THE FISH CLASS . . . .
. . . . ITS ORIGIN AND GROWTH
By: RATHBONE DE BUYS ALIAS DADDY OF THE FISH CLASS
The birth of the Fish Class was something of an accident; the result of a conversation in 1919 while congratulating Commodore Ernest Lee Jahncke on his election. He is well remembered as one of the Southern Yacht Club's finest and most progressive Commodores, whose support was instrumental in making possible the Fish Class. This was it:
"Congratulations to you, Sir, as Commodore of the largest fleet of Jelly Beans and Flappers in existence." "What do you mean?" was his reply with some irritation for which I could not blame him.
My answer was: "Commodore, you well know yachting in our club is practically dead. "There are only a very few racing sloops remaining, plus a motley lot of craft impossible to successfully handicap. "Yachting spirit is at ebb-tide. "Our club life consists of dinner dances attended by hundreds from our large membership and their friends. "The Race Committee for several years has had no control of what little racing there has been and has been dominated by a small clique who do as they please."
"Well, what would you do about it?" said the Commodore.
My reply (and that's where I stuck out my neck, which was to have a collar around it for seven years of hard work, which I have never regretted):
"First: You must establish a Race Committee with intestinal fortitude.
"Second: The rules should be entirely rewritten.
"Third: Appeal from rulings of the Race Committee should go to a Board of Appeal consisting of men of sound yachting knowledge and not as now is the case to a Board of Governors, many of whom are not yachtsmen, but rather prominent citizens interested in the social phase of the club. "Hearings before the Board of Governors have caused internal discord in the membership, ending, as you know, in one instance, in our Civil Courts.
"Fourth: The Race Committee and Board of Appeal must be the sole, final, and complete authorities on all yachting matters with no interference nor pressure of any kind from Board of Governors, Commodore, or club membership."
"Is that all?" asked the Commodore.
"Yep," said I.
In a few days the Commodore was on the phone and said in his authoritative manner: "I have appointed you Chairman of the Race Committee, so carry out the ideas you suggested."
"Well," was my answer. "with all due respect, you must believe I'm 'nuts' to accept the job. Am very busy playing golf and could not give the time to do it properly. No, Sir; thanks, and that's final."
"Ok," said he. But it was not final, and so it proved in a few days he was again on the phone. "Your appointment as Race Committee Chairman still stands and you had better get to work."
"Man alive," said I, "do you know what you are asking--to give up golf just when my game is encouraging?"
His answer: "I will not take no--think it over."
With sailing in my system from childhood upward; the club in desperate yachting condition, composed mainly of "flappers" and "jelly beans", with huge dances several times a week, acceptance was inevitable. It came.
"Have you decided to accept?" came his voice over the phone.
"Yes," was my answer, "but on conditions:
"1. The Chairman selects his own Committee;
"2. The Committee to be five in number;
"3. The Committee will rewrite the rules which will establish a Board of Appeal;
"4. You, the Commodore, and the Board of Governors, shall commit yourselves never at any time to override nor attempt to override the Race Committee and Board of Appeal;
"5. The expenses for the Race Committee and Board of Appeal must be included in the Club Budget, ample and sufficient to properly carry out the needed work."
"I accept," said he. He stood by that commitment for the many years I worked with him So now---out with golf and in with sailing.
The prompting of the "History of the Fish Class" comes from some recent experiences and observations, and suggestion from a number of my friends that it be written. After seven years of service, designing and developing the Fish Class, it seemed reasonable my work was done and retirement in order. The class was instrumental in creating a group of yachtsmen and yachtswomen --young, middle- aged, and some oldsters-- all keen for yacht racing, a sport which has no superior. About two years ago, when invited by the Pass Christian Yacht Club through its then new Commodore C. B. (Slivers) Merrick, in May, 1948, to present trophies on two occasions to Fish Class skippers of Interclub Races, to my astonishment, discovered that with the passing of time, and loss of the records of the Fish Class Committee covering a period of some seven years, there have grown misconceptions of rather interesting nature.
