KINGS OF THE CLASS-BOAT SAILORS

The Mosbacher brothers, Bus and Bob, are currently the hottest skippers going. Here is the story of how two great helmsmen grew, and the secrets of their success
May 17, 1959

On a smoky day ina chill sou'wester off Newport last September, Vim and Columbia, the two greatcontenders for America's Cup honors, squared off for one of their last battles.Corny Shields, at Columbia's helm, was already tasting victory: "Just lether stick her nose into the clear," he exulted, "and she cannot bebeaten." But aboard Vim, Helmsman Emil (Bus) Mosbacher and a superb crewwere ready and waiting, and at the preparatory signal Vim made her move. Like agreat jungle cat, she pounced on Columbia's stern. Corny Shields circledvainly, trying to escape, finally broke and headed for the line. But he wasslightly early; Columbia had to bear off and Bus Mosbacher had the opening hewas waiting for. He rode his rival past the buoy, in complete control, untilShields let go the wheel and placed his hands on his hips in a gesture ofresignation. He could have paid no greater compliment to his young competitor,who on that day, as on many others, had won the race before it had officiallybegun.

A week later,before the spray had even settled in Newport, another Mosbacher named Bob wasat the helm of a 210 class sloop off Rye, on Long Island Sound. When thatcontest was over, Bob had won the North American Sailing Championship for theClifford D. Mallory Cup, establishing himself as the year's unquestioned masterof fleet racing.

The Mosbacherbrothers, Bus and Bob, are a phenomenon of the sort that yachting—or any othersport, for that matter—sees only seldom. For an entire year now they have beenwhipsawing their competitors with impressive regularity. Bob led off in theearly spring of 1958 by winning the Southern Ocean Racing Conferencechampionship. Transferring to smaller boats on sheltered waters, he followedthis with the impressive series of victories that finally qualified him torepresent the Texas Yachting Association in the climactic Mallory Cupcompetition. Bus came heart-stoppingly close to winning U.S. yachting'sgreatest honor when Vim was barely nosed out by Columbia in the cup trials.When the summer of the 12s was finished he turned to ocean racing, skipperingCallooh in the Southern Circuit with such impressive skill that she won theSORC championship, and he had his name engraved alongside Bob's.

The careers ofthe two brothers are at once parallel and divergent. Both were born inWestchester County, N.Y., Bus in 1922, Bob in 1927. The sailing lives of bothextend back to earliest memories. "I guess I was 4 4½ when I first wentout," recalls Bus" "Dad bad a shell boat, about 12 feet long, acat-rigged, flat-bottomed little boat equivalent to today's dinghy. I wasallowed to come along." Bob considers himself 5 when he started. "Iused to think it was great fun to turn the boat over. I remember I stopped whennobody helped me right it again. The older fellows did the pumping at first.When I had to do it myself, it ceased being fun."

To both, lifeafloat was "a natural sort of evolution, since Dad was interested insailing." The elder Mosbacher, a successful independent producer of oil andgas, with extensive real estate holdings in addition, loved sailing and gavehis sons every opportunity to excel. As youngsters, the Mosbachers owned asuccession of boats, which passed from the elder to the younger brother as somefamilies pass clothes. There was the shell, then a Comet, then a Star, whichboth consider of great importance in their nautical education, especially indeveloping feel to windward. Most helmsmen watch their sails almost constantly,especially the luff of the jib. The Mosbachers agree they do not. "We wereso small when we started sailing Stars," Bob says, "that we couldn'tcrick our necks to watch the sails. All we could go by was the angle of heel,the look of the seas ahead and the water passing to leeward, with maybe anoccasional glance aloft."

"Actually," Bus says today, "watching the sails is only one of theimportant factors which you must watch during a race. It's like a footballgame: when a quarterback is running off a play he must know what all his otherteam members are doing, not just the end to whom he's going to pass. Watchingonly the jib is like watching only that one end.

"There are somany it's during a race. If it's rough, you must watch the sea. If it's fluky,you must watch for direction changes, keep an eye on the cat's-paws. You mustwatch the balance of the boat and trim the sails. And all along you haverelative-motion problems particular to your own position. The scene is alwayschanging; every puff means something in relation to your opponent."

The seniorMosbacher played an important role then not only as a provider of boats and anencourager of sailing but as an active coach. He owned a power launch, and eachSaturday and Sunday followed the boys in their respective classes. As Busrecalls it: "Whenever I saw the bow wave of my father's boat rise I knew Ihad done something wrong. It meant he was leaving me to watch Bob. If he wasback a short time later it meant Bob had done something wrong."

