Who was the greatest San Francisco Bay racing sailor ever? In the opinion of Bay sailing legends like Hank Easom and Warwick ‘Commodore’ Tompkins, the finest racing skipper in the early 20th Century was a concert violinist, boatbuilder and yacht designer named Myron Spaulding.
We got on this train of thought, and started looking into who Myron Spaulding was from the confined shelter of our kitchen, after John Dukat of the Richmond Yacht Club sent us a couple of photos.
Spaulding is of course the namesake and inspiration for the Spaulding Marine Center, located in Sausalito, which produced the wonderfully entertaining video below. If you’ve got a little more than nine minutes to spare (and we bet you do!) then enjoy this look at one of the icons of California sailing.
Myron Spaulding earned his living playing the violin. A member of the Musicians Union, he performed in the Fox Theater’s vaudeville orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony and other classical groups of his era. A photo of the Symphony shows him seated in the back of the first violin section. Myron was not “second fiddle,” but his heart was in boats, designing, building and racing them.
According to journalist Carl Nolte: “To Spaulding boats were life: He loved the design of them, loved to build them and loved to sail them. He made himself into an expert on how the forces of wind and currents and the sea affect boats and their performance, and made himself a master of design. His aim was to build sailing vessels that would conform to class rules (for nothing is so circumscribed by exact measurements as classes of racing yachts) but also would be fast and beautiful.”
A Racing Rockstar
Earning a name for himself racing in the Bird, Star and 6-Meter classes, Spaulding achieved legendary status in 1936, navigating the 52-ft yawl Dorade to an overwhelming win in the Transpac Race. It was the first of six Hawaii races he would complete as sailing master, while also winning the San Francisco Perpetual Trophy multiple times in 6-Meter and 8-Meter boats.
In the words of Commodore Tompkins, “Myron was a tremendous influence on every sailor active on San Francisco Bay in the first 60 or 70 years of the century, whether they knew it or not. Besides being an excellent sailor, he was one of the premiere designers in the country, though it went largely unrecognized. The thing that Myron did for all people under his influence was to show them a way and an ethic of addressing problems that was results-oriented and had very little to do with economics. Concepts and results were his standards of excellence. Never the dollar.”
Designer of Fast Yachts
Spaulding created two one-design classes that were active on San Francisco Bay: the 20-ft Clipper (of which 63 were built) and the Spaulding 33 (nine boats built). These and several custom sailboats up to 50 feet came out of his boatyard, which opened in its current location in 1951. We encountered one of Myron Spaulding’s elegant classics, the 38-ft Nautigal, built in 1938, while sailing on the Richmond Riviera.
So where does Myron Spaulding rank among the racing legends of San Francisco Bay? How would he fare against the likes of Paul Cayard, Tom Blackaller or Liz Baylis? His name may have faded into relative obscurity in the era of the foiling America’s Cup, but we can all experience his legacy at the Spaulding Marine Center.