The History of the Comet Class

The Star-Democrat Easton, Maryland 11 May 1951, Fri • Page 3

The Birth Of The comet and its 19 Years of Growth


The year 1932 will go down in the history of sailboat racing as the year when one of the fastest growing and best liked small race boats was designed.

This boat is the "Comet", which was designed by the world famous Star sailor and noted designer and builder of yachts, C. Lowndes Johnson, of Easton, Maryland. Mr. Johnson created this fast sixteen foot sloop for Mrs. Elliott Wheeler, also of Easton, who wanted a small, fast, easily handled sailboat for her sons, David D. Martin and J. Thomas Martin.

Mr. Johnson decided that a small centerboord boat that would not be difficult to build, and would be easy to handle as well as a pleasure to sail, was what he wished to design. He also wanted a boat that would do well In races with boats of otner classes.

With this in mind, he designed a sixteen foot centerboard sailboat which is similar to the Star boat in the lines of the hull and the shape of the sail.

The "Comet" was first given the class name of "Crab", then "Star Junior", and in February 1933, was officially named "Comet".

The first "Crab" was built at the Wiley Saip Yard, Oxford, Md., in 1932, and was sailed on the Tred Avon River by Thomas Martin, and his mother, Maria D. (Mrs. Elliott) Wheeler. This boat No. 1, was named "Zoea", and carried a crab as the insignia on the sail.

Mr. Wiley also built "Crab" No. 2, "Wilrush", at the same time. This one was built for Jonthan S. Wilford. of Oxford, and was sailed for a short time by Mr. Wilford and his children. This is not Comet No. 1 which is listed in the Class's Handbooks.

The plans of the "Crab" were published in the March, 1932 issue of Yachting msgazine, where it received much favorable comment by Yachting. Little did Mr. Johnson or Herbert L. Stone, Editor of Yachting, realize that here was what was to become one of the largest International Classes of small sailboats.

Soon after the plans were published in Yachting, Mr. Johnson began receiving numerous requests from people in many parts of the country for plans of the boat, which subseuently became very popular.

Within a short time over one hundred of the little sixteen foot boats were being built in various parts of the United States.

It was not until the 1933 New York Boat Show though, that the then "Star Junior" was found by a committee from the Stone Harbor Yacht Club, Stone Harbor, N. J. This committee of two, Dr. John Eiman and Dr. Wilbur H. Haines, was at the Boat Show to try to find a little centerboard boat that would be suitable for the waters of Stone Harbor. They found what they were I I looking for at the "Yachting Booth", wnere there was a model, built by Don Peterson, of City Island, N. Y of this new boat the "Star Junior" on display.

After looking into every detail of. and about the "Star Junior", the committee recommended that the Stone Harbor Yacht Club make the boat its one design Class, which the Club promptlv did. It was learned through Yachting that five of the boats were beinz sailed at Medford, Massachusetts, where John Black a noted model sailboat builder, was the motivating spirit of the group. They also learned of the boat that had been built for Mrs. Wheeler, as well as four "Star Juniors" that were being built at City Island, N. Y.

Dr. John Eiman was the leader of a group of interested Philadelphians who urged that the Class be organized. In February of that same year, 1933, a meeting of "Star Junior" enthusiasts was held in the offices of Yachting, and with the help of Herbert L. Stone, preliminary rules were drawn up and the Class name of the boat was officially changed to "Comet". At this meeting the first officers of tne Comet Class were elected, they were: President, Dr. John Eiman; Vice-President, John Black; Secretary-Treasurer, Dr. Wilbur H. Haines; and John Fry, Corresponding Secretary. The Executive Committee was the officers, together with C. Lowndes Johnson and Herbert L. Stone.

Now came the job of getting some Comets at Stone Harbor. July 1, 1333, the first Comet, No. 3. "Lodka", built by Don Peterson for Dr. Eiman was launched at the Stone Harbor Yacht Club. Who was to purchase the first Comet at Stone Harbor was decided by the toss of a coin. The loser on the toss was to buy the first Comet. Dr. Eiman was the loser, so he bought the now famous "Lodka".

