Britton Chance Sailing in the 1952 Olympics
29 May 2011
Brit Chance owned a house in Mantoloking, New Jersey very near the my father’s and I first knew him as the father of Elle and Brit Jr, who also raced at the Mantoloking Yacht Club. On Saturdays during the summer all the yacht clubs in our part of the Barnegat Bay would race at one of the clubs, children in the morning and adults in the afternoon. In 1950 I started crewing for Brit on his E Scow, a very fast and competitive boat. We did pretty well but did not win the summer championship. Our competitors were friends and many were from the Mantoloking Yacht Club. I learned a lot by just watching Brit and doing what I was told to do.
In addition to sailing in Mantoloking, Brit had sailed a lot in Sweden on the Baltic, mostly a 5 Meter, a keel boat, which was very different than our scow. While Brit was at the Nobel institute, he did a lot of sailing with the Swedes, learned to speak Swedish, and had many friends.
In about 1950 the International Olympic Committee selected a new class for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, the 5.5 Meter, a keel boat of about 32 feet in length. Shortly after that Brit decided to have a 5.5 Meter built to race in Europe and maybe the Olympics. There was a lot of interest in this class, especially in Scandinavia. Brit’s boat was built in 1951, soon enough for him to race in in a regatta in Italy. He won that regatta. Brit applied to be the United States representative in this class in Helsinki. Since there were no other 5.5 Meters in the United States and no one else applied, Brit’s application was accepted by the U S Olympic Committee. Brit recruited Sumner and Edgar White and me to crew for him.
In early June 1952 we assembled in Stockholm, joined up with a small fleet of Swedish 5.5 Meters, and started practicing, mostly off the island of Sandham, where the Royal Swedish Yacht Club had its headquarters. The Swedes were practicing for their Olympic Trials, and we served as a training horse for them. The water was very cold, and we sailed just about every day, great training. We also partied at night with the Swedes, who were always very gracious.
In July along with another boat we sailed from near Stockholm to Helsinki, stopping at night and often tying up to a tree and throwing an anchor off of our stern. It took about a week before we arrived at the NKJ, the yacht club in Helsinki that hosted all the 5.5 Meters. At dinner the first night the Commodore of NKJ introduced us to his daughter and some of her friends, which began a great social life for us.
In Helsinki, as in Sweden, we practiced a lot. There were about a dozen 5.5 Meters entered in Olympics. Seven races were scheduled, one a day. Brit had brought some schnapps with us from Sweden, and a few days before the competition began, he invited all the 5.5 Meter competitors to a schnapps party. We all got to know each other a little better, and Brit’s hospitality was appreciated by all.
During the Olympics the winds were light to medium with only one heavy weather day during the first five races. Complex II (Brit’s boat, which he had named after an enzyme that he had discovered) won one race and was in the running but not first place. The Norwegian boat was in the lead. On the sixth day Sumner White “ got sick”, and I went onboard as the other crew. The wind was light, and we led at the first mark and kept our lead to finish first, putting us in contention for first but still behind the Norwegians. Brit had to win the last race the next day with the Norwegians in third place for Complex II to win the Gold Metal. Fortunately, the wind was light for the last race. With Sumner back onboard, Brit successfully maneuvered Complex II so she slowed the Norwegian boat at the start. Complex II went on to win the race and the Gold Metal, for the Norwegians did poorly.
After the Metals Ceremony, we sailed Complex II to Hanko, a port to the west on the tip of Finland, where we raced for a few days against mostly locals, winning handily. We departed late one afternoon to sail overnight to Sandham in Sweden. It was a wonderful night with the Northern Lights giving us a show. No other boats were to be seen and the wind was moderate.
We then participated in a regatta in Sandham. By then I was the only original crew member still with Brit. We picked up a Swede to sail with us and did OK, but Lassa Thorn, who had been second in the Swedish Olympic Trials, won the regatta, a great vindication for him, which was highlighted by the Swedish press. We could care less. After that we flew back to the States and our families.
– Mike Schoettle