For example, after my address to the assembled yachtsmen, and presentation of trophies at the Pass Christian Yacht Club, an active yachtsman of another club after the ceremonies said to me: "Mr. DeBuys, I want to thank you for your talk and am delighted to learn you were the designer and originator of the Fish Class. I was of the impression a man named "Fish" was the originator."
Unfortunately, upon retirement, we delivered all records of our committee, seven years of work, to our club, The Southern Yacht Club, including drawings, specifications, race records, and other files which appear to have been lost, so when, from time to time, there come to me letters from clubs or individuals requesting information, I am unable to furnish it. However, the Gulf Yachting Association has compiled new records, all of which are now in good order, and available.
INTEREST IN YACHTING
From childhood and upward for many years, my Summers were spent on the Gulf Coast at DeBuys Station, named for my father, between Mississippi City and Beauvoir, where we always had boats from schooner to skiffs, at one time having ten craft, among which were schooner Wasp, Juanita, racing sandbagger sloop, my personal Biloxi Cat Boat, Rowena, always over canvassed, 18'-6" water line; 18'-0" hoist; 28' boom; 18' gaff; fourteen sand bags; crew of four. At anchor in a fair breeze, she would lay over if not carefully watched. The Biloxi Cat was a famous class at one time and many were the races of 20 or more competitors, If ever a sport required skill, that was the class. So there was born the love of the water and racing.
In time, the golf germ got me, and from it was based the classification of skippers. In golf, players are divided into classes: A, B, C, and so forth. A player in the nineties is not matched on even terms with one whose score is in the seventies, except with handicaps; and even with handicaps, adjustment is difficult. The best matches are invariably those in which players of the same ability, play each other, without handicaps.
Therefore, the idea of yachts of one design and skippers of equal ability appeared natural and fair. Why not then: Answer: There were no craft of one design. Many did not have the means to be owners. The care and attention required for personally owned craft required time and cash which many did not have available.
Carefully, the committee was selected: Adam Lorch, Babe Robert, Clarence Ferguson, Gordon Chapman, a fine group, hard workers, subject to call at all times, and all feeling the responsibility of saving yachting for our club and for the South.
The Rules were rewritten; the Board of Appeal appointed. Now came the job of establishing the authority of the Committee and its complete control of Racing. It so happened, in writing the rules, it was necessary to consult the Coast Guard on rules of the road, and in so doing, it was discovered that a Yacht Club had the right to call upon the Coast Guard to patrol the course for its races, and it was the duty of the Coast Guard to so serve, of course, only for main Regattas, Spring and Fall, but not for weekly racing.
What a windfall that was, and so it proved to be at our first Spring Regatta. Having a motley lot of yachts, the races were handicap: measurements, water line, sail area, etc. were of great importance.
Notices were mailed to all contestants, posted in the club; warning that henceforth the Rules would from date be strictly enforced.
Came the day of the Regatta. The small group who had been chronically violating rules called on the Committee for the Racing Numbers which, in those days, consisted of a piece of canvas about two feet square, on which was a number of identification, to be pinned on the mainsail.
The Committee, primed for the occasion, were ready, and as Chairman, I was acting for the Committee. As the group appeared, they were informed: "You have not complied with the club rules in that you have not had your yachts measured by the Official Measurer, and therefore, your applications for entry in the races are declined."
The necessity for measurements was due to the handicapping system, a formula based on water length and sail area.
Well, the roof blew off -------- "Who do you think you are?" "We know the rules better than you do!" "We have been racing for many years without all that foolishness. You should know the measurements. Take them from last year, etc., etc.
"Sorry," I said, "you have been informed by me for the Committee, and that is final!"
"Well, we will see the Commodore."
And so they did--but, said the Commodore to their astonishment: "Gentlemen, racing is now in the hands of the Race Committee with full authority and without interference by Commodore, Board of Governors, nor anyone else. Better see the Committee."
Back they came and announced they would race anyhow without numbers and notwithstanding the rules of the Committee.
"I don't believe you will do so," was my reply. Then, turning to the Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard, I requested him to inform the men as to the situation.
Said he: "Gentlemen, the Race Committee of the Southern Yacht Club informs us you have not complied with the Club Rules, and therefore, you will not be contestants in the races.