Apparently the Comets which were built by many people all over the country were not recorded in the Class roster of boats, as tie plans were obtained from Mr. Johnson. Over one hundred Comets were built after Mrs. Wheeler's No. 1, "Zoea", and before Dr. Eiman's No. 3 "Lodka".

First Fleet

Er. Eiman's Comet was the only one to be launched at the Stone Harbor Yacht Club that year, though by November seven more Comets were being built or ordered by members of the Club. One and a half years after the first Comet was brought to Stone Harbor, January 1935, Fleet No. 1,. the Stone Harbor Comet Fleet was Chartered. John Eiman. Wilbur H. Haines. Herman Polhamus. James Slanes. and Rodney Bonsall were Charter members of this first fleet.

By the summer of 1935 there were twenty-one Comets sailing at Stone Harbor, and these with two more Comets took part in the regatta there that summer.

December 1934 saw five Comets being built by sailors on the Potomac River. These boats were ready to go the following spring, 1935, at the Capitol Yacht Club, Washington. D. C., and by June the Comets had become very active on the Potomac. The Capital Yacht Club also made the Comets their official one design Class. The boats were sailed in many races on the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, as well as one Comet going to the Nationals at Raritan Bay Yacht Club, Perth Amboy, N. J., in September.

At Miles River in '34

Two Comets from the Potomac River Fleet attended the Miles River Yacht Club Regatta, that August (9th and 10th) at St. Michaels, Md., as did some Comets from the Stone Harbor Fleet. These boats raced with the Comets of Talbot County. D. Verner Smythe sailing "Sassy", from the Potomac River Fleet, won this the first official Comet Class race to be sailed in Talbot County the birth place of the Comets, with a total of 21 points.

Eric W. Strandberg from the Stone Harbor Comet Fleet, in "Bonnie" placed second with 15 points; Ernest Covertt sailing "Serena", from the Potomac River Fleet was third with 14 points.

The Potomac River Fleet was the second Comet Fleet to be chartered, and the first Comet Fleet on the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. By the end of the 1935 season eleven Comets were sailing at Potomac River Fleet No. 2.

First Nationals

September 7th and 8th, 1935 are the dates of the first Comet Class National Championship Regatta. This three race series was sailed at the Raritan Yacht Club. Perth Amboy, N. J. where twenty-five Comets from the eastern seaboard took part. Comets came from the following yachting centers: five boats. Richmond County Yacht Club, Staten Island, N. Y.; one boat, Princess Bay Yacht Club, Staten Island; five boats. Stone Harbor Yacht Club, Stone Harbor, N. J.; nine boats. Raritan Yacht Club, the host Club; one boat, Capitol Yacht Club, Washington. D. C; three boats. Keyport Yacht Club Fleet, Keyport, N. J.; and one boat, Skaneatless Boat Club. Skaneatless Lake, N. Y. This was an excellent entry for the first Comet Class Nationals and a Class that had been organized since February 1933.

The first National Champion of the Comet Class was Roger Wilcox from the Richmond County Yacht Club, with his home built Comet, No. 66, "Escarot". With a first and two thirds he had a total of 71 1/4 points, second place went to Alton O'Brien, from the host Club, sailing "Mary", with 68 1/4 points. The Skaneatless Boat Club entry, "Trojan" sailed be George T. Barnes placed third with 61 points; D, VeneSmythe from the Capitol Yacht Club, in "Sassy was fourth with 60 points

The Star-Democrat Easton, Maryland 25 May 1951, Fri • Page 20
PART TWO (Continued from. May 11 issue)

By winning he Championship, Roger Willcox took home for one year the "Presidents' Trophy", a perpetual trophy which was presented to the Class by its President, Dr. John Eiman. The Trophy is a silver replica of a Comet bearing the number three, which is the number of Dr. Eiman's Comet "Lodka".

Twelve Fleets by 1936

With the success of the Championship Regatta at Perth Amboy, Comet fleets were spurred on in many parts of the country. Early in 1936 there were twelve fleets chartered, with a fleet as far West as Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, where Fleet No. 9, the Shawnee Bend Fleet, was sailing.

