Thursday, August 01, 2013

It's A Small World After All

First of all I have a long rambling story about yachting history.

Then I have a challenge for you...

In Monday's photo quiz and in a longer post on Tuesday, I introduced my readers to Fred A. Mabbett.

I bet you had never heard of him before.

But in his time and in his particular corner of the sailing community, he was quite a big deal. Commodore of Rochester Yacht Club, one of the crew that won the Canada's Cup in 1905, and according to fellow blogger Tweezerman one of America's first dinghy champions.

Isn't sailing really a small world? Surely none of us sailors are many degrees of separation from Fred A. Mabbett? After all, it is said that everyone in the whole world is connected to everyone else by no more than six degrees of separation. So all of us sailors must have a closer connection to Fred A. Mabbett.

You would think so.

I set out to find how closely connected I am to Fred A. Mabbett. This is the shortest chain I could find.

25 years after Fred A. Mabbett's epic Canada's Cup win in 1905, Rochester Yacht Club was still the holder of the Canada's Cup, and Fred A. Mabbett was part of the club's Canada's Cup Syndicate for the defense of 1930.

A fellow member of the syndicate was a fine fellow called Walter L. Farley. Here is a list of all the syndicate members from the Canada's Cup Committee bulletin of March 1930.

That is how Fred A. Mabbett is connected to Walter L. Farley.  One degree of separation.

Now Walter L. Farley was the skipper of one of the yachts that was competing for the honor of defending the cup for Rochester Yacht Club. That yacht was called Conewago and it was designed by Olin Stephens. Here is a picture of the launch of Conewago from the Canada's Cup Committee bulletin of May 1930, showing Olin Stephens with Walter L. Farley.

That is how Fred A. Mabbett is connected to Olin Stephens. Two degrees of separation.

Now Olin Stephens was only 22 years old in that picture and he lived to be 100. So he met a lot of people in the sailing world and his longevity also helps us to span the many decades separating us from Fred A. Mabbett. One of the many people Olin Stephens met in his lifetime was fellow yacht designer Bruce Kirby. I suspect they knew each other well, but here is one documented account of them meeting, from an article written by Bruce Kirby for the Cruising Club of America to honor Olin Stephens on his 100th birthday.

That is how Fred A. Mabbett is connected to Bruce Kirby. Three degrees of separation.

And several years ago, it was my pleasure to meet Bruce Kirby. It was at the Bitter End Yacht Club and a mutual friend introduced us, knowing that I was a Laser sailor and that I would be thrilled to meet the designer of the Laser. I remember boasting to Bruce that I owned three Lasers at the time.

Bruce Kirby

Bruce also contacted me after my post in 2011 Three Laser Classes?  and we had an email discussion about the background to the dispute over design rights in the Laser world that is still rumbling on.

And so that is how Fred A. Mabbett is connected to me. Four degrees of separation.

What about you? How many degrees of separation are you from Fred A. Mabbett? Extra points if you can trace a connection without using any of the people in my chain


O Docker said...

Brilliant post!

Not because I'm terribly interested in Fred A. Mabbett.

But, for the past two years you've been sitting on the fact that you've exchanged e-mails with Bruce Kirby and couldn't tell anyone because that would make it look like you were bragging about the fact.

How could you slip that fact into a post without appearing to be boasting and without betraying Kirby's confidence?

And you finally figured out how to do it.


Who was Fred A. Mabbett again?

Tillerman said...

Didn't I mention my email discussion with Bruce Kirby before? I thought I had.

Anyway, Bruce didn't ask me to keep the fact that we had communicated by email confidential. He did ask me to keep the contents of his email confidential but most of what he told me is now in the public domain from other sources. I think he was just reaching out to me because he thought I might have some influence on the vote in the class about the fundamental rule change, and he wanted me to know more of the background to his side of the issue. I did end up voting the way he wanted us to vote, but I was in a minority. Clearly I don't have much influence at all!

I was originally going to trace my links to Fred A. Mabbett via Dennis Conner. But that would have really been bragging!

Fred A. Mabbett is the Kevin Bacon of the sailing world. We are all connected via him.

O Docker said...

I think someone named Fred Mabbett could have sold me a fiddle block at West Marine once, but I think he was from the Oxnard Mabbetts, not the Rochester Mabbetts.

Baydog said...

Starting with Olin Stephens, I have at least 3 4th degrees. In the U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame, Olin's fellow inductees Dennis Conner and Stuart Walker, dined in Lahiere's in Princeton. I only shook Dennis' hand, but I had a small conversation with Dr. Walker at his table. I had mentioned my Dad and me meeting him at an I-14 regatta in Beachwood, probably in 1970 or '71. He actually said that he remembered. LOL.

Gary Jobson is the third fellow inductee of Olin's. Gary was from Beachwood, and he used to call my Dad Mr. Wagner

Baydog said...

5 4th degrees. And at the very least, a 5th degree from meeting you, Tillerman.

Runnie Colie will be inducted this fall in Annapolis, and Betsy (Gelenitis) Allison '11 grew up a couple of blocks from 829. This is fun.

Baydog said...

I spelled Alison wrong, but I nailed Gelenitis.

Tillerman said...

Talking of the National Sailing Hall of Fame this picture of the first inductees together might be helpful to some folk in proving some useful connections.

Tillerman said...

Well done Baydog. It struck me that sailors like Dennis Conner and Gary Jobson are really the Kevin Bacons of the sailing world. They have met almost everyone and if you haven't met them you almost certainly know someone who has.

The final links back to Fred A. Mabbett are more tricky. I wonder if anyone can find a way to do it not going through Walter L. Farley and Olin Stephens? Tweezerman probably can via his research into the Emerson photos. Maybe Sam Chapin can too as he seems to have been involved in that Great Lakes US/Canada racing scene at one point.

Also I wasn't going to allow myself "is in the sailing hall of fame with" as a real connection. I wanted to be sure that the people in my chain actually met and not everyone in the hall has met all the others I would think. But I think you are on safe ground that Dennis Conner and Olin Stephens did actually meet at some point as Stephens was the designer for Freedom, which Conner sailed to victory in the America's Cup in 1980. Actually I can't be absolutely sure that Walter L. Farley actually met Fred A. Mabbett but I think the circumstantial evidence is strong.

And I'm not sure whether to allow virtual connections like "left comments on his blog." I don't think "have read his book" would count either.

On the other hand I was going to allow myself "sailed in the same event" as a real connection even if there was no truth the two sailors actually met each other at the event.

Tillerman said...

OK. Here's another ridiculously long chain of connection between Fred A. Mabbett and me. But at least it doesn't use any of the same characters.

Fred A. Mabbett's brother was Lorenzo Mabbett.

Lorenzo Mabbet sailed in the Canada's Cup in 1903. James Barr was the paid skipper of that crew.

James Barr was the nephew of the famous Captain Charlie Barr.

Charlie Barr sailed against Sir Thomas Lipton for the America's Cup in 1899.

Sir Thomas Lipton was a sailing friend of King George V.

King George V's granddaughter is Queen Elizabeth II (who was born before King George died.)

Queen Elizabeth's daughter is Princess Anne.

Princess Anne presented his Olympic gold medal to Ben Ainsiie in 2012.

Ben Ainslie won the gold medal for the Finn at the 2008 Olympics. Anna Tunnicliffe won the gold medal in the Laser Radial class at that Olympics.

Anna Tunnicliffe is married to Brad Funk.

I once did a Laser clinic at which Brad Funk was the guest instructor.

OK. OK. This is getting very silly. I should probably go and do something more constructive.

Baydog said...

Silly, but fun. I suggest you go for a sail on your idyllic Sakonnet River for a spell.

Tweezerman said...

If you are an old International 14 sailor (or even if you're not) the chain is straight forward.

1. Wilmot V (Rooney) Castle - sailed the aforementioned 8 meter Conewago to victory in the Canada's Cup 1932 (was also Commodore of Rochester YC around that time).

2. Son Wilmot V (Jerry) Castle - sailed International 14's pre and post WWII. Sailed in the 1949 Viscount De Tunis regatta - Montreal.

3. Some of the attendees at that regatta; Bill Lapworth, Dick Carter, Paul McClaughlin, "Shorty" Trimmingham, and the aforementioned Bruce Kirby. (I've met two out of that bunch).

There is a great PowerPoint online detailing Jerry Castle's sailing history. If you are into North American sailing history, it's worth viewiong

Tillerman said...

Excellent Tweezerman. A completely new chain.

So Tweezerman, Baydog and I all have a Mabbett Number of 4. Can anyone beat that?

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...


Originally we bought two Lasers, because we had to resolve which of us should helm our first race boat. Yes. That was a Schock-Kirby III International-14.

I have to disclose that I owned three Lasers at a time and five over time. Well, one actually belonged to Trophy Wife, and one belonged to my son. We moved them around to races with a tandem trailer and rack on the car top. Some people might have thought us to be self-indulgent. Maybe that suspicion on our part is what motivated us eventually to move out of the hinterlands to the coast.

Can I qualify for 16 degrees of separation? 32?

Tillerman said...

An update on some of the boats from that 1930 Canada's cup at this post on the footnotes blog.

Apparently the two 8-metre boats that actually sailed in the 1930 match Thisbe and Quest were still sailing on Lake Ontario as of 2010, and Conewago was under restoration. Amazing!

Now I have to research my degrees of separation from Fred A. Mabbett via the 8 metre class because I have a direct connection to a more recent multi-world champion in the class.

Am I getting a little obsessive?

Tillerman said...

Tweezerman - I see that in that Powerpoint presentation there is a photo of Jerry Castle as a teenager holding the Canada's Cup in 1934. There are some unnamed older people in the photo too. I wonder if Jerry ever met Fred A. Mabbett? In which case your Mabbett number would be 3.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I used to sail on Conewago in the early 70's out of Annapolis! Conewago was being restored in the Netherlands, maybe Denmark( I think ) last I heard a couple years ago.

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