"Should you appear within a half mile of the limits of the race course, we will give you a warning whistle to retire; should you fail to do so promptly, we will fire a shot across your bow, upon which you will at once come to anchor and be placed under arrest.."
That was it!
They were the most flabbergasted lot imaginable. By that time, the members and guests were aware of what was happening. Controlled for the first time in several years, back they went to the Commodore, this time pleading, not demanding, as previously, that he please see what could be done with the Committee, promising to comply with the rules in the future.
Commodore Jahncke advised us that since the Committee has established its authority and as the situation was something new to the group, it would be a gracious and diplomatic gesture to unbend a bit and arrive at some reasonable understanding.
After consideration, the Committee agreed to permit the lot to race on binding condition that within five minutes of crossing the finish line, each must present his yacht to the Official Measurer at the club wharf, and for failing to do so, would be disqualified for the race of the day and for the remainder of the racing season.
Within three minutes of crossing the finish line, like good sports, all complied with the requirement.
From that episode, for seven years, there was not a single willful or intentional violation of any Club Racing Rule. Naturally, there were disqualifications from time to time, also unintentional fouls. Few appeals were brought to the Board of Appeal, whose decisions were accepted in fine spirit.
The Race Committee once more in command, a number of members who had lost interest because of inefficient control began to return to racing. However, there was a scarcity of yachts. Many who enjoyed sailing, potential good skippers, did not have funds to own craft, and those who did have the means, were unable to devote the necessary time toward maintaining their craft in good condition, such as hauling out, scraping, painting, etc.
Something had to be done.
1. Why not have sailors of equal ability sail against each other?
2. Why not have the club own the yachts, to be rented for racing at nominal fees, also to be rented during week days for fee in order to practice sailing?
3. The fees to be dedicated toward upkeep of yachts and also for expense of prizes.
4. Why not adopt the Golf Tournament plan of Classes of A-B-C, etc.
The Race Committee endorsed the idea at once as the key to revival of a dying sport, and in it went to the Board of Governors with the hearty backing of our good
Commodore. There was some opposition: "the club could not afford the expense."; "there was no assurance the project would support itself, etc., etc." But in the end, the Commodore put the project through and the first six Fish were authorized and were at once contracted for at a cost of $750 each, and properly built.
Upon the adoption of the plan, the Committee requested me to work up a design as I was a practicing architect and had designed a number of small yachts. Studying the designs of one design classes of the New York Yacht Club, the Eastern, Long Island, and others, none appeared to be quite what we needed, the qualifications in mind being:
1. Safety for beginners
2. Fair speed, so the Fish would not be insulted by being called "tubs".
3. Reasonable cost of construction.
4. Sturdy--low cost of upkeep.
In the end, the design incorporated features of the New England Sharpie and some of the Biloxi Cat--the straight lines and chine of the Sharpie, the wide beam and low free- board of the Cat, to which was added the V bottom for easy entrance and smooth wake with little suction--no curved forms--keel for stability--no centerboard--balanced rudder.
Water line 15' 10" -- overall 20' 6"-- beam 6'8"-- draft 3'0"-- keel 2 3/4 thick pine 1'10" deep with 6" lead foot weighing 220 lbs.----mainsail 262 sq. ft. --- jib 46 sq. ft. crew of three.
For sail plan, the Marconi was discarded, and gaff rig preferred, since the gaff rig is more difficult to sail--the angle of the gaff being an important factor in securing the best speed under varying wind pressures--for light winds, adjustment being quite different from that of strong winds, as is well known. It is my sincere hope that the Marconi will never be adopted for the Fish, since the gaff requires more skill.
Four classes were established. C--- for those who had never sailed, or who had sailed and not won a race. One win meant graduation into Class B. Two wins in Class B meant graduation into Class A. Three wins in Class A put the skipper in top Class of Experts.
Therefore, men of equal ability sailed against each other, and the closeness of many races was due to the fact and is well remembered by all. Many races in the lower classes were as close and as interesting as those between skippers in the upper classes.
When we started, there were perhaps ten active skippers. In two years, the count was approximately eighty, and in seven years there were among the clubs over three hundred, and additionally important, many of our women folks- mothers, daughters, and sons. Yachting was a living sport again.
