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“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” Toni Morrison
Friday, June 22, 2018
On the Harbor: Catching up with sailor Tom Corkett aka TC
Tom Corkett with his trophy – War Canoe – for winning the Transpac overall in 1963
By LEN BOSE
The year was 1988, and I had just started my career in yacht sales. One day while gazing out the window, a large off-green BMW pulled up in front of the office with the initials TC on the license plate. My broker noticed where I was looking and said with an envious tone in his voice “That’s Tom Corkett.” Ever since that time, I thought that’s the person I want to emulate.
Tom Corkett – T.C. – hope you don’t mind, but I am going to use his initials because that’s how I have always greeted him from the time we used to work together at Ardell Yachts in the ‘90s until the present day as we cross tacks in the Harbor 20 fleet.
TC was born in Pasadena. His family purchased a home on the harbor in 1947, and then they made it their full-time residence in 1954. At that time, the active racing fleet in the harbor were the 11-foot Snowbirds. TC crewed for his sister, Nancy, in Snowbirds, until he wanted his own boat. He recalled the 1954 “Flight of the Snowbirds,” where 200 boats would show up at the starting line. He finished mid-fleet, yet went on to describe how Nancy won the pin end of the starting line with Tom O’Keefe, and the two of them punched out in front of the fleet. Nancy finished a close second to O’Keefe. TC also recalled that they would close down the harbor for the Flight, and other boaters would line up around the outside of the race course to spectate, as well as watch the powerboat races down the Lido Channel: those were the two big events of the summer. “We used to have power boats going 50 mph down the harbor. It was great,” TC recalled.
At the age of 21, TC started the sailing club at Ardell Yachts, where he would give sailing lessons on new fiberglass sailboats, and then after the lessons, sell students those boats. Cal, Pearson and Hinckley sailboats were the product lines that Ardell Yachts represented in the early ‘60s. During the ‘70s, interest rates jumped up and Ardell Yachts turned to brokerage boats. By the time TC was 32, he had hooked into a deal, representing both buyer and seller of a 180-foot steel motor yacht, “Pegasus II.” “That really got me going...that was the start of it all,” TC said. He described the interior with ornate furniture and chandeliers – more like a hillside mansion on the water. The vessel had 16 crew members.” TC said.
For as long as I have known TC, he is not one to tell you about his recent deals. I was always left in awe of the amount of traffic in and out of his office. From the Ardell copy room, I would constantly hear: “Hi Tom, I need another boat.” One time, I noticed a very well-known movie studio CEO come into the office unannounced, and after about 30 minutes, TC was headed out to show an 80-foot