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From the Desk of the Lightning Class Historian

By Clayton Gray
Posted on 3/24/2018 3:24 PM


This film produced by Karl Smither, a patriarch of the Lightning Class, in 1949 gives us a peek back to the early days of the Class. The Lightning Class in 1949 had a big problem, it was growing so fast that the championship regattas were becoming too large for good racing. In 1947 over 800 numbers were issued. In 1948 almost 900 numbers were issued. the Class membership was the largest it would ever be. In the first ten years the Class would issue almost 1/3 of all numbers issued over 80 years. The Class had adoped the concept of Districts, regional areas comprised of local Lightning fleets. This regatta would be the first where teams had to qualifiy for the national championship. To open the regatta to other teams a seperate division called the Presidents Cup was open to those who failed to qualifiy for the championship flight. In this film they are mostly local boats.                                                                   
The regatta is call 'International' referring to the Great Lakes US/ Canada tradition. We now call this regatta  the North American Championships. Following tradition the races were hosted by the then current Champ Dick Bertram of Miami. The venue would be the Miami Yacht Club for the party and for better sailing  the races were held south of the bridge at the newly formed (1946) Coconut Grove Sailing Clubmm
This invitation appeared in the 1949 Yearbook

Here is a photo of the small Coconut Grove Sailing Club as it appeared in 1949

The film has short clips of the three Championship races sailed over three afternoons, There is no footage of the Presidents Cup series held each morning. The races consisted of a twice around a triangle, one mile legs, with a leeward finish the first day. The next two days races would be a twice around windward leeward , 1 1/2 mile legs, leeward finish. I have overlain the race course on a Google map in the photo below.c

Dick Bertram would tie with Fleet 12's Bob Graf and win with the tie breaker rule. Charlie Allaire from Fleet 70 on Barnegat Bay finished a close third. Gerrit Foster from Fleet 69 then Milwaukee, old Midwest District, forth and fifth Fleet 12's Karl Smither.  Below is the list from the yearbook.

Next up the Compeditors. The field would include six past and future North American Champions.

The regatta host and eventual winner is Dick Bertram sailing # 2891, a Skaneateles, is one of our better know sailors.

Bertram learned to sail and race as a kid in New Jersey. He raced Sneakboxes on Barneagat Bay. Seeking his fortune he moved to Miami and opened a boat dealership & brokerage. He carried the Skaneateles line of sailboats. His business would grow and in 1958 he sailed as bow boss in the Americas Cup Trials on the S&S 12  Vim. He noted the performance of the tender of the  rival Ray Hunt designed Eastener. The unusual deep veed power boat could cut throught the chop at top speed. Ashore he approached Hunt and asked for a similar boat for Florida speed boat racing. The resulting Moppie won everything. Putting the boat into prodution as a fishing boat he gave the world the deep vee. He would form Bertram Yachts whos website today call their boats "The Sailors Stinkpot"

Next up we have second place winner young Bob Graf from Buffalo Canoe Club sailing #467, a Skaneateles

Bob was one of the youngest skippers. These are the years he would sharpen his skills so to win the NAs in 1952. His boat is note worthy. The oldest thing around, he would continue to race this Skaneateles all the way to the '52 Championship. "Rampage" would be the last Skaneateles to win the NAs.

In third place we have Charlie Allaire from Red Bank sailing #3101. A consistent performer in those days he started in a Skaneateles Comet from Dale Yacht Basin in Bay Head. For years he was the kid to beat. He moved up to a Skaneateles Lightning#1358. Interestingly he is sailing a fleet member's boat, #3101, possibly one of the new
red hot Hubert Johnsons. Central Atlantic wanted all the best.

In forth we have Gerrit Foster from Milwaukee sailing #2559.  We have no info or photo in our files on Gerrit

Fifth is Karl Smither from Buffalo Canoe Club sailing #3333. This boat was built by Howard Siddons of the soon to be Siddons & Sindle shop in New Jersey.

Other sailors of note in order of their finish are Walt Swindeman from Toledo sailing his famous #800, "Yankee Doodle"

Dick Krauss from Toledo sailing # 1273. This regatta would pre-stage his NA win in 1950.

And finally a favorite fondly rembered in the Class today, Herm Nickels sailing #1565 " Two Bits" (N and H) the first Nickels & Holman Lightning

Also of interest to our Boat Loaners is that Larchmont sent a young peoples team sailed by their best teenagers sailing # 3579

Now play by play

The film opens with Karl Smither launching his boat. Here she is brand new.

We see the fleet sailing out.

Start of the first race. Triangle, two laps, leeward finish. Breeze looks to be good, ESE @ 10 ish, a sea breeze. Note how painfully slow Lightnings get going with cotton sails. Down wind the boat performance looks more normal. Note the sitting positions of the skippers, originally they sat all the way aft and to leeward. Here we see them inching forward.

Second race:

Third race


 As always this is a beta. Please comments and corrections.

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