Bill Buchan: How it all began
Published on October 7th, 2013
The 2013 class of inductees at the U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame includes 1984 Star Olympic Gold Medalist and three-time Star World Champion Bill Buchan (Medina, Wash.). Now 78 years old, Bill tells the story of how he got interested in Star boats…
When I was 13, the Star North Americans came to Seattle; that was really a turning point. Here’s Lowell North, the 18 year old flash, winning. That’s what a kid needs is somebody to look up to and I certainly looked up to Lowell North. We’d go down to the Yacht Club and see him down there playing with his gear. It was just a whole different world of yacht racing that I never imagined existed. That was the big time.
That really stirred my interest, so that winter we decided to build a Star boat. We didn’t know how to build a Star boat. We’d go down to a garage at night where they had the Star boats stored for the winter and we’d measure how wide the transom was, and how deep the keel was. I think we had a set of drawings but didn’t have any blueprints or anything. In any case, we built this Star boat. We built it all by ourselves; in fact my dad even wanted to build the cast iron keel. I said no. “No, Dad, we’ll buy the keel. OK?”
That was a good deal. He rummaged around town and found a surplus Star keel that some foundry had made and had never sold. So, we had a keel. Our sail was one that Northwyn had built; an experimental sail that they’d built for Charlie Ross for the North Americans. We bought the sail for about $50.
So, we put the boat together and somehow it measured in. I can’t imagine how the damn thing measured in because we just sort of built it to the best of our abilities to look like a Star boat and we got a certificate.
The Star fleet then was very strong, much stronger than it is today. Not necessarily stronger in the upper level, I mean we are certainly stronger than anybody was then. Now (1986) it’s about a four boat show in Seattle, whereas then there were 25-30 boats racing. There was Charlie Ross, Barnie Jensen, Sunny Vynne, Milt Flaten, Frank Rambaldini; and Nils Rosenburg, Ray Barnes, Dave Nurse, John Peterson, Ed Morgan, just a lot of people.
They were all neat guys. They really took me under their wing and were very good to me. They treated me like I was going to go somewhere sometime if I hung in there long enough. I think a young guy needs that. I wasn’t particularly good at sports in school and I pretty much had to work after school down at the fish market, so I wasn’t really able to participate in a lot of the activities that the other kids were doing. But when it came to sailing, it was something that I knew I would probably be pretty good at if I stayed with it. And these guys treated me with that kind of respect – even though I was just an obstacle on the course, crashing into people and stuff. They never gave me anything but encouragement, and I owe those guys, that group of people, all the credit for whatever I’ve done since then.