Some months ago three old Canadian Finn friends, Roger Potts, Dave Hendry and Tom Johannsen were out cruising aboard Tom's Huckleberry II. Looking at each other around the cockpit they noted that there they were, just three old Finn farts. So there and then developed the germ of a reunion regatta for 'Old Finn Farts'.
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Some months ago three old Canadian Finn friends, Roger Potts, Dave Hendry and Tom Johannsen were out cruising aboard Tom's Huckleberry II. Looking at each other around the cockpit they noted that there they were, just three old Finn farts. So there and then developed the germ of a reunion regatta for 'Old Finn Farts'. The OFF Regatta was mainly to have fun and see old friends again. Paul Henderson and others liked the idea and the Royal Canadian Yacht Club agreed to be the host. Tom Johannsen and his daughter Tanya worked mightily to make it happen. Many wanted to come; the 16 who made it (including some grandfathers and great grandfathers) brought wives, families and assorted Finn friends.
The regatta was sailed in RCYC's fleet of Bruce Kirby (Canadian Finn Representative in the 1964 Olympics) designed Ideal 18s, which, as there are no hiking straps, were ideal for those who carried 50 lbs of wet sweaters and have bad backs and creaking knees and can no longer hike. (And some never did.)
Races were sailed without spinnakers, two to a boat, six races on Saturday, four on Sunday, on a windward/leeward slalom course. There was a suggestion in the racing instructions that in the two last races each day boats were to cross the finish line sailing backwards - but it never happened. In order to have as many as possible sail together, there was a draw for races 1-3 and 4-6 on Saturday and races 7-8 and 9-10 on Sunday. As the organisers guaranteed, there was flat water and shifty winds on Toronto Bay along with mild temperatures and brilliant sunshine.
The races were clean and close with lots of position changes. The guys showed that they still really know how to apply the Racing Rules although they had to be a little forgiving at times. The best cumulative score was Paul Henderson's but that should have been. Paul has been racing on Toronto Bay for more than 70 years and seemed to know what the wind was going to do before it knew.
The Friday barbecue and Saturday banquet were filled with stories by everyone. The depth, breadth and intimacy of the weekend is best told in the words of the participants.
Tom Johannsen - "What luck we had this weekend with the weather. There are few opportunities in life where one can create an atmosphere of genuine friendship and joy as I had the privilege to do. Whatever it took to organise it was a small effort in relation to what it created. I think all of us will remember it as a very special weekend. It was hard today to realise it was over so fast. I would have liked to hear and learn more from everyone. I would also like to sail all the races again. Thanks for coming and making this an unforgettable weekend."
Art Diefendorf - "I had no idea it would be so good; none."
Kit Tatum - "Fellow OFFs, I knew it 40 years ago that those 'Finn days' would be the most fun days of my life, and last weekend confirmed that fact all over again. Sincere thanks to the organisers, and it was great to weigh anchor with you fine gents one more time."
Bill McNaughton - "...the weekend highlighted that Finn sailors really are an incredible sailing fraternity that none of us realised we were joining at the time. We now know that as a group it was very selective, one with a fearsome initiation ceremony (turtling my first time out), produced remarkable experiences, vivid memories and a continuing presence in all of us that just won't go away..."
There were two stories Bill especially liked:
Roger Potts told of capsizing his Finn and for various reasons it sank. He had held onto one of its lines so when the rescue boat came by and they asked, "Where is your Finn?" he was able to answer, "It better be on the end of this rope."
Paul Henderson and Gus Miller spoke of one race at the 1967 Pre-Olympic Regatta in Acapulco where the reaching mark could not be seen against the cliffs on the shore from the weather mark. Gus was leading by being on the inside of a big righty because, "There were some porpoises off on that side of the course and they bring good luck." Gus, followed by Louie Nady, led the fleet toward the only visible mark which in reality was the 5.5 Meter windward mark - everyone knew it was wrong. Paul Elvstrøm, who was way back, turned to ask Paul Henderson behind him, "Do you want to be second in this race? …Then don't gybe until I do." Elvstrøm won the race followed by Henderson in second. Bob Fisher later wrote that it was Elvstrøm's luckiest ever regatta win.
David and Alycia Hendry - "...great fun and worth repeating after a suitable recovery time. RCYC is right next to the Elysian Fields in my book."
Sandy Riley (Canadian Finn Representative in the 1976 Olympics) - "... I find my mind wandering back to the weekend and all of the memories it brought back.”