1936 was the first year that there were any official Fleet races in the Comet Class in the waters of Talbot County. By this time Mr. Johnson had been elected Regional Vice-President for the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, as well as being the official measurer for this area. W. Burton Piersol in his home built Comet No. 258, and Henry C. Southwick, Jr., with his Comet No. 260. began racing with Mrs. Wheeler and her sons in their Comet No. 1, off Oxford, in the Tred Avon River.

Talbot Fleet Chartered

August 14. 1936 Talbot Comet Fleet 20 was chartered, this was the twentieth Comet Fleet to receive its Charter and the second Comet fleet on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

The Charter for the Talbot Comet Fleet hangs in the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Club, Easton. Md.

The Charter members of the Feet are: Maria D. Wheeler, Thomas Martin, W. B. Piersol, and H. C. Southwick. Mr. Piersol was the first Secretary-Treasurer and Mrs. Wheeler was the first Fleet Captain of the Talbot Fleet. Mr. Piersol was the first representative from tnis Fleet to attend the Classes National Championship races. He raced in the 1936 Championship Series and placed 10th in a fleet of twenty-five Comets.

Comets also made their first appearance in many parts of Canada during this year. This was the first vear that the Class published a Class yearbook. The 1936 National Championship races were held at the Richmond County Yacht Club, Great Hills, Staten Island, N. Y., where Alton O'Brien. sailing "Aquila", from Raritan Yacht Club. Perth Amboy, won the Championship title. Roger Willcox, defending champion, in "Scud" was second, "Escargot" sailed by his brother, Warner M. Willcox, placed third in the series. These last two boats were from the Richmond County Yacht Club.

1937 saw much progress made in the Comet Class, by the end of the year over forty fleets were Chartered with a Fleet in Vancouver, British Columbia, and fleets in the United States and as far West as Ohio, Michigan and Illinois.

The Gaetina Bowl

In 1937 Maria Dimpfel Wheeler presented to the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Club, Easton, Md.. for the Comet Class, the "Gaetina Bowl", in memory of her father, to quote from the Trophy, "William O'Sullivan Dimpfel, first Commadore of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Club on whose yacht 'Gaetina', the Club was organized in June 1885". There appears on this Trophy an engraving cf the schooner "Gaetina".

That same year the "Panola Trophy" for the Comet Class was presented to the Tred Avon Yacht Club. Oxford, by David Dimpfel Martin and J. Thomas Martin. This Trophy is named for another of their grandfathers, William O'Sullivan Dimpfels' yachts, the yawl "Panola", an engraving of which is on the- Trophy.

The 1937 Comet Class National Championship Regatta was, for the second time held at the Raritan Yacht Club, where thirty-one contestants raced on Raritan Bay Warner Willcox, again sailing "Escargot" under the burgee of the Richmond County Yacht Club, won the National Title, with the perfect score of three firsts. Roger Willcox, in "Scud" from this same Club placed second to his brother. Last year's champion, Alton O. 0"Brien skippering "Aquila", finished the series in third position.

Fleet For San Juan

Several more Comet Fleets were chartered during 1938, one of these fleets being the San Juan Blue Fleet of Comets. San Juan, Puerto Rico. Though this Fleet was chartered late in the sailing season it sent a representative to the Class's 1938 Nationals. This boat "Puerto Rico", sailed by Teodoro Gonzales, Jr., placed seventeenth in the series.

The 1938 National Championship Regatta was held at the Skaneateles Country Club, Skaneateles. N. Y., where Edward K. Merrill, from the Riverton Yacht Club. Riverton, N. J., sailing "Shufly", won the Championship. Second place went to Roger Willcox, in "Scud", from the Richmond County Yacht Club, and J. Ramsey Speer, Jr., sailing "Surprise II", under the burgee of the Tred Avon Yacht Club, placed third in the series.

