Fleet 13 History

Fleet 13, Chicago is a recent revival of the Original Fleet 13 that sailed out of Waukegan Yacht Club. With the NA's returning to the waters of Lake Michigan for the first time since 1978, members of the Original Fleet 13 are excited to see the class return to the area.

Jack Bernhardt kindly put together a short history of the Original Fleet 13. We hope to build our current fleet to the interest level and numbers not seen in this area since the early 1980's. Enjoy:
Background – International 505

Original Fleet 13 - Waukegan Yacht Club,

Waukegan, Illinois

With no apologies for name spelling mistakes, exaggerations or date and sequence errors.

Bill Jacobs and I were relatively new sailors in 1970. Bill owned a Snipe and I bought an Albacore the following year. After sailing slow boats for a year or so we started talking about 505s. We discovered that Palmer Johnson, Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin had two Honor Marine 5ohs for sale. We drove up, cut a deal, each bought one and brought them back to Waukegan Harbor. (not long afterward we discovered these were far from the “state of the art” 5ohs.” I think after the Honor Marine I owned at least three Parkers and a Ballenger over the years)

So here it was November of 1972, no ice on the harbor yet, windy so, of course, we rigged one up, including a jury rigged a trapeze, and blasted around the harbor. (I was on the wire) We were showing off how ultimately cool we were until the trapeze rig broke and I found out quickly that the water was damn cold. The good news was that the brandy in WYC’s bar was nice and warm.

Not long thereafter Dick Peck bought a 5oh and we were on the way with a fleet of three. But how were we going to race since the WYC did not have a racing program at that time; or a dry mooring area for the boats? We took matters in our own hands.

Bill and I met with Waukegan’s rather notorious Mayor, Robert Sabonjian and convinced him to give us access to city land on the east side of the harbor. Since Dick Peck was an engineer he designed our hoisting system. Chuck Clauser, a WYC cruising boat sailor, owned a machine shop so he gave us access and Peck machined the bearings for the horizontal pivoting arm. Other non 5oh WYC members pitched in including Jerry Lapish, Falcon Marine. Falcon fabricated the balance of the hoist and installed it on the harbor wall facing and it worked great.

Spring arrived - We made marks and set up an Olympic Circle about a mile northeast of the harbor mouth. Since the club had no set up for RC we sailed out with small buoys to set a start line and used whistles for the start sequence. The bad news was if you finished last it was your responsibility to retrieve the start buoys and bring them in.

The next year we got more sophisticated. By this time Gilbert Bartel PhD, a sociology professor at Northern Illinois University, became a fleet member. He donated an old 20 foot power boat which we all chipped in and fixed up. (The good news is that when Dr. Bartell appeared on Johnny Carson to tout his book “Group Sex Among the Mid-Americans”, Fleet 13 was not mentioned!)

We hired a local high school senior and trained him on the basics of RC work.

I doubt that many current WYC members are aware of the fact that the genesis of their current racing program was kicked off by our grass roots work.

We saw Fleet 13 grow to the 20 boat range. We also helped fleets start and grow in Door County, Wisconsin, Kalamazoo, Michigan (Gull Lake), Columbus, Ohio (Hoover Reservoir), and at both Iowa State and Indiana University. As we got better a number of Fleet 13 racers traveled and did well in regattas throughout North America. Early fleet member Ki Kaiser and his gung ho crew, Marv Schaefer, often finished in the top five in North American regattas and won an East Coast Championships. Our active travel and competitive drive helped us capture the 1978 North Americans which were won by Dennis Surtees from San Francisco with Ausie Pip Pearson on the wire. We had good turnout in the 40+ range as I recall.

I became an agent for GW Parker & Sons and imported about 10 Parker’s over a two or three year period. Later, for a few years in Volo, Illinois, Buzz Ballenger, Jim Maltman and Russ Jannke built very good “Ballenger” 5ohs.

Things happen; some of us moved, bought bigger boats, and became less interested or just changed. The fleet fell apart.

I do not know if my fellow “old time” Fleet 13 members agree with me but after racing a number of other classes - Scows (M20’s, C’s & E’s) some big boats and very actively campaigning an Etchells for a number of years my fondest memories (and maybe most colorful stories) reside in the International 505 class. It is good to see that 5ohs will be tearing up Lake Michigan once again during the 2010 NA’s. We will see if we can get some of the original Fleet 13 members together during the 2010 NA’s at CYC, Belmont for a bit of nostalgia, exaggerated 5oh war stories.