The Gaff Rigged Era

1911 – 1920 (and before)

(From the 1971 Star Class Log)


                The history of the Star began even before 1911. In 1906 a boat called the Bug was designed in the office of William Gardner in New York. These boats about eighteen feet long, were miniature Stars, their design being very similar to the as yet unborn Star boat. The Bug was at least in part the idea of Commodore "Pop" Corry, who wanted a small one design boat within the means of the not very wealthy yachtsman who liked racing. The boats cost $140 each, not an exorbitant sum even then. But the Bug proved to be too small and wet for comfort, and in 1910 Corry went back to Gardner to ask for a somewhat larger version. The Star was designed by the late Francis Sweisguth that winter, and twenty-two of them were built by Ike Smith of Port Washington, Long Island. They appeared on the Sound for the first time on May 30, 1911, for the Memorial Day regatta of the Harlem Yacht Club.

                The original Star was not the trim vessel of today. Although the basic design has never been altered, construction methods and the care with which the boats are built have improved so much in sixty years that a 1911 model would not be recognized as a Star today. They cost $240 and looked it. Also the rig was entirely different from what it is now. A short mast carried a long gaff almost parallel to it, and an enormous boom hung three feet over the transom. Fittings were crude or non-existent. In spite of all this, the basic superiority of the hull design began to show itself and more Stars were built. At a time when small classes were springing up and dying out every year the Star survived, with nothing to support it but its own performance and the enthusiasm of Pop Corry and a few others.

                In 1914 occurred an event without which there might have been no Star Class today. At least we can safely say that without it, the organization of one design classes of all kinds would have been delayed by years or decades. This event was the arrival on the scene of George W. Elder. When he bought a Star and interested himself in the welfare of the Class, a turning point had been reached, although no one knew it then. Pop Corry was the "father of the Stars", but George Elder was the father of the Star Class Association and remained its guiding administrator for most of his life.

                It is hard for us to realize today what Elder did. Not only were there no international classes or class organizations in pre-1920 days; there were not even any inter-club classes. Each yacht club had its own design of boat, which raced locally, and that was all. Against this heterogeneous background Elder conceived the idea of a unified organization with enough influence to administer the affairs of many fleets of the same class, not only in various harbors of Long Island Sound (which in itself would have been a novel idea), but all over the country and eventually throughout the world. The outline of this grand scheme was presented by Elder in 1916 but not adopted until 1922. To appreciate its scope and daring we must recall the travelling and transportation conditions of those days. Inter-fleet racing was unknown because there were no two fleets of the same kind of boat. There was no electric haul-out equipment; boats the size of Stars were always kept in the water all summer. The automobile was still a new invention; that it would ever become sufficiently reliable to handle a trailer was doubtful. Thus many of the advantages which we reap from our class organizations, which we take for granted now, depend on modern communication and transportation facilities.

                Yacht racing was suspended during World War I, and in 1919 the Star was one of the few classes which put in an appearance at Long Island Sound regattas and helped revive the sport in that area. Meanwhile Stars had taken hold elsewhere, and the groundwork had been laid for Elder to make his dream an actuality.



George A. Corry


Father of the Star Class

Class President, 1922-1925

Class Commodore, 1926-1943


It is rather doubtful, in this day and age of conformity and political correctness, that a personage such as George Corry could have had the sort influence that he had almost a century ago. His manners and ways of thinking, if the stories told about him in Elder's book and elsewhere are true, were eccentric to say the least, and he must have been a most colorful character.

Despite this, or perhaps because of this, “Pop” Corry was very effective in promoting his idea of the inexpensive racing yacht. It is fortunate that his idea was ably translated by Mr. Gardner and his draftsman Francis Sweisguth.

Photo: 1925 Log


William Gardner


Naval Architect


In about 1906 George A. Corry, the ring-leader of a small group of yachtsmen from the New York City area, asked William Gardner to design a small, inexpensive chine-built arc-bottomed sail boat with a keel. George Corry was a friend of William Gardner, and it was natural for Corry to contacted him to design the boat.