In the eveningsafter races Emil senior sat down with his sons to recapitulate the day'sevents. Everything from starting maneuvers to spinnaker handling to turningtactics came under discussion, and both boys learned there had to be a reasonfor every move they had made.

These eveningsessions are still lively in both the brothers' memories. "Of course,"Bus recalls today, "as often with father and son, Dad might become outragedby our mistakes, but by the time we met for dinner he was usually fairly calmand peaceful. I don't recall him ever blaming us for our mistakes. What he wasmore apt to do was ask us why we made them. Why did it take two minutes to getthe spinnaker up, why did I tack at a certain point? At the same time, he wasmost sparing with his compliments, and he could be very sharp. If we pulled areally bad blunder we would arrange to have dinner with a friend. There wereone or two occasions when we even stayed away for the weekend."

SAILINGSEMINAR

Today theirfather looks back on those times with indulgence. "Bus has always had a cumlaude brain," he says. "Things came easily for him, yet he always hadto analyze each factor. Bob was the opposite. Night after night Bus would putlittle boats on the table and ask Bob, 'What would you do if the mark was here,and I was here, and you were here, and the wind was thus and the current so?'Sometimes Bob would get so sleepy I would make Bus let him go to bed. Bus wasreally always the driver—maybe I added 1% to what they found forthemselves."

Both the brothersbenefited in their early days from stiff and constant competition. When Bus was15 he graduated to Atlantics, which he sailed for three years as a junior inLong Island Sound. He won a Larchmont Race Week but never a season'schampionship. "I was close," he says, "but no cigar." But in1939 he won the Sound junior championship and was runner-up for the Sears Cup,emblematic of the national junior championship, and at Dartmouth he twice wonthe McMillan Cup and the intercollegiate title.

It was after thewar that Bus really hit his stride as a racing skipper. He served in the Navy,seeing action aboard the minesweeper Revenge, participating in the invasions ofthe Marshall Islands and Leyte, and finishing, after a stint as naval aide tothe governor of the Virgin Islands, as an admiral's aide. Golf interested himfor a while (he brought his game down to the mid-70s), but in 1949 sailingclaimed him again. He went to Bermuda to sail a team race with Corny Shieldsand Bill Cox, and followed this by cleaning up at Cowes in the team races forthe British-American Cup, sailing Lee Loomis' and Herman Whiton's 6-meterLlanoria. In the fall he was back on Long Island Sound in an International, andwon five out of eight starts against what was generally conceded to be thehottest group of skippers around.

"SailingInternationals was learning the hard way," he recalls. "In those boats,one mistake and you had had it." One reason was that the oppositionfeatured the names of Corny Shields, Arthur Knapp and Bill Cox, three men whothoroughly rounded out Bus Mosbacher's education in the art of racing.

"CornyShields," he says, "is certainly one of the ablest of tacticians, andno man has ever been a better or more consistent starter. He has a wonderfulbackground of seamanship and a wonderful knowledge of the weather. Corny nevergets into trouble or makes bad errors or does anything silly. If you hoped towin a championship, Corny was the man to beat. Art Knapp might win more races,but where Knapp would take three firsts and an eighth, Corny would take threeseconds and a third.

"Art Knapptaught me a great deal about sailing to windward and keeping moving in lightairs. He can perhaps sail closer to the wind than anyone. He has a marvelousfeel for a boat, a great natural ability, plus great attention to detail. BillCox also has great attention to detail, but of a different kind. Bill is moremathematical. I learned a lot from him about the minutiae of tuning andrigging."

A friendly andmodest man by nature, Bus is perhaps taking less than due credit for his owntalents, which were now reaching full flower. Beginning with 1950, he won theseason championship of the International class for eight straight years. In sixof those same eight years he also won the Yacht Racing AssociationChampionship, losing once to Shields and once to Arthur Knapp, both of whomwere to be rival helmsmen in the 1958 America's Cup trials. And in 1956 he wasrunner-up in the Mallory Cup finals, losing by a narrow margin to Ted Hood ofMarblehead, Mass.

Bob's firstcompetition came at age 9 when he crewed for his father on an Interclub sloop,forerunner of the Internationals. He skippered his first race in a Comet."I don't remember the result," he says, "but I sure wasn't near thetop." Reflectively he adds, "One of the great things about young kidssailing is they get beaten pretty regularly when they're getting started.Adversity becomes second nature. I don't know what it did in my case, butnormally losing should build character: if you don't want to follow the fleethome all the time, maybe you work a little harder and learn a littlefaster."

