Cascade: As American as apple pie

Published on January 6th, 2022

The recent passing of Jerome H. Milgram rekindled memories of how far ahead he was in the study and execution of yacht design. In this report from Sports Illustrated, dated March 1973, it highlights how Milgram disrupted the sport with his brilliance:

As the band played, the small, select crowd flowed from bar to bar around a Miami Beach swimming pool in a swirl of color, the sailors trousered in Breton red and blazered in blue, their wives jauntily correct in modish sportswear. Between sips these models of nautical chic cast sulky glances at a wispy-haired figure drifting aimlessly about.

He was Professor Jerry Milgram of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he was getting the acid eyeball not because he wore a too-tight green sweater over threadbare brown pants above black Navy-issue shoes with floppy laces. Milgram was guilty of a crime more heinous than contempt of clothes.

He had designed the ugliest ocean racer in sailing memory, Cascade by name, and—chuckling fiendishly in his lab, no doubt—with such cunning that she had been granted a whacking great advantage over conventional boats her size. At this point Professor Milgram had already given the assemblage two ego bruises, and was about to deliver a third.

When the swans of the sea spread their lovely wings in the Southern Ocean Racing Conference, the winter’s outstanding competition for people who take sailboats offshore, uppity little Cascade swam along.

At first she was easy to snoot. She did not do exceptionally well in the opening St. Petersburg-to-Venice race and then, although she finished strong, she blew the St. Pete-to-Fort Lauderdale haul by missing a course marker. With four races to go, she lay 27th in a fleet of 125 boats.

And who cared. Ah, but then, but then. Cascade won the Miami-to-Lucaya race. A rustle at the bar. Cascade won the Lipton Cup off Miami. The cocktail-party smiles began to freeze. And then early last week Cascade captured the classic Miami-to-Nassau race, the SORC’s premier event. The smiles were frozen stiff.

By Friday’s concluding race of the SORC season, the Nassau Cup, Cascade’s crew knew its own party was over; there were not enough points available in that brief thrash to overcome the dreadful Fort Lauderdale error, which had brought a time penalty of three hours five minutes.

But for that, however, Cascade might have been the overall SORC winner from here to Hans Christian Andersen. And win or lose, she left traditionalists with the same sinking sensation that Indianapolis 500 car owners had a few years ago when the turbine came calling.


Cascade did do one nice thing for the SORC. By not winning in a romp as she could have, she permitted a couple of boats named Mu√±equita and Lightnin’ to race to a stimulating photo finish.

As the 31-mile Nassau Cup began, Muñequita was ever so slightly ahead. A Ranger 37 whose name is Spanish for little baby doll, she was skippered by Click Schreck of New Orleans, a former Olympic sailor, and crewed by as aggressive a team as the circuit could claim.

Among those aboard were John Dane, the former Tulane collegiate sailing champion, and boat dealer O.J. Young, who had sweet-talked a big paint and varnish man named Jack Valley into buying Muñequita. Their conversation had gone something like this:

Valley: “I want a boat that will win the Southern Circuit.”

Young: “Got just the one for you. New Gary Mull design. Not big, but classy. I can’t guarantee the circuit, but Class D is yours, believe me. ”

Valley: “Guaranteed? ”

Young: “Absolutely. I’ll get you the boat, the crew and the sails. All you have to do is pay the bills. ”

And the bills came to not much more than $50,000—bargain-basement these days.

Valley got his money’s worth in boat, crew, and sails. One black and squally night during the Lauderdale race, when others were playing it prudent, Mu√±equita busied along partly on her hull, partly on her spreaders.

She was horizontal so often a New York judge might have found her without redeeming social value. At times the wind piped up to 60 mph. Quit racing? Nevah. “We’d go up a wave and throw a reef in, then go down and shake it out,” said crewman By Baldridge afterward. Mu√±equita won Class D that race. She won Class D every race.

If Lightnin,’ a Class E 38-footer from the board of Sparkman & Stephens, was going to strike Mu√±equita, it would be loosed by Skipper Ted Turner. Turner, the owner of an Atlanta television station, had twice captured the SORC, most recently in 1970 with the former America’s Cup contender, American Eagle.

When he won the windy Sydney-to-Hobart race with the 67-foot Eagle last December, he said, “This is the last picture show.” What he meant was big boats of her vintage (1964) were becoming obsolete; new trends in design, new wrinkles in the rules were consigning the immediate future to smallish craft like Lightnin’.

Turner is a paradoxical individual who “loves turmoil,” as he puts it, but also is a perfectionist about the details of sailing. If he believes he can get an additional hundredth of a knot out of a boat by trimming the mainsheet an inch, he will have that inch.

He enforces his wishes with clearly enunciated bellows. Just leaving the dock with Turner can be a vocal adventure. Sailing with him in a gale exposes one to a voice of near-Biblical fury.

Throughout the SORC, Turner had a “secret weapon” in his sail locker—and often up and pulling. This was a super-lightweight Dacron spinnaker by Ted Hood that enabled Turner to overtake ostensibly faster boats as if he was reeling them in.

Said Walter Greene of Cascade’s crew, forgetting for a moment his own boat’s radical configuration: “That sail is the most significant thing on the circuit.”

But it was not significant enough to catch Mu√±equita in the finale. “What kind of a boat is that, a camper?” yelled a rival skipper as Mu√±equita put out from harbor. “Nope,” John Dane shouted back, “it’s a converted PT boat.”

Her own virgin-white spinnaker was taut and straining as Mu√±equita surfed across the finish line for her sixth straight class victory—and the SORC championship of 1973 with a score of 2,233.250 points. Second by a mere 8.250 points was Lightnin’, third by another 44.500 points was Ted Hood’s Class E Robin.