The first fruit of Gardner's effort for Corry's group was a boat known as the Bug. The Bug was drafted by Curtis D. Mabry of Gardner's office and made its appearance on Long Island Sound in 1906. The boat is reported to have been 19’ long with a keel weighing 150 lbs.

After five years of racing the Bugs in the waters about New York City the owners of the Bugs decided that the boats were too small, too wet and much too uncomfortable. A committee was appointed, consisting of George Corry, A. B. Fry, Thornton Smith and William Newman, to take this matter up with William Gardner. That was done in the early fall of 1910. This time it was Francis Sweisguth who was Gardner's draftsman who drew up the plans for the boat, named the Star.


In the 1931 Log Mr. Gardner made the following comments:


“When I designed the Star my aim was to produce a boat that was fast, handy, seaworthy, and that could be built at a moderate cost; these qualities I was evidently fortunate enough to have obtained.

“The boat alone, however, was not entirely responsible for the great success that has followed. The great interest taken by the owners of the boats and the unceasing efforts of the Association to bring to the attention of the yachting world the merits of the boats, have been in a large part responsible for the unprecedented success of the class.

“The large fleet that exists to-day is very gratifying to me and my sincere wish is that the success of the Association will be as great in the future as it has been in the past.”



(Photo: 1931 Log, credit, Morris Rosenfeld)


George W. Elder


Founder of the Star Class Association

Class President, 1926-1948


While “Pop” Corry was the person most responsible for getting the Star boat designed, it was George Elder who conceived of the idea of having a worldwide Star Class organization. At the time this was an unheard-of idea, but Elder’s efforts and determination paid off, resulting in the I.S.C.Y.R.A. which we have today.

During his later years Mr. Elder began to work on a book about the history of the Star Class. This book, “Forty Years among the Stars”, was published posthumously in 1955.

“Mom” and “Pop” Corry in their Bug

(Picture from Elder’s book “Forty Years…”, credit Francis Sweisguth.)


BUG # 2

(Photo: Star Class promotional brochure, credit Levick.)


Francis Sweisguth

Designer of the Star


Francis Sweisguth was the draftsman in William Gardner’s naval architect office who drew the lines of the Star in the fall of 1910. He was also one of the original owners of the first 22 Stars built by Ike Smith in the winter of 1910-1911. He owned number 6 from 1911 through 1915. In the early 1920’s, when a rig change from the gaff rig to the short Marconi rig was proposed, Mr. Sweisguth designed the change. In 1929 when the new rig which is still in use today was proposed, Mr. Sweisguth was again involved, this time as a member of the Technical Committee which drew up the specifications for the new rig and sail plan. He continued to serve as the Technical Committee chairman through 1933.


Francis Sweisguth

Picture from Elder’s book “Forty Years…”



Star plan of November, 1910, drawn by Francis Sweisguth


Star of the 1910’s


Spars and Sails:              Sliding Gunter

Mast, deck to sheave              18'5"

Boom                                      18'42"

Gaff (Or Yard)                        17'62"

Mainsail Luff                          7'4"

Mainsail Leech                        28'6"

Mainsail Foot                         18'42"

Jib Luff                                   17'9"

Jib Leech                                 15'3"

Jib Foot                                   7'8"






 (Text and drawings form RUDDER, December, 1911)

POPULARITY of one-design classes seems to be on the increase, and there are several new classes proposed for next season; one, a class of small schooners. Several of the most prominent classes racing on Long Island Sound were designed by Mr. William Gardner, of New York, and on the following pages are given drawings of a number of these boats as well as the drawings of two proposed classes. One of the most popular classes ever raced on the Sound in the small-boat division are the "Bug" boats, which were designed and built in the Spring of 1906. These boats are 19 feet over all, and cost complete only $125. Fourteen of these were built for members of the Manhasset Bay, Larchmont, Horse Shoe Harbor, Huguenot, and New Rochelle Y.C.