When our club started the Fish Class, the "flappers" and "jellybeans" were dominant, but now the Yacht Club had once more become what the name implied.
Racing at our club on a good foundation, the next natural step was to provide Inter-Club contests.
At this point, I wish to give credit to the club, which, if the Southern Yacht Club is the father of the Fish Class, Pensacola Yacht Club is the mother. Having been honored myself by being named the "Daddy of the Fish Class", Jim Watson of the Pensacola Yacht Club should be the "Mother of the Fish Class", which I named him at one time, as he, acting for the club, was a tower of strength to our committee for a number of years in the establishing of Inter-Club racing.
After a number of years, he "divorced" me when we could not see "eye to eye" on some rulings of the Board of Appeal. But, nevertheless, I have always appreciated the value of his splendid assistance at critical periods during the birth of Inter-Club racing, all all should be grateful to him for his good work.
Another great force assisting us was R. Lee Edwards, who passed on to his reward a number of years ago, and so fondly remembered by many of us. He was sports reporter for the New Orleans States, affording publicity, the value of which cannot be estimated.
And don't forget that good publicity gives life and interest to all sporting activities. Rapidly, other clubs joined, and shortly, there were added Mobile, Houston, and others, culminating in the establishment of The Gulf Yachting Association, which meant sailing saved, on solid foundation, to stay.
At a banquet held the during the first interclub 1920 series, Southern and Pensacola Clubs, our committee presented a tentative constitution and by-laws for a Gulf Yachting Association which, with some amendments, was adopted on November 13, 1920 at a special meeting held at the Eastern Yacht Club of Mobile, AL. Charter members were Biloxi, Eastern Shore, Houston, Pensacola, and Southern, hence the Gulf Yachting Association, which has grown to a membership of twelve clubs:
Biloxi, MS Gulfport, MS
Mobile, AL Pensacola, FL
St. Andrews, FL Bay-Waveland, MS
Buccaneer, Mobile, AL Sarasota, FL
Pass Christian, MS Pass Christian, MS
Southern, New Orleans, LA Southern, New Orleans, LA
St. Petersburg, FL Fairhope, AL
At the present time there is a total of eighty-four Fish, all owned by the Clubs, ranging from 12 for the larger clubs, and 4 for the smaller.
From four expert skippers, such as Eddie Keep, Hoffman Olson, Alfred Farrell, and Dave Wuescher, there were now over three hundred sailors, many expert, but there were not enough Fish to accommodate all. So what?---once more. Private ownership appeared; hence, the advent of the Star, Snipe, and other classes, meaning added security for yachting. Thus, my job done, there followed such fine chairmen as Babe Robert, John Longmire, August Capdevielle, Gilbert Scheib, and others.
Not all sailors who became great were rank beginners at the outset, but all lacked needed facilities to develop until the Fish Class provided what was required. To have had some part in their development is ample reward for the seven years drive required to set yachting again on a sound foundation.
Skippers such as Wetherill, Walters, Overton, Jackson, Pinac, Porteous, Robert, Hayward, Blouin, DeArmas, Scheib, Rifley, Lurton, Beard, Fogarty, Alphonso, Brodie, Bing, Marques, Freeman, Graham, Hughes, Gibbons, and other fine ones too numerous to list constitutes a mighty group born of or developed by the Fish Class.
On the subject of our Southern skippers, from observation, personally, in the East on Long Island, Marblehead, etc., and the Great Lakes, it is my belief that our men can more than hold their own anywhere.
TO WHOM DOES THE FISH CLASS BELONG?
The Fish Class belongs to the Gulf Yachting Association. It does not belong to the Southern Yacht Club or any other club. The hope of the committee and myself was that in time, the entire Gulf waters would serve as the locale for Inter-Club races, and that, happily, has been realized. The Lipton Series each Fall is a major event in sports.
The design and rights are vested in, and are available only to member clubs. Fish cannot be owned by individuals.
WHAT IS THE NAME OF THE CLASS?
There seems to be confusion on this point. At times the class is referred to as the "Fish Boats". For goodness sake, please don't do that. Immediately, there arises the smell of fish and shrimp. It's not pretty.