During 1939 the Comet Class made some of its greatest strides. February, 11th, and 12th. 1939, the first mid-winter regatta for the Comet Class was held. This regatta was at the Club Nautico De San Juan, Puerto Rico, where twenty-two Comets, eight from the United States, took part in the series. The three race series was for the new perpetual "Don Q Trophy", donated by Senator P. J. Serralles, and was won by Edward K. Merrill, with "Shufly" from the Riverton Yacht Club, Riverton, N. J. In second place sailing "Scuttlebutt" was Melcolm Lamborne, Jr., from the Capitol Yacht Club, Washington, D. C. "Mac", sailed by Miguel A. Casellas, from the host Club placed third.

Another regatta of interest, for Comets only, was the Seaside Park Yacht Club's Regatta, August 5th, and 6th, 1939. at Seaside Park. N. J. This series is an annual event for the Class.

'39 Nationals At Oxford

The 1939 Nationals were held at the birthplace of the Comet, Oxford, Md., where the Tred Avon Yacht Club and the Chesapeake Bay Yacht were host to thirty-nine contestants for the Championship races. Robert Levin sailing from the Barnegat Bay Yacht Racing Association Fleet, Barnegat Bay, N. J. won the Championship with his Comet, "Bad News."

Second place went to fifteen year-old Sally Willcox, sailing "Scud", from the Richmond County Yacht Club Fleet. Edward K. Merrill, from the Riverton Yacht Club Fleet, Riverton. N. J., in "Shufly", and J. Ramsey Speer, Jr., Talbot Fleet No 20, the host Fleet, with "Tart", tied for third place. Tnis tie was decided by the flip of a coin, the traditional way to break such a tie. Mr. Speer lost on the flip thus placing him fourth in the series.

Honorary Life Members

1936 also saw the Class elect its first honorary life members to the Association. These members are the late Mrs. Elliott Wheeler, Easton. Md., owner of the first Comet; C. Lowndes Johnson, Easton, Md.. designer of the Comet; and John H. Frye, Westfield, N. J. Mr. Frye was Executive Vice-President of the Class in 1936 and has served on the High Score Point Committee since 1936.

The 1940 Nationals were held at the Huntington Crescent Club, Huntington, Long Island, N. Y., where Philip A. Somervell, Red Dragon Canoe Club, Edgewater Park N. J., sailing "Syrosso", won the series. Charles Allaire, Jr., Red Bank Yacht Racing Association Fleet, Red Bank, N. J., in "Spirit of 76", placed second; C. Wallace Tierman Huntington Crescent Club, Inc., Fleet, with "Weasel", was third. Forty-six Comets representing thirty-three fleets competed in the Class's fifth annual Championship races.

1941 saw Dr. John Eiman retire as President of the Association, after eight untiring years of work in the organization. Dr. Eiman then became Commodore of the Class, this being a newly-created honorary office. D. Verner Smythe. who sailed at the Potomac River Fleet, Washington, D. C, became the next President cf the Comet Class Yacht Racing Association.

The Class's 1941 Championship Series were held at Sandusky, Ohio, where the Sandusky Yacht Club and the Sandusky Sailing Club were hosts to a fleet of thirty- six entrants. Philip A. Somervell, won the Championship with "Double Scotch", sailing under the burgee of the Red Dragon Canoe Club. Robert Lippincott, from the Riverton Yacht Club Fleet. Riverton. N. J., sailing "Swallow", was second; in third was M. G. Farrington. of the Red Dragon Canoe Fleet, in "Aquila". This was the first time a boat from the English Bay Fleet of Vancouver, British Columbia, had taken part in the Nationals. Their entry No. 1328 sailed by Jack Vittery, placed twelfth in the series.

War Curtailed Activity With the entry of the United States in the war at the end of 1941, activities in the Comet Class were curtailed considerably. The Mid-Winter Regatta for the "Don Q" Trophy, at Puerto Rico, which had been canceled in 1941, was again held, as there were many Army and Navy Officers stationed there who would like to race for this Trophy. This Regatta was held every year in February, until 1951 when it was discontinued.

The "Don Q" Trophy is now being kept by the Class Historian, Robert Levin, of Beverly. N. J.