                This year designs for a new class similar to the old, but 3 feet 7 inches longer over all, and known as "Star" boats, was gotten out and the boats cost complete $250. Fifteen of these were built for members of the American Y.C., six for various members of the Manhasset Bay, New Rochelle, Larchmont, and Horse Shoe Harbor Y.Cs., and ten for members of the Nahant Y.C. of Nahant, Mass. Both the "Star" and "Bug" classes were described by Mr. Thornton Smith in the January, 1911, issue.

                All of the old boats as well as all of the new, except ten for the Nahant Dory Club, were built by Isaac Smith, of Port Washington, L.I. The ten for the Nahant Club were built by Richard T. Green & Co., of Chelsea, Mass.

                A class similar to the new "Star" boats, except that they are 1.7 feet longer, a foot wider, and of the center-board type, has been designed with a view to placing the class on Gravesend Bay. It is proposed that members of the various clubs in the Gravesend Bay Association build to this class, and if the proposed plans are carried out, the class will be a great addition to racing on the Bay.


(Photo from “Forty Years…”, credit Morris Rosenfeld)

An early race on Long Island Sound. Leading in number 17, Little Dipper, is “Pop” George Corry. Since the owners of both number 10 and number 33 changed with some frequency in the first decade neither skippers’ names or boat names can be given with any certainty.

(Photo from “The Story of American Yachting”, credit Morris Rosenfeld)

Another early race on Long Island Sound. Again “Pop” Corry, with “Ma” Corry crewing, are in the lead. Mrs. Corry was an accomplished skipper in her own right, and won women's races as well. Women's races were a common feature of many race weekends in those days, and were held in the morning prior to the "main event".

(Photo: 1931 Star Class Log)

Hiking, 1911 Style

George Corry and Mat Rock sailing Little Dipper in Little Neck Bay in 1911

(Crews take note: we fully expect that you will wear ties in the upcoming events.)



(Photo by Levick, 1922 Star Class Log)


“Saturn”, Long Island Sound Champion for 1921, leading.


(Picture from “The Central Long Island Sound Fleet”, credit Morris Rosenfeld)


Number 40, South Wind, was built by Irving Versoy of New Haven, CT, in 1914 for Bill McHugh of Norwalk, CT. Mr. McHugh was one of the founders of the Central Long Island Sound fleet, and at the time sailed out of South Norwalk Y.C. Note the forward hatch to bail out the forward tank. Originally the Stars had flotation tanks fore and aft much like the boats built during the 1980’s. However, because of leakage the tanks proved to be more trouble than they were worth and were soon taken out of the boats. Another feature of the early Stars was the long coaming which began just behind the mast and as originally designed continued all the way back beyond the end of the cockpit. Here we see that the coaming has already been shortened to finish at mid-cockpit.


(Photo: 1941 Log. Credit, Levick.)

Gordon Curry’s boat Aquilla of Manhassett Bay Y.C. Note that the coaming is shorter than that of number 40, ending at about the forward end of the cockpit.


Last of the Gaff Rigged Stars

Ceti, Star # 7, was one of the 22 Stars built during the winter of 1910-1911 by Ike Smith of Port Washington, N.Y. She was originally owned by R.G. Moore, and then George Barron. In 1913 she was given to Warren Ransom. The boat was moved to North Hatley, Quebec, Canada and sailed on Lake Massawippi until 1983 when she was given to Mystic Seaport Museum. Since she was used as a daysailer, no thought was ever given to updating her as was the case with her sisters which all went through the rig changes as the rest of the Star Class progressed from the gaff rig to the short Marconi rig to finally the modern rig which was brought into the Class in 1930.

To the right is Ceti being sailed by the Ransom family. Below is Ceti outside the storage shed in Mystic. Peter Vermilya, the curator of the small boat collection, is shown at the tiller. The mainsail is said to be the original mainsail. The jib, obviously, has seen better days and has many patches.


(Photos: Ogilvy collection)