Chance » Reflections » Hassisen

Sailing with Britton Chance

Ilmo Hassinen / University of Oulu, Finland

15 April 2011

During my postdoctoral period (1967-68) at Johnson Foundation with Britton Chance we never talked about sailing, even though B.C.'s office door was decorated with a sailing poster and we young apprentices were often invited to the Chance summer home in Mantoloking, NJ.

Figure 1. Britton and Lilian Chance, and family, preparing for the Treasure Hunt Race in Barnegat Bay. Labor Day Weekend in Mantoloking, September 1972.

Commemorations of the year 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland were very evident in the Mantoloking home. For example, one wall of the porch was papered with Finnish sea charts of the Gulf of Finland in a continuum for the whole distance from Stockholm to Helsinki. Britton Chance must have had lively memories of his adventurous trip from Stockholm to Helsinki in a Spartan, cabin less, non-self-bailing cockpit sailboat, which was designed only for speed on a race course. This trip, on which the boat was in danger to be arrested by the approaching Soviet marine forces, unless the Finnish Coast Guard had not arrived in time to rescue it by taking the engine-less, becalmed boat into tow. Even during the era of the Helsinki games in 1952 it was customary to transport racing sailboats between regattas simply by sailing the 420 km (260-mile) distance from Helsinki to Stockholm or vice versa, an operation which would in a non-motorized sailboat take at least three days with stopovers, depending on weather, although with modern boat trailers and car ferries it is just an over-night business.

Without foreseeing the future encounters, I was actually quite near the sailing contests of the Helsinki games. As a schoolboy and sports club member, I served as a voluntary in the "Olympic Boys" who were given several routine duties such a selling program leaflets to the spectators in various events including the famous, rainy opening ceremony. For one sailing event I served as a program brochure seller on a yacht club on an island next to the race courses, but our paths crossed only 15 years later in Philadelphia.

Figure 2. Britton Chance with his daughter in Parent and Child Race on Barnegat Bay, September 1972
Figure 3. Prize-giving ceremony for the Treasure Hunt and Parent-and-Child Races at Mantoloking Yacht Club, in September 1972. Britton Chance in the foreground.

Although I am an eager one-design racing sailor, sailing with Britton Chance materialized five years after our first encounter. In September 1972 Britton Chance invited me and Sergio Papa to Mantoloking for the Labor Day. The weekend was a kind of an end of the season event for sail racing on the Barnegat Bay and included several relaxed family sailing occasions. Britton Chance owned a small day-sailing and cruising boat (Figure 1), practical on the rather shallow Barnegat Bay. I was crewing the Chance family in the "Treasure Hunt Race", in which the boat was at the start line given an intimation of the next checkpoint in the form a short cryptic poem. When the message was guessed and the point found, there was a second hint, written in riddles, to find the next. Some checkpoints were so near the shore and efficiently camouflaged, that one crewmember had to jump overboard and wade into the shoal bulrushes to recover the instructions.

The second event was "Parent-and-Child Race" dinghy sailing, in which Britton took part with his daughter (Figure 2). They did quite well as we witnessed at the prize-giving ceremony (Figure 3).

The last time I contributed to Britton's sailing was in May 1990 when we drove with Shoko and Brit with his pickup truck to the New Jersey shore to service the boat for the summer season. As Shoko cleaned the boat interior, I was busy with patching the tarpaulin for the next winter.

Ilmo Hassinen
Professor Emeritus, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Institute of Biomedicine, University of Oulu, Finland