Star

Illustration by Jim Ewing
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StarClass

It was called the Bug. George “Pop” Corry’s little one-design sailboat, which had come off New York designer William Gardner’s drawing board in 1906, was fun to race, gave skippers an even chance to win and was inexpensive at $140. But the 17-footer was a little too small, a little too wet — on the right track, yes, but not quite the boat that Corry, commodore of New York’s Larchmont Yacht Club, wanted.

In 1910, he went back to Gardner for a bigger version. Draftsman Francis Sweisguth came up with a keelboat just over 22 feet overall, with graceful overhangs and an enormous gaff rig whose boom hung out over the transom.

Port Washington, New York, boatbuilder Ike Smith turned out 22 of them for Corry and his supporters, and the fleet appeared on Long Island Sound for the first time May 30, 1911, for the Memorial Day regatta of the Harlem Yacht Club. The Star was an instant hit: fast, rugged, a mental and physical challenge to helm (and to crew). It had a racing look, even when standing still.

The Star proved to be much more than a fast sailboat. Star skipper George Elder pioneered the idea of a centrally governed, national and international Star Class fleet. The Star became a test bed for innovation, from the Marconi rig to the auto-bailer. World championships were held in 1923 (and continue to this day); in 1932, the Star became an Olympic class. Star skippers have included President John F. Kennedy, Olympic gold medalist Paul Elvstrom, America’s Cup legend Dennis Conner and world-champion sailor Buddy Melges.

Gardner summed up the Star’s popularity: “The boat alone … was not entirely responsible for the great success that has followed. The great interest taken by the owners of the boats, and the unceasing efforts of the [class] association to bring to the attention of the yachting world the merits of the boats, have been in a large part responsible for the unprecedented success of the class.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue.

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