Bill Tripp’s first big win

Published on June 14th, 2022

For every notable yacht designer, there is that one boat which launches their career. For Bill Tripp Jr, whose life was cut short in 1971 at age 51 due to an automobile accident with a drunk driver, that boat was an innovative yawl which Donald Street recalls in this report:

In 1956 I sailed the Vineyard race on Katingo, a very nice centreboard yawl of about 50-feet that Bill had designed for Captain Vatis, a Greek ship owner.

At that point, Bill was no longer working for S&S but was trying make it as an independent designer, though his income was still largely from Red Hand paint that he represented in some fashion.

I can’t remember the entire crew but there was Captain Vatis as owner and skipper, Bill as navigator along with Arthur Knapp, Rod Oakes (an old friend who in our teen age years was a star boarder at our house in Port Washington on Manhasset Bay), myself, and a couple of others.

The race started in fog, and for navigation we relied on Dead Reckoning, using a Kenyon speed gauge that was not too accurate and didn’t record total miles. We had basic Direction Finding, but our distance sailed was a guesstimate, and while there was a sextant on board, with the fog there was no sun to use.

After leaving Long Island Sound, passing south of Fishers Island and Watch Hill, on an inshore leg as we tacked I saw Weekapaug Inn. I went below and asked Bill where his DR put us, and he showed us on the chart as being ten miles out which was not surprising considering fog and the navigation equipment available in those days.

Having spotted the Inn through the fog, I pointed out where we were along the Rhode Island shoreline, certain of our location as the Street family had spent summers on that beach since 1936 (and parts of the Street family still do).

This gave Bill a good point of departure to work out our approach to Vineyard Sound Lightship which we found by homing in on the DF and picking up the fog horn. We rounded the lightship, and headed back to Plum Gut south of Block Island, on a fast shy spinnaker reach.

We never saw Block as the thick fog continued, and as we approached Plum Gut, Captain Vatis was getting worried. We had pretty much run our distance down, heavy fog, so heavy that if we were off a little on our course we would hit the beach, slide up on it (with board up we drew no more than 4-feet if that), and become a permanent monument!

I was sent forward, told to stand on the bow pulpit to trip spinnaker when told. While in position, there was a lot of discussion back aft and finally Captain Vatis instructed me to trip, but at that moment I suddenly saw a glow almost dead ahead – Plum Gut light!

I did not trip, but yelled aft, “I see a glow, it must be plum Gut light.” Word was shouted forward “Hold the trip” and we proceeded to time the light. It was Plum Gut, and we went on to fly through on a fair tide with spinnaker up heading for the barn… Stamford!

As the wind died at dawn wind, we spent four hours in light airs fighting our way to the finish line, but we won our class, were third overall behind Carina who, the previous year, had won the transatlantic race to Sweden, won most of her races in Cowes Week and the Fastnet.

Katingo got a nice write-up in the yachting magazines and from Ev Morris in the Herald Tribune (which in those days gave good yachting coverage). Bill then landed the contract to design Touche for Jack Potter of Manhasset Bay Yacht Club and his career took off.

Katingo’s win in the 1956 Vineyard Race was the first major trophy won by a Tripp designed boat.

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