than 10,000, but there are none, in Cardenas' opinion, which have the qualities of a Star. Snipes, he says, are for kids. But Star sailing—"it's an intellectual sport. Your boat is like a violin. You get it out of tune and you are lost."
Cardenas, called Charlie by his sailing confreres, spends roughly 100 days a year making sure that he and his Star never get out of tune. During the weeks leading up to his championship defense, Charlie has spent every possible moment running his boat, Kurush V, alongside that of his second son, Jorge, to be sure that everything is adjusted perfectly.
November 21, 1955
Charlie could hardly have picked a better foil. For Jorge, after 20 years of tutoring from his father, has emerged as the North American Star champion. As the two boats slice through the water together, Charlie fiddles with every adjustment that could give him more speed. Heavy weather is his favorite. Close-hauled, he is a genius at covering his opponent's moves and figuring the fastest way around the buoy. But if the wind is light, he watches every detail anxiously. He may change the setting of the mainsheet and straighten the slight rearward bend of his mast to give the sail more belly. He may shift his own position in the boat or that of his crew as little as a few inches to get the boat in proper balance. Once he was practicing in the harbor when a friend on shore shouted that his bow was too high. Charlie moved the entire keel forward three inches to shift more weight toward the bow. "Another time," he recalls, "I became convinced the mast was too far aft. It suited the builder that way, but I found it wasn't tuned to my weight, so I got my tools and moved it forward two inches."
It is easy to get the impression that Cardenas enjoys tinkering as much as the actual sailing competition. He is a skilled amateur machinist who will design a brand-new fastening if the standard one does not suit his purposes; and traffic in the Cardenas kitchen is frequently impeded by one end of a mast jutting out of the small home workshop where Charlie does his puttering. His attention to preparation and detail extends even to sprinkling small drops of water onto the bottom of his Star. If the drops run off quickly, the boat is ready for the race. If, however, some of the drops hesitate, the bottom gets carefully resanded. And like all top Star competitors, Cardenas keeps his boat out of the water, absolutely dry, except when he is actually sailing. "We put our boats in the water 15 minutes before a race," he says, "and haul them out five minutes after. Leave them in these tropical waters for a week and they get whiskers [marine growth]." This, obviously, is unthinkable in a Cardenas boat.
Confident and determined as he is, Charlie is well aware of the quality of the 38 entries who will be trying to dethrone him during the five-race series for the world title. He names the European champion, Augustino Straulino, as one master of tuning and tactics who might beat him. Another is Duarte Bello of Portugal. A third, and perhaps the biggest threat of all, is Jorge, who took his own private title at Rye, N.Y. last September 10 and now feels ready for the big one "even if I have to beat my father."
His father, of course, isn't planning to be beaten by Jorge or anybody else. Like many sailing champions, Charlie does not enjoy losing. A quietly modest man on land, he can be a tyrant on the water, and any rare bit of slow or sloppy sail handling by Carlos Jr. is likely to bring forth a staccato blast of rather colorful Spanish. Charlie, say some of his close friends at the Havana Yacht Club, is too tense about winning. However, to Carlos Jr., who has acted as crew for 17 of his 23 years, this is absolute nonsense. "He doesn't really get very angry, and in a minute it's forgotten." As for the title: "Sure, my father gets a big bang out of being world champion. Who wouldn't? After all these years, it's his reward for enthusiasm and hard work, and he's enjoying it."