“Unless you have sailed the Finn, it is difficult to describe the magnitude of the challenge presented by the boat in heavy winds, or the intensely competitive nature of the people who race it, or the extraordinary camaraderie and friendships that were created in the dinghy park, not just with the Finnsters but with their wives and girlfriends. Last weekend I was transported back to another time, when the Finn and its people were the most important fact in my life and all of those attributes were rekindled in the weekends festivities.”
“Having Greg Douglas (Canadian Finn Representative in the 2012 Olympics) there also reminded me of the line that started with Paul McLaughlin and Ian Bruce and Henderson and Johanson and Hendry, passed through Clarke and Eastwood and Volkmar and Pottsy and McNaughton, then me and Butler and Brymer and Richardson and Rabnett and Phelan and Todd and all the other guys I raced against and then Higgins, Lemieux, Nielson, Lammons, Milner and Cook. It's a unique fraternity that spans countries and continents, which is why I was so pleased to see Art and Gus, two people with whom I spent many enjoyable times.”
“Thanks to Chris, Colin, Steve and Paul who sailed with me - and how great was it to finally meet Kit Tatum, about whom I heard so much from Brucie, and Jim Mattingly - I want to hear his Ted Turner stories one day."
Paul Henderson (Canadian Finn Representative in the 1968 Olympics)- "I was very worried what would happen this weekend. I had gone to London for the Olympics and left everything to Family Johannsen. You (Tom) soldiered on and made it happen with Tanya. The atmosphere was electric and reflective. Kit Tatum put it right when he said it was the best time he had in years. You (Tom) deserve all the credit for giving a bunch of over-the-hill Finn sailors a great experience."
Jim Richardson - "I echo Paul's words of thanks. Fun to visit, to reminisce, to sail with and compete against entire group once again. Thanks."
Chris Barry - "I learned to race Finns in Toronto and Lake Ontario 44 years ago... at that time I had much practice in self-rescue after capsizing many times.”
“Last weekend Tom Johannsen and friends ran a brilliantly conceived and executed revival of the old Finn group (OFF) from 40+ years ago. Not that any of the OFFs have forgotten the luffing rights and rules. We had two days racing at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto Harbor. You get there on the Kwasind or Hiawatha (reportedly the oldest boat in Lloyds Register still operating).”
“A superb banquet on Saturday night was followed by speeches and stories of wind and waves, races won and lost, and toasts to absent friends: including Dr. John Clarke who was the creative and driving force behind the Toronto Island Finn fleet back then, Terry Neilson who medaled in the Olympics and Norm Freeman who hosted great races on Ithaca's Finger Lake Cayuga in NY. The final results, with no drop race, showed just how close most were. Only seven points separated the six places from third to ninth. In the end almost everyone won as Charlie Moses (sadly not in attendance) donated a case of Henkell Trocken for the award ceremony."
Bruce Brymer - "These special old friendships are so important in life. Do not let them slip away. Pick up the phone or email; make the effort to keep in contact with each other."
Brian Todd – “SO sorry I missed this great event, it looks and sounds like it was fun. – So when is the next one?”
“So many friends and now it seems, so many years ago but I still tell the young sailors about the importance being self motivated, living in a van and traveling around the world, and the friends you make and compete against, those are things you never forget. (wonder where that Ford Transit van in Europe ever ended up.)”
The reunion showed why 300 show up for the Finn World Master's Championship. It showed that the character of those that sail the Finn has remained very much the same although the Finn itself and the way it is sailed has undergone extensive evolution.
For example, take the main sheet. The first Finns had a short traveler but no main sheet cleat because cleating off the sheet of a centerboarder then was considered unsafe poor seamanship. Finn sailors at first used a four part block system to be able to hand-hold the main sheet all day. As the rig evolved to automatically de-power, a cleat on the side tank came into common use. Those first Finnsters appreciate today's long compound curve traveler, the three part sheet and the location of the cleat on the floor block because it is about 1.5 seconds faster on tacking than a side tank cleat.
Pumping, ooching and rocking, especially offwind has been a controversial subject for all generations of Finnsters, Paul Henderson being one of those stirring the pot. The current Finn rules solution was developed by judges and sailors. The latest equipment development is an angled foot brace at the front of the cockpit for the deep squat thrust of a sheet pump to drive the bow through and over a wave off-wind when the wind is more than 10 knots. This is a developing athleticism that has grown out of the physicality that earlier generations knew well. The IOC and ISAF have to be impressed, as were the OFF participants, by the physical athleticism of the Finn as noted by viewers of the Olympic TV coverage.
For all the developments in technique and technology, racing a Finn is still 99 per cent in the mind and that shared human element is key to what made the OFF Regatta so special.