100 years of Stars on the Chesapeake
Published on March 17th, 2023
Star sailor Tom Price offers this update from Gibson Island, MD:
Any centennial celebration is likely to be a one-time affair for most of us. This summer marks the 100th year of Star boats on the Chesapeake, specifically at Gibson Island. To commemorate the occasion, the Gibson Island Yacht Squadron will host the Annual J. Rulon Miller Series for Stars on June 23-25.
The Gibson Island club, which has twice hosted the Star World Championship (1930, 1951), will host the celebration as only that club can do, which is to organize the entire island with a bar-b-que party hosted by the long time Star Dunigan family on Friday evening followed by a Clubhouse outdoor party after racing on Saturday. Racing on Saturday and Sunday will also constitute the District 2 Championships.
Additionally, a distance race on Friday memorializes the Star distance events that were usually run far down the Bay and back, sometimes finishing the next day. This edition won’t be nearly that extreme as the course rounds several lighthouses and be back in time for the Dunnigan party on Friday evening.
For a little history, it was in 1923, after discarding their fleet of elderly Mower-designed Fishers Island 24 centerboard sloops, the newly formed “Water Committee” (preceding the Yacht Squadron) led by three Gibson Island members, purchased 12 of the hot new Star Class sloops from New England Boatworks. Twisting arms and buying drinks for their sailing buddies, all were sold by delivery and the new fleet had begun.
With a fine unanimity of purpose, the Stars were given the names of various fish (Trout, Porpoise, Tuna, Mackerel, Minnow, Bonito, Tarpon, Bass, Shark, Perch, etc). They also were painted in different colors and locally were called the rainbow fleet. Haul outs and bottom paints were regulated as well as sail purchases.
They were initially moored on the Bay side of the causeway in their first season until a strong Nor’easter caused all of these fishes to return to their natural element – the bottom of the Chesapeake (except Porpoise, who had a cover and naturally, needed to breathe….). Quickly raised, they found moorings in the protected Gibson Island harbor.
So began the Chesapeake Bay Star Fleet, which was granted its District 2 charter in 1924. In 1925, eight more boats were ordered from the MM Davis Yard in Solomons Island, MD. In 1925, US Naval Academy joined in and bought four more Stars. There being no Stars yet on the Eastern Shore, the Johnson brothers – Loundes and Graham – would sail their Star over from Oxford across the Chesapeake and race at Gibson Island, sailing back after each weekend.
Time in the boat obviously helped as they won the 1929 Star Worlds in New Orleans, bringing the prestigious championship regatta to their host club at Gibson Island in 1930. Famed helmsman, Arthur Knapp won that year after starting last (over early) but making an 11th hour move by un-reefing at the last mark in a near gale, passing boat after boat and putting the five boats between him and his nearest competitor to win the title!
Though a numerically small Star fleet, Gibson Island is pleased to host a big event to honor its long history with these most beautiful and challenging of racing boats. All Star sailors are welcome to celebrate a Century of Star boats on the Chesapeake in what is sure to be a memorable regatta.