Looking Back over the Years

Mark WhiteLeadline, Leadline Club News

Circa 1969 mooring

Lisa K asked me to write an article reflecting on some of the more interesting developments in sailing from my 50 years of racing boats at HSC. The photo above was provided by Jay Huling. This is an HSC sunset circa 1969 when members’ boats were moored.

The Cunningham

There was a time when you had to either crank your main up farther or pull your sliding gooseneck down to add tension on the front (luff) of your sail.  You pretty much had to do it at the dock since you couldn’t really adjust it under way.  Then a guy named Briggs Cunningham (also a famous race car driver) who was sailing on America’s Cup boats, thought to add a 2nd grommet above the tack of the main and add a tackle to make that adjustment easier while sailing.   Hence, the Cunningham. 

Barber Haulers

On reaches, the crew had to sit on the deck and hold the jib sheet out toward the rail to get the shape right.  When it was windy, this put the crew’s weight on the wrong/low side of the boat.  Then the Barber Brothers invented a thing on their Lightning with a block and control line that allowed you to pull the lead outboard from the high side.  Hence, the barber hauler. 

Fast Bottom Finishes

In the 60’s conventional wisdom was that the fastest finish was to keep your boat in the water for 3 days before big regattas.  Longer made them mossy, less was not slick enough.  We called it “the 3 day slime.”   Current coatings achieve better finishes without the fuss.

There was a fad in the late 60’s early 70s to apply Joy dishwashing liquid to your boat bottom before regattas.   It was quickly outlawed but for a while after you could still flip the boat, apply the Joy and let it bake in the sun.  It slowly released once you put the boat in the water and I recall bubbles in people’s wake.   Why the Joy brand and not something else, dunno.   The America’s Cup boats even tried adding fittings to the bottom near the bow that slowly released soap.  

Sail Gimmicks

I had a mainsail on my Thistle with a zipper along the foot that you could open up when going downwind to add a bunch more draft to the sail.  The sails were HUGE!  Unfortunately, it often jammed when you tried to re-zip it at the leeward mark which was exciting, to say the least in heavy air.   This design eventually led to our current “lens foot” designs that achieve the same shapes without the need for a zipper.

Sail Cloth

I had a very old wooden Lightning so of course, we had cotton sails.  Since they molded easily if you put them away wet, everyone pulled their sails off the boat at the end of the day, took out the battens, spread them out on the lawn, then folded them into squares, put them in bags and took them home.  (I think that’s one reason we have a no dogs allowed policy).  This habit of drying sails persisted well into the time of Dacron sails until someone figured out that if they were reasonably dry, you could just roll them and leave them on the boat.   Sure was a nice excuse to sit around and drink beer while they dried, however. 


Back in the day innovations in sailing spread like wildfire vs. today where improvements are more incremental and most of us race our boats stock from the factory.  It was not uncommon for someone to show up at a regatta with some kind of new sail cut or gear and really have the jump on the competition.   Look in your class’s rulebook (aka scantlings) some time and see all of the crazy restrictions, e.g. no rotating masts, decks must be strong enough to support a person, you can’t wedge something in the centerboard slot to “tack” the board.   Why?  Because someone tried it.   I believe this evolution has helped make our classes more “one-design” than ever before.