Recently, I began a project that entailed interviewing some of our Yacht Club members, and had the great pleasure of talking with George Moffat, who races in our Herreshoff Twelve (H-12) fleet these days. Way back in the 1950s, though, George was sailing a very different kind of boat, and was regarded as one of the USA’s top International Fourteen skippers. And so, in 1958, as the United States wasn’t sending a racing team to Europe, he was invited to sail with Paul McLaughlin on the Canadian team, competing for the Prince of Wales Cup at Cowes Week, sailing alongside such legendary figures as Uffa Fox and Stewart Morris.
Here is the account of that Cowes Week racing, as featured on the International Fourteen website: “In 1958 there was a return to International racing, with team races at Cowes between Canada, New Zealand and Great Britain. The Canadian team brought over three of their boats, Moonbeam (KC 133), Bruce Kirby, Ite (KC 93), Paul McLaughlin, Wee Wit (KC 199), George (Bud) Whittaker. The New Zealanders brought two and borrowed a third, their own boats being Atua Hau, Geoff Smale, a home finished Windsprite shell, and Calypso (NZ 7), now Calypso II (710) – which had been built by its owner, lan Pryde. Britain was represented by Bolero, Stewart Morris, Surprise (639), Mike Peacock, and Windsong (687), Bruce Banks. Each team had to race against the others three times, and at the end of the series, New Zealand and Canada had each won four races and the United Kingdom one. The sail-off took place in extreme conditions, the wind gusting up to 33 knots on the last leg. Canada won the race and the series with a 1st, 2nd and retirement — one of their boats losing its mast during the race — but New Zealand put up a gallant fight. At the last buoy they lay 1st, 2nd and 4th; then one boat split her mast, but managed to finish under jib alone, while another lost her rudder, capsized, was got up and finished with her crew hanging on to the stern acting as a rudder.” I guess one could say that that’s a little bit more of an athletic endeavor than sailing a Herreshoff Twelve in Buzzards Bay?
A particularly funny story George shared with me was about his attending the dinner at the Royal Yacht Squadron during that same 1958 Cowes Week, where, as luck would have it, George and Uffa Fox ended up being dinner partners. George found him to be fascinating, larger than life – and a great lover of singing. Evidently, the very stuffy dinner included endless speeches, and Uffa grew increasingly restless — until he finally, and rather dramatically, leapt up from the table and bellowed in his rather stentorian voice: “I think we need a bit of a song!” Soon he had the entire room singing, rip-roaringly, much to everyone’s delight.
Another of Great Britain’s finest sailors, Stewart Morris, who was an old friend of George’s, often lent George a boat to race when in England, and was helpful in providing coveted tidal charts and local knowledge for racing success. In the spring of 1960, the Prince of Wales week was held at Falmouth, and the following description of that racing was is taken from the International Fourteen website: “This was to be a week when experience and skill counted far more than the latest hull shape, and the running was made each day by Stewart Morris in Bolero, Bruce Wolfe in Mayfly (663) and George Moffat of America in the borrowed Truculent (654). Ordinary mortals in whatever boats they had, simply fell in.”
George tells the story of racing Truculent (the boat Morris had provided for him) in those races at Falmouth, in absolutely hellish conditions, with the wind blowing more than 30 knots, in very choppy seas. George and his crew were racing neck and neck against Morris’s own Bolero, and made a valiant attempt to win, throwing up a 505 spinnaker (much larger than an International Fourteen spinnaker), which George had brought with him to race later in France at the 505 Worlds – only to watch Bolero catch a really good planing wave at the bitter end, beating them over the finish line by less than a boat-length. Morris again won the Prince of Wales Cup that year, but George had certainly given him a run for the money!
It wasn’t long after that that George turned his attention to flying gliders, ultimately winning 2 World Championships, and many Nationals. In recent years, he’s been a generous advisor to many in Beverly Yacht Club’s H-12 fleet, having written the definitive tuning guide for the H Class, and having spent many hours aboard fleet members’ boats, teaching sail trim and rig tuning. Among many other sailing accomplishments, he has won the H Class Championship twice (in 2006 and 2009), sailing his Herreshoff Twelve, Swan Song.
Photo: George at the tiller, 2016 H Class Championship, Quissett