In the 70’s & early 80’s, racing was a major part of Baldwin activities. As Ron Walker explained, the races up and down the Sound were a way and an excuse for racers to travel to new waters. I talked to a few of the racers of that time. It was hard for them to distinguish between Baldwin Yacht Club, Off Soundings and the Eastern CT Yacht Racing Association (ECYRA now called ECSA).
It is not surprising since Off Soundings started in 1933 & ECYRA started in 1938. Baldwin Yacht Club started in 1948. Names that appeared on the rosters and trophies of all 3 organizations were of the Noank Contingent brought in by Tommy Russell: Burt Olsen, Burt Anderson, Grant Rawding, Bruce Lockwood, Dick MacGovern, Neal O’Connell, Ron Waller, Lou Baldwin, Peter McFadden, Dick Taylor & others. No less prominent racers were racers from the Connecticut River Contingent, Gordon Hunter, Pat Papineau, Len Hoops, Allen Ames, Charlie Saltsman, Dick Goduti, Les Bowman, Eddie Birch, Jim Francis, Loch Syme, Tom Marston & others. Several Baldwin commodores have become commodores of Off Soundings, among them Peter McFadden, George Hohenstein & Steve O’Connell. Bob Toothaker was secretary to ECSA for 8-9 years. Among the racers mentioned are the names of many past Baldwin commodores. Is it any wonder that in the 70’s and 80’s sailboats outnumbered powerboats?
Baldwin had some great yachtsmen. Some of these are recognized by the Battlecry-Marionette English Corp, which is periodically awarded to someone with a noteworthy ocean performance. In 1987, Paul D’Arcy sailed the Marion Bermuda Race and set a record of 3 days, 8 hours & 44 minutes. His 58ft boat “Runaway” came in 3rd on corrected time. Paul won his class in 1985.
Harold Bidwell won the Transatlantic Race from Daytona to Bermuda 3 times in his class, 1985, 1987 & 1989 and in 1987 he was the best overall. Harold told me he would be racing still if the Parkinson’s disease had not forced him to give up his boat. Harold said he had Parkinson’s for 22 years which means he won the race while afflicted with Parkinson’s.
Fran Cichowski won the Navigation prize twice in the Bermuda Race also. Fran sailed from Newport to Bermuda by himself using sextant & compass. No electronic navigational aids allowed.
There are other Baldwin members who have sailed significant races or have crewed in the races mentioned. I talked to a few of the racers especially those who raced in the 70’s and the 80’s.
Paul D’Arcy felt that the Bermuda races were significant, but one of his favorites was the Connecticut River Cruise 6 years ago. He got the gun but not the cup sailing his J24. At that time Paul was 84 years old.
Paul was brought into Baldwin by Burt Olsen. Like many others that I talked to, the favorite races were the Labor Day races. In the past it was an invitational race to other clubs in the area, Essex, North Cove, Shennecossett, Stonington, etc. The 1st day of racing was from Saybrook to Long Island. The second day was in Gardner’s Bay. There were 4 classes, Racing, Racing Cruising I, Racing Cruising II, and Cruising Canvas (today’s Labor Day trophy is Cruising Canvas Spinnakers are not allowed). I have been told there were 20-50 boats on the starting line.
Steve O’Connell, who is making a name for himself in the racing circuit, crewed for many of the racers I mentioned. He saw first hand the planning involved. In the 80’s we did not have GPS. RDF & Loran were often several miles off. But Steve tells the tale of how Tommy Russell had everything planned – including who would walk up to get the trophy. Neal O’Connell said his first race in Baldwin (a Labor Day race) has cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars. He had just gotten a new boat and Gordon Hunter talked him into racing it. He not only got 1st place, but was hooked on racing. When I asked Steve O’Connell what was one of his most memorable races, he said my 1st one when I raced with my father on Labor Day.
Bob Toothaker and Peter McFadden preferred the Vixen Ledge Race – no wonder as their names are engraved on the trophies.
Today Baldwin has evolved from a “racing club” to a “cruising club”. There are more power boaters and there is nothing wrong with that. The purpose of Baldwin is to promote good seamanship & fellowship. In these changing times, it is more difficult to sail every weekend and bear the expenses and time commitment to racing. Off Soundings & ECSA races have also lost numbers. A lot of the old racers no longer have sailboats.
2005 was a bleak year for Baldwin racing. Of the 11 trophies offered, only one was awarded. In 2006 Myron Stacks was our rear commodore and he made it his mission to bring racing back to Baldwin. Today the classes are smaller and the field is not as daunting. New names are on the perpetual trophies, like Germano, Hein, Stacks & Orzolek. Besides the scheduled races, there are point-to-point races on the cruise. For those who want it, racing is coming back and there are “keeper trophies”.