But not even a finish so fine could distract SORC men for long from their preoccupation with Cascade. Rival sailors might not have liked the cut of Jerry Milgram’s jib, but they could not say the same about his boat’s. It has none.

With winches the size of teacups and sails the size of handkerchiefs, manned (personned, sorry) by a coed crew including Eleanor Swett, the sister of designer Britton Chance and a lifelong sailor, Cascade just kept pouring it on until the Nassau Cup. The weather had most boats on their lee rails, but Cascade fell into a hole in the wind and was soundly thrashed. Even so, she finished fifth overall for the entire SORC.

At 34, Milgram is an associate professor of ocean engineering at MIT. He got the inspiration for Cascade’s so-called cat-ketch rig (cat for catboat, the familiar jib-less craft whose mast is far forward; ketch for the two-mast arrangement) not from the university’s computers, as one might expect, but from a number of sources, including a 19th century Block Island fishing boat.

Establishment sailors, who were beginning to call her Milgram’s Baby, as in Rosemary’s Baby, did not see the yellow eyes and cloven hooves in the boat’s ugliness so much as in the fact that she did not carry such standard appurtenances as genoa jibs and spinnaker poles (although she does fly a spinnaker of sorts).

Worse yet, Cascade was so maddeningly swift that before a race, skipper Milgram would merely lounge around on deck as the fleet started, keeping his craft out of the melee. Then he would put her in gear and coolly march past boat after boat.

Cascade’s speed caused fear, her ability to dispense with backbreaking winches and hard-to-handle sails caused resentment, her low handicap rating caused fury. And like the anti-turbine men at Indy (who were successful), the traditionalists are in a mood to shoot her down.

Cascade has a low rating precisely because she carries no sail forward of the mainmast and a moderate amount elsewhere. When first rated, after being launched last year, she was given a low, low 22.00. Lightnin’, a sloop of comparable size, has a rating of 27.2. Her rated sail area is 550 square feet, Cascade’s only 325.

At a recent meeting in London of the men who make the ratings, Cascade was already well known as a budding rules beater. It is said that Robin Glover of the technical committee of the International Yacht Racing Union became so enraged over the low number accorded Cascade that he had to be “physically restrained.”

The committee is empowered to increase ratings when it believes a boat is exploiting the rules. Cascade’s rating was summarily raised 10% to 24.2. Milgram, probably needing restraint himself, managed to get it reduced to 22.8 for the SORC. He achieved this by shortening the rig and making a few other, smaller adjustments.

Milgram says he now has learned that next month his boat’s rating probably will be hiked again—and he fears that this time he will be ruled right out of effective competition.

It was never Milgram’s intention to be the focal point of such a controversy, but once he began to win big it was certain the Establishment would stop laughing and start yelling for the law.

Sailmakers foresaw a shrinkage in huge and profitable sails, hardware manufacturers liked Milgram’s inexpensive little winches not at all, a number of marine designers felt he had thrown a grenade at yachting esthetics.

Milgram came late to his explosive game. Prior to Cascade, his latest exercise in boat design had been a 5.5-meter sloop that had sailed, alas, like a Thames barge. On his MIT salary, Milgram could not afford to fancy Cascade up, even if he had wanted to. He had her built for the bottom dollar at a Mattapoisett, Mass. yard. He fitted out the stark interior himself and also built the rudder and keel. All the same she cost $50,000, not counting the value of Milgram’s labor.

Cascade first reared her ugly head in blue-chip competition in last summer’s New York Yacht Club Cruise while under charter to Ellie Swett. As a club member she was eligible to enter. Milgram, not a member, was not—although he sailed along.

Cascade, which had her 22.0 rating then, caused extreme agitation among the NYYC toffs by taking two firsts and three seconds. And she missed two of the NYYC races because a mast broke.

Many in the SORC fleet expected—or perhaps secretly hoped—that a similar calamity would befall her in the traditionally rough, 403-mile Fort Lauderdale race around the toe of Florida.

And calamity came, but because of the missed buoy, not because of any breakdown. The wind was wild enough. When it really breezed up, it sank a tugboat—whose crew, in rare romantic fashion, was rescued by an SORC racing sloop.

On the whole, the SORC weather favored Cascade, as her crew quickly conceded. When the wind is on her beam, she flies. On a beat or a dead run, she does not.

Never did she have a breeze better suited to her than in the 176-mile Miami-Nassau. She waffled off the starting line last as usual, but as her staysail flapped up and bellied with the beamish southeasterly, she leaped ahead. Within 10 minutes she had Lightnin’ abeam in her own Class E and was fast catching up with Mu√±equita, which had started a full 15 minutes earlier with Class D.

That night, with Jerry Milgram in polite command, Cascade cruised across the Gulf Stream toward Great Isaac Light as if on holiday. All around, the winking running lights of competitors kept her crew company.

At Isaac several boats were spotted sailing illegally toward shortcuts among the rocks—boats that later went un-penalized. When Cascade had committed her own costly error in the Fort Lauderdale race, a boat named Devastator had promptly turned her in. Such is sailing.

The fleet spilled into Nassau Harbor next day to the boom of the committee boat’s cannon. It was sunset when Cascade, running under a blue on blue spinnaker (of sorts), pushed her homely bow across the line to win a prestige battle if not a glorious war.

Bob Derecktor, a designer of pretty boats, put Cascade into true perspective. “Any boat that wins,” he said, “is never ugly.”

Added Arnie Gay, a veteran skipper who crewed aboard Robin this year: “Cascade is a boat that out of hand may be ruled out of order; a boat that is grounded in history; a boat that is as American as apple pie. It’s just a damn shame.”

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