The Star Class is referred to as the Stars in the East, where they originated; but locally, sometimes one hears of the Star Boats. Why? One should speak of the Fish, the Star, the Snipe, the Luder, etc. Boat, indicates something inferior.
The name "Fish" was adopted, each named for fish of the Gulf waters, but in due course, the numbers on sails were more easily used for identification, so name on transom was abandoned.
CONSTRUCTION OF THE FISH
It is my understanding there has been some difference of opinion as to the proper construction of the new Fish: cypress, plywood, juniper. At the time the specifications were written, cypress was easily available, which it is not now, both as to price and quality of material
If I were to write new specifications today, it is probable it would be marine plywood, glued with Weldwod glue and copper nailed. However, much thought should be given to the change, if made, and conditions should be fixed in order to maintain to the maximum the absolute equality of each and every craft. The difference in weight of one hundred pounds is a consideration in light weather, and also is equally so in heavy weather, a disadvantage in light, and an advantage in heavy. Try two Fish in a race, one with a crew of 550 pounds, and the other with a crew of 450 pounds, Fish being equal and ability of skippers likewise. The weight of the crews, however, is somewhat beyond our control.
It is my opinion that a Fish of cypress will weigh more than one of juniper and plywood. Cypress absorbs more water, both from water itself and from damp or wet weather than plywood, but less so with juniper. Furthermore, the give in the hull will be different; more movement in cypress and juniper than in plywood, thus changing the running lines in sailing.
Therefore, it means, Fish of different construction should not be raced against each other without considerable research and investigation, including actual weighing of the hulls. Better consider this question very carefully and completely.
THE LIPTON FISH CLASS
Where did that come from?
There is no such thing. Sir Thomas Lipton had nothing to do with the class. It just so happened that during my chairmanship of the Race Committee, Sir Thomas presented the beautiful trophy to the Southern Yacht Club through his friend, Bill Parham, who for many years was secretary of our club.
Bill asked me to what class the trophy should be dedicated. Our committee recommended it be dedicated to Inter-Club racing of the Fish Class, which was approved by the Board of Governors and thus became the trophy for which the Fish Class races annually.
So the Fish Class race for the Lipton Trophy. The class is not the Lipton Fish Class but rather the Gulf Yachting Association Fish Class if a name is needed.
Crew Trophies. Last year, I suggested to the Pass Christian Yacht Club that trophies be awarded to crew members as well as the winning skipper. What skipper can win without a good crew? That fine club now presents trophies to the crew members, which is as it should be, and others are beginning to do likewise.
Disqualifications in series races. Why does that obsolete rule continue to exist? Why should a yacht be penalized 12 points in a race or 12 participants? Might as well say pack up and go home. Does a football team lose the entire game because of one infraction of a rule; a baseball team, a basketball team, and so on? The present penalty is entirely too severe and should be modified, say, three points, five points, or some equitable penalty.
Think this over.
False starts. The present rule of return and restart is too severe in series racing, unless ALL do so. In sprint racing, penalty of one yard for first false start, another yard for second false start, and disqualification for third. That is fair. In horse racing, before the starting gate was invented, the entire lot were recalled for new start. Similarly for sulky racing, etc. Penalize some fair given number of seconds for false start, or points, or new start of all. Think this over and write something more equitable.
Rules. Unfortunately, rules of some sports are looked upon as documents not to be changed; something almost sacred; intolerant of change; and in the end, to the detriment of the sport. Why not change? Football does not suffer from that complex, and certainly the game on the whole has improved. Baseball for years modified its rules to its advantage.
In writing the Fish Class history, some important names may have been unintentionally overlooked in the endeavor to avoid too great length. However, I do wish to emphasize the fact that the success of the class has not been due to the efforts of any single person or group.
The success has been the result of splendid teamwork and cooperation originally of many members of the Southern Yacht Club and now of fine groups of all member clubs of the Gulf Yachting Association.
The teamwork and spirit have been great. Naturally, in the large family, there have been differences at times, but in due course, they became adjusted, as it should be.
At times feelings run high, Good. Give me the sportsmen with fighting spirit, any day, They get somewhere.
RATHBONE De BUYS
Alias: "Daddy of the Fish Class"
(A title given me and sincerely appreciated)