YOUNG SKIPPER

As a skipper 11years old when taking over the Star, Bob remembers a piece of brotherly advice."Bus pointed out an older boy as the one to watch in the race. In myinexperience I thought if I followed behind him I'd be all right. I stayedclose astern all the way, which was an inexcusable blunder because I gotback-winded. I probably couldn't do it again if I tried, but I still finishedsecond. It was a case of being stupid and getting away with it."

Within a coupleof years Bob had won the midget championship of the Long Island Sound YachtRacing Association, plus a Snipe class regatta in Florida. At 14 and again at17 he won the Atlantic class championship. In 1944 he won the Manhasset BayRace Week and the Bermuda Trophy of the International class, repeating thelatter victory in '48.

After the war Bobopened the oil and gas branch of the family business in Houston. He now directsan office crew of 18 and estimates he has an additional 20 or 30 people in thefield. He married a Tennessee girl, Jane Pennybacker, and they have fourchildren, three girls and a boy, ranging in age from 10 to 2 years. For thefirst few years in Texas, Bob never went near the water. But fate had sent himto an active yachting center, and he began racing a 20-foot Corinthian classsloop, designed by Sparkman & Stephens, which he describes as "a stiffkeel Lightning." Now he maintains "a large fleet of tiny boats—theCorinthian, a Sailfish, a Teal for the children, and half interest in a5.5-meter sloop."

Although fiercecompetitors, intent on victory with the concentration common to outstandingperformers, the brothers are genial and relaxed ashore. Both are quiet inmanner and speech—Bob seems to be developing a bit of Texas drawl—and dressconservatively. Neither is the swashbuckling, sheath-knife, blow-me-down typeof yachtsman. Bus, with a height of 6 feet and weight of 190, is huskier thanhis younger brother. Modesty about their achievements is so ingrained that inwriting this article I had some difficulty prying loose anything resembling arecord of their victories. In both cases, it seemed almost embarrassing to askif a specific event had been won, although Bob replied with a grin to myquestion as to which races he had enjoyed most, "Haven't you always foundthe best races are the ones you won?"

OLD MASTERS

Both brothershave made their contributions to the art of yacht racing (see diagrams), butBus must be credited with a masterful refinement of match-race starts thatseems to have ended forever the usefulness of the famous "Vanderbiltstart" (SI, Oct. 15, '56) in boat-to-boat competition. Of almost universalapplication in match racing, the Mosbacher system last summer time and againthreatened to carry the day for Vim, the old stalwart, in her thrilling seriesagainst the crack new Columbia and her great crew.

The Vanderbiltstart, based on a strict time-and-distance formula—reaching away from the linewith the true wind abeam, turning at the precisely measured instant and tackingor jibing to get back on the tick of the watch—was essentially static andpassive, having as its aim the arrival on the line with the gun. By contrast,Bus Mosbacher's tactic is opportunistic and fluid, an aggressive method ofcontrolling an opponent through application of the racing rules. "No twosituations are ever quite the same," Bus explains, "but the mainobjective is to get between your opponent and the starting line, being inposition to lead him back to the line on the final run without beingearly."

To achieve this,Mosbacher planned all his maneuvers to place Vim on the stern of his rivalduring the preliminary jockeying. When the position was attained made littledifference—perhaps when the other helmsman was timing a run of the line,perhaps when he was checking his watch against a committee boat signal, perhapswhen he attempted to apply the Vanderbilt formula. In the latter case, as theother boat was following a predictable pattern, it became a sitting duck: Vimhad merely to place herself behind on the leg away or ahead on the return. OnceVim had gotten in place, through precise timing and application of the racingrules, Bus Mosbacher was literally in the driver's seat of both boats (seediagram). Vim had her opponent on the defensive, psychologically as well astactically.

MOSBACHER VS.MOSBACHER

Yet Bus was notalways so good in prerace maneuvering. In fact, according to Bob, "it isodd he should have got to be the best starter, as starting was his firstweakness. He was cautious, although he always had a wonderful sense of timing.And from what I hear, his fleet starts are as good as in match racing."

