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St. Croix Yacht Club

In 1969, the only yacht club on St. Croix was the St. Croix Yacht Club, a proper club with a proper clubhouse and properly mannered members. This monopoly changed in 1970 when the Outrigger Yacht Club was organized.

Located on the eastern outskirts of Christiansted, the Outrigger was nothing more than an open-air bar with a funky restaurant. I played piano at night at the Outrigger—an indication of its discerning management—while running tourists out to Buck Island aboard VOL-AU-VENT during the day. The owners came up with a promotional idea of calling the bar, a “Yacht Club,” and within days of its birth, they boasted that the Outrigger was the largest yacht club in the world. This may or may not have been true, but in the end, there were thousands of members. Anyone—including tourists—tall enough to plop $15 on the bar, received a drink, an Outrigger Yacht Club T-shirt and a membership card conveying full rights and privileges of membership to the bearer. Of course, there were no rights or privileges because there was no club, but that’s not the point.

St. Croix Yacht Club

St. Croix Yacht Club

The point is, there was a cadre of sailor/drinkers that called the Outrigger home. We got our mail there for years; we met there every day after work—those of us who worked—played darts there and I even held my wedding reception there.

One weekend, the sailing regulars organized, had an election and wrote a letter to the yachting powers that be. A few weeks later we received word that the unwitting IYRU had granted official recognition to the Outrigger Yacht Club.

At the time of recognition, the club fleet consisted of three vessels. One was Dave Cobb’s 24–foot steel sloop called SUMMER’S CLOUD. We called it IRON CLOUD but not to his face. The best thing about IRON CLOUD was her tanbark sails and one-lung Lister diesel that went puckity-puckity and could be started with a hand crank. Actually, it could only be started by hand; there was no electrical system.

Then there was TITANIA, a 36–foot ChrisCraft motor sailor owned by the first—and I think only—commodore of the club, D.A. Williams. She was unusually fast and would have won our first sponsored race if I, as head of the race committee, hadn’t carefully placed the first mark in water 40 feet deeper than its anchor rode. Ol’ TITANIA was speeding up to the mark at Buck Island, but when she arrived, there was no mark. It had drifted five miles down to the rocks at Judith’s Fancy. D.A. didn’t speak to me for weeks, and he was the best man at my wedding.

But the queen of the fleet was ZEARETTE, a sleek Cal 36; a barracuda owned by Tommy Brown, a displaced Philadelphian. Her delivery captain and racing skipper was Trapper Lippencott, today a well-known racing sailor on the Chesapeake.

We had invited the St. Croix Yacht Club to participate in our race, which they did. After the screw-up with the mark, we were sure that we wouldn’t be invited to any of their races, but we were wrong. Within days, SCYC’s commodore, Frank Blaydon, invited us to participate in the upcoming Commodore’s Cup. The race started between Pull Point and a mark off the north shore, east of Christiansted. This was a spinnaker start. Then we were to proceed to a sea buoy off the east end of Culebra, thence east around St. Thomas’ Buck Island and back down to Teague Bay with the finish line inside the reef just west of the yacht club.

The route was about 110 miles. The longest time the race had ever taken was 18 hours, and in expectation of similar race duration, the start was scheduled for 6pm. There were 12 boats in the race, but only two were considered contenders for the Commodore’s Cup, ZEARETTE and Donn Schindler’s Swan 36, the mighty LOBO DEL MAR. LOBO DEL MAR had never been beaten since the day Donn brought her to the island, three years before.

The harbinger of the race was at the starting gun. Instead of the expected downwind start, we were working dead into a northwesterly gusting wind with an overcast sky imbedded with thunder storms and rain squalls. It blew 30 knots as we rounded the sea buoy at Culebra, just after dawn. We had tacked back and forth all night looking forward to a fast spinnaker run to Buck Island, followed by an even faster broad reach to the finish. But moments after rounding the Culebra sea buoy, the wind simply quit. We couldn’t whistle up a breath of air. After a few hours, we drifted close to Sail Rock off St. Thomas and towed the rock for five more hours. There was no wind, and the crew grew restless.

But Trapper was chipper and pleased with himself because we were keeping pace with the dreaded LOBO DEL MAR. It was 3pm by the time we skulled around Buck Island, and mutiny was in the air. Poor Dave Cobb had been married for only a couple of days and he really, really wanted to get home. He pleaded with Trapper to turn on the engine. When Trapper refused, Dave tromped to the foredeck, curled up in a furled heads’l and wept.

By 7pm, it was dark; though we saw the lights of the fleet, most seemed to be behind us, and we couldn’t tell which boat was which.

At 3:30am, ZEARETTE crossed the bar into Teague Bay and worked eastward up the reef toward the finish line. The moon was out and we could see that another boat was close by and gaining. We squinted into the darkness only to find we were in a tacking dual with Harrison Olny’s DOLLY, a Cal 25. Due to the light air, she had caught us and we were in the sailing battle of our lives in the middle of the night. After a half a dozen tacks, DOLLY stayed right with us, so Trapper whispered for a fake tack. While Dave moaned on the foredeck, the crew miraculously executed the fake and ZEARETTE took a lead that was never relinquished. As we passed the finish line, the traditional cannon shot echoed over the east end of St. Croix.

At the St. Croix Yacht Club, it was taken for granted that LOBO DEL MAR had finished and won the race. It was never considered that the scruffy Outrigger Yacht Club crew would ever beat Donn Schindler’s powerful Swan. So, Donn’s wife was on the yacht club pier with a bottle of champagne waiting for LOBO’s triumphant arrival and the resulting victory celebration. From the shore at night, no one could tell that it was, in fact, ZEARETTE that was approaching, and Mrs. Schindler ran down the dock, cheering and waving the champers bottle. She first noticed something was amiss when Dave Cobb streaked past her looking for a telephone, but when she finally saw smelly ol’ long-haired Trapper Lippencott jump onto the dock, she stopped in her tracks like she’d run into a glass wall. The commodore’s wife, Muffin, was on hand and, executing a perfect statue-of-liberty play, snatched the bottle from the frozen Mrs. Schindler and handed it graciously to Trapper.

While sitting in the darkness on the dock sharing Donn Schindler’s expensive champagne with the crew of DOLLY, we saw LOBO DEL MAR’s red running light. She was motoring westward past the yacht club; they were still outside the reef.

And we didn’t see Dave Cobb for two weeks.


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