The Class's National Championship Regatta was cancelled for the years 1942 - 43 and 44. due to World War II. The Association elected Edward K. Merrill, of Riverton. and Herbert L Stone, of New York City, to Honorary Membership, in 1944. During these war years the Comet Class did not stop growing. There were several new Fleets Chartered, and many Comets were bought for the Marine Corps Air Station, at Cherry Point. N. C.

In 1942 C. Lowndes Johnson, with Maria D. Wheeler as crew, raced "Star Baby II", (chartered from R. Hammond Gibson) in the elimination series of Talbot Fleet 20. where he won the Fleet Championship. This was the first and the. only time that Mr. Johnson has ever skippered a Comet in an official Comet Class race.

Herbert Stone Honored

Following the Association's Annual meeting January 13th, 1945, the organization honored a man who might be called "The God father" of the Comet, Herbert L. Stone. A dinner was given in his hononr by the Comet Class Yacht Racing Association at the New York Yacht Club, New York City, where a handsome silver bowl was presented to him. Mr. Stone generously gave this bowl to the Class to be raced for at the National Championship Regatta by sailors who have not previously competed in the Series as a skipper of a Comet.

During the war the Class continued to award its High Point Trophy. This award has been made uninterrupted since it was introduced Mav 1. 1936, when the Executive Vice-President's office began keeping records of all boats competing for this trophy, which was presented to the Class bv the Raritan Bay Yacht Racing Association. This Association is comprised of the yacht clubs located on Raritan Bay. N. J. D. Verner Smythe sailing "Sassy", from the Potomac River Fleet was the first winner of this High Point Trophy.

Championships Resumed

The National Championship Regatta was resumed in 1945, at Seaside Park, N. J., on Barnegat Bay. where Joseph Bartlett, representing the Absecon Island Fleet, at Margate City, N. J., won not only the Championship, but the "Stone Trophy", as well with "Ronnie II". "Scandel", sailed by Ernest Covert, Potomac River Fleet. Washington, D. C, was second, and in third was "3 Chips", skippered by Chester Smith, Lorain Yacht Club Fleet, Lorain, Ohio. Thirty-one Comets took part in this Series after its three year cancellation due to the war.

In 1946 the name of the Championship event was changed to the International Championship Regatta. Philip A. Somervell with "Double Scotch", won for the third time the Class's Championship Series, which was held at Gibson Island. Maryland, in September, 1946. Leslie S. Wright, in "Fan Tan V", placed second, and Ernest Covert, with "Scandal", was third, both representing the Potomac River Fleet, Washington. D. C. R. Hammond Gibson in 'Star Baby II", the lone entry from Talbot Fleet 20, placed fifth in this Series.

The 1947 Internationals were held on Lake Cayuga. N. Y, where the Ithaca Yacht Club was host to seventy-two Comets, the largest number to ever attend a Championship Regatta. Owen (Jim) Merrill, sailing "Barfly", from the Red Dragon Canoe Club Fleet. Edgewater Park. N. J., followed in the foot steps of his father, the late Edward K. Merrill, by winning the Champ ionship Title, in second place was Harold N. Sheble. Jr., in "Double Scotch", Red Dragon Canoe Club Fleet. Howard Lippincott. sailing Cirrus II". Riverton Yacht Club Fleet, Riverton. N. J. placed third.

With so much interest in the International Regatta the Executive Committee as well as the contestants realized that some way which would eliminate more boats than the Fleet Elimination Races were doing had to be found. Races with more than thirty or forty Comets were to unwieldly particularly at the start. The Executive Committee wished to devise a way of cutting down on the entries at the Internationals without hurting the interest in the Class. By the Annual meeting of the C.C.Y.R.A., early in 1948 the Committee hoped it had such a plan.

It was decided that if an entry of over thirty Comets was on hand. the boats would be divided into two fleets each fleet to sail one race. The top ten boats from these two races would make up the contestents for the last race. The boat which had the most combined points after both races would be the new International Champion. This was given a trial at Seaside Park later in the year but did not prove successful.

A new plan was then devised by the Executive Committee. This would be the formation of Territories and Territorial Elimination races. Each territory would be able to send half a boat per fleet in the territory to the Internationals. This plan was tried in 1949, and was most successful, as forty Comets entered the 1949 Internationals through this new system. At the 1950 Annual meeting the Territorial Elimination system was formally adpoted by the Comet Class Yacht Racing Association.

The 1948 Internationals were held at the Port Clinton Yacht Club. Port Clinton, Ohio, under the old system, with forty-five entries. With three firsts Owen (Jim) Merrill, for the second time won the Series, with "Barfly". Lawrence Low, sailing "Tym-Fly". from the Green Pond Sailing Club Fleet, Green Pond, N. J., was second, and in third, from the Riverton Yacht Club Fleet with "Cirrus II" was Howard Lippincott.

In 1949 the first Territorial Championship (elimination) Series were held by each of the six Territories. These Territories and 1949 Champions are: No. 1, South Jersey, Barnegat Bay and Delaware River, Champion, Philip A. Somerville, Red Dragon Canoe Club Fleet; No. 2 Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River, Champion, Robert N. Ray, Potomac River Fleet: No. 3. North Jersey and Raritan Bay, Champion, Lawrence Low. Green Pond Sailing Club Fleet; No. 4. New York Lakes. Champion, Alan Brown. Cayuga Lake Fleet: No. 5, Mid-West, Champion, Emory Zimmer, Put-In-Bay-Fleet, Put-in Bay. Ohio; No. 6 Long Island, the Sound and Connecticut, Champion, Kenneth Smith, Centerport Harbor Yacht Club Fleet, Centerport Harbor. Long Island, N. Y.

The 1949 Internationals were held at the Hyannis Yacht Club. Hyannis, Massachusetts, where Howard Lippincott, from the Riverton Yacht Club Fleet, in "Cirrus III", won the Championship. Lawrence Low, from the Green Pond Sailing Fleet, with "Tym-Fly", was second, and in third place was Thomas Buermann with "Lucky Puff", from Centerpolnt Harbor Yacht Club Fleet.

3000 Boats In 125 Fleets

At the 1950 annual meeting of the Association Dr. Wilbur H. Haines succeded retiring President D. Verner Smythe, who now became Vice-Commodore (Honorary) of the Class. The 1950 saving season again saw the Comets out in force. There are well over three thousand of them listed in the Association registry and one hundred twenty-five fleets. This helps show how great the interest is in this little boat that had its birth on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and was raised by the sailors of Stone Harbor. N. J.

The 1950 Territorial Champions are: Territory No. 1, Champion, John Boehringer, Stone Harbor Fleet, Stone Harbor, N. J.; Territory No 2, Champion. John Swaine. Jr., Talbot Fleet No. 20, Oxford. Md, Territory No. 3. Champion, Lawrence Low, Green Pond Fleet, Green Pond, N. J., Territory No. 4. Champion Norman Freeman, Cayuga Lake Fleet, Ithaca, N. Y.; Territory No 5, Champion, James Miller II, Put in-Bay Fleet, Put-in-Bay, Ohio; Territory No. 6, Champion. Gilbert Grosvenor. Middlebury Comet Fleet Lake Quasrapaug, Connecticut.

The 1950 Championship Regatta was held for the third time at the Raritan Yacht Club. Perth Amboy, N. J, where thirty-four Comets took part in the thirteenth Championship event. Howard Lippincott, from the Riverton Yacht Club Fleet with "Cirrus III", remained the International Champion, with a 3/4 point lead, over Philip A. Somervell, sailing Triple Scotch", who placed second. John Boehringer, from Stone Harbor Fleet, finished la third, with "Hi-Tide".

This Class which was designed nineteen years ago has had only cne minor change in the boat. The very early Comets, when they were still known as "Star Juniors", had a clubed Jib. The club was removed from the Jib at about the time the boats were named Comet.

This is excellent proof of the perfect design of the little sixteen foot International one design race boat, known as "Comet", which was designed by that famous sailor C. Lowndes Johnson, of Talbot County, Maryland.