Bob, to date, hashad little opportunity for match competition. Yet he perhaps might be a seriousrival for his older brother in the vital departments of starts, helmsmanshipand tactics. Bus and Bob have raced against each other only seldom; they admitto "a series of match races," but add "no one will ever know theresult, not even Dad." Last spring, sailing the trial horse Gleam, Bobfaced Bus in Vim in a rare encounter. "He had an older, slower boat thanVim," says Bus, "and a partially pickup crew, but Bob gave us plenty oftrouble at the line practicing starts and on short windward-leewardcourses." And the official booklet of the North American Yacht RacingUnion, describing the Mallory Cup events last year, begins by reporting:"Never headed from the first gun, and winning four of the eight races,Robert Mosbacher...was undisputed winner...." To be described as"undisputed winner" of the top national sailing championship by itsstaid sponsors is more than an honor: it is downright phenomenal.

The mostfascinating aspect of close competition to Bob, and one in which he is perhapsthe outstanding-expert, is the challenge presented by the rounding of each markin a closed-course race (see diagrams). As he says, "Getting around a markin a fleet of eight or 28 boats makes all the difference in the world. The guywho is outside at the leeward turn is dead—he will have to come up through thewhole group to do anything after that. I don't know how good I am at marks, butit is some of the best fun in racing."

Thus, for Bob themost satisfying and exciting moment in the 1958 Mallory Cup races came in oneof the final events, when he was leading in points with Norman Freeman andLloyd Emory, his closest competitors in the over-all standings. The threearrived at a leeward mark together, Bob about a quarter length behind Emory buthalf a length ahead of Freeman. In the final split second Bob realized Emorywould turn slightly wide. Diving for the narrow opening which suddenly appearedbetween boat ahead and buoy, he squeezed through to windward. By luffing a bitas he rounded he not only nipped Emory but had Freeman in the backwind of both.Of such fleeting moments are the most rewarding competitive memories made.

Where thebrothers will go from here neither is able to say. Bob, having with hisCo-owner Lawrence Reed recently given their Norwegian-built 5.5-meter Carina tothe Sea Scouts, is considering a new boat in the same class, from the board ofBill Luders. Meanwhile, he has his Texas Corinthian Championship to defendagainst a group of Galveston Bay hot-shots, to say nothing of the Mallory Cupcrown, and a passel of children to keep sailing.

Bus still livesin the house in White Plains he knew as a child. He is married to the formerPatricia Ryan of New York—"my mother and my father and my wife are the onlypeople I know who were born in New York City," he says—and now he has threeboys coming along: Emil III, age 7; Richard Bruce, 6; and John D., 2½. WhileBus will remain loyal to closed-course racing as exemplified by theInternational class on home waters, he is becoming increasingly fascinated byocean racing. Torn, he hopes to do "as much of both as timepermits."

Both brothers aretrying to interest their children in sailing, but without pushing them toohard. Emil senior says of his successful sons, "They can't remember whetherthey had a knife and fork in their hands first or a tiller." Theindoctrination of the next generation is more gradual, perhaps because therespective fathers are too busy winning and defending championships to devoteas much time to teaching.

But the newgeneration is not being neglected, and both Bob and Bus have positive ideas onbringing up children to be sailors. Down on Galveston Bay, Bob's daughterDiane, 10, and Robert Jr., 8, race their Teal three days a week, taking turnsbeing skipper. Late many workday afternoons and early weekend mornings, fatherBob is on hand to coach. "I don't spend quite as much time at it as myfather did," Bob says, "but I hope I am doing the same thing. At anyrate, I find to Dad's amusement that I am as impatient with them as he was withus. But they both seem to be coming along pretty well.

"I thinkchildren can start understanding the basic principles of sailing at 7," Bobcontinues. "Then I think they ought to be taught the various parts of theboat and the fundamentals of sailing before they are allowed to do too much,just as football players must first learn the fundamentals of blocking andtackling. There isn't much glamour to this part of it—again as in football—andit's a matter of pounding it in. But after a year of crewing and learning, thechild should be ready for his own dinghy or Sailfish. Nothing teaches asrapidly as handling a boat yourself."

Bus seemsinclined to take a more relaxed view. Last winter he bought a Dyer Dhow for hischildren ("You can learn more about racing in one afternoon in a dinghythan you can in a season in a cruising class. The boats are light and sensitiveand mistakes are obvious"), and he is trying to "indoctrinate withoutforcing" his brood. "You should wait until they show an interest,"he says. "For example, something struck me the other day when we wentsightseeing with the children. While we were seeing the sights, what were theyseeing? People's knees. If we take the kids out when we are racing Susan, whatdo they see from the cockpit? A patch of blue sky and the cockpit coaming.Once, in a not too important race, I had them with me and let them run all overthe boat and they enjoyed that. But you can't let them do it during animportant race.

"As far asletting them sail, though, they can sail as soon as they can swim. I would letthem sail alone as soon as they have a sense of responsibility. When I sayalone I mean you should be somewhere around where you can keep an eye on them.I would let them steer when they are 3 or 4."

Either way,Mosbacher children of both families seem to take to their training and likewhat they learn. On his most recent birthday Bus received from his boys ahalf-model of Snosus (a name derived from Snow and Susan), the Internationalsailed by the family in the summer. Attached was a plaque engraved: "To ourhelmsman." It is a role that both Bus and Bob will certainly be fulfillingfor some time to come, particularly when another America's Cup challenge isreceived—an event which might conceivably, and at long last, bring bothMosbachers face to face right out in the public eye.

BUS ON MATCH RACING STARTS

In match race start, Bus (black) applies cardinal ruleof always staying between opponent and next mark. If rival (white) attemptsVanderbilt start, black stymies him by jumping on his tail as white beginspreparatory run (1) away from line. If white tries to hold to Vanderbiltformula, black follows him to turning point, lets white get slight overlap towindward on return run, then leads white back to line, luffing to upset white'stimetable and ultimately crossing starting line ahead of white. If white triesto escape by starting to tack (2), black stays between white and line byluffing head to wind (rules forbid white from then completing tack). White maythen bear off sharply, but black turns inside him, coming close alongside (3)and preventing white from jibing. Should white by quick maneuvering manage tocomplete jibe (4), black jibes inside (5). If white at this point hassufficient overlap to luff black, white will, according to rules, lose luffingrights as soon as his mast comes abeam of black's helm. Should white thenmanage to slip inside black (6), black still has advantage, since he can onceagain ruin white's timetable by luffing, or subject white to final indignity ofrunning him onto wrong side of committee boat. White must then return to linewhile black races on to first mark.

BOB ON FLEET RACING STARTS

If start is to leeward and first leg is short (below),Bob (black boat) favors windward end of line so he will have the insideposition as he approaches the marker (1) and can take the lead rounding themark (2). On long leeward leg (right) Bob starts with wind free at leeward endof line, then speeds up by sailing closer to wind (1) to lead rivals in dashfor marker (2).

BOB ON ROUNDING WINDWARD MARKS

Greatest blunder is approaching port hand marker onport tack
Boat on the port tack (black) approaching windward mark to be left to port issitting duck for boat on starboard tack (white). Rules say port tack must giveway to starboard tack, so white simply holds course, forcing black to veer offand pass behind him. Black thus loses perhaps two lengths in rounding themark.

Overstanding starboard hand mark opens gate to porttack boat
Black boat on port tack approaching the marker to be left to starboard haschance if he overstands or aims 1½ boat lengths above mark. White, on starboardtack, thus has room to round mark inside black, ordinarily correct move but inthis case disastrous (see below) if black times his countermoves as heshould.

Port tack boat rounds mark wide, takes starboard'swind
If white boat makes conventional move of rounding mark inside of black, thenblack can slowly bear off, leaving white just enough room to turn mark. Asblack bears off, he lets out sails, increasing speed, while white loses some ofhis speed in coming about. Once around the mark, black is sitting squarely onwhite's wind.

White counters by overshooting but black slipsinside
If white anticipates black's move, white may then try to counter byovershooting or sailing past mark, hoping to force black to go about and headaway from the mark. In this case black lets white come on, then slips behindhim (slowing if necessary) close to buoy and emerges several boat lengths infront, with wind clear.

PHOTOYOUNG RACING HOPEFULS BUS AND BOB, THEN 17 AND 12, IN THE FAMILY STAR BOAT PHOTOAT HOME IN HOUSTON, Bob's family admires trophies. Lisa, the youngest, is on her mother's lap, Kathy at left. Robert and Diane already skipper their own boat. PHOTOAT HOME IN WHITE PLAINS, Bus is photographed with his wife Patricia, Emil III (standing), John, the youngest, and Bruce. Older boys are learning to sail a dinghy. DIAGRAMWIND
START
1
2
3
4
5
6
DIAGRAMSHORT LEEWARD LEG
WIND
START
1
2
DIAGRAMLONG LEEWARD LEG
WIND
START
1
2
DIAGRAMWIND DIAGRAMWIND DIAGRAMWIND DIAGRAMWIND DIAGRAM ROUNDING LEEWARD MARK, Bob (black) approaches wide of mark, then turns insidewhite opponent, who loses lead by starting his turn too close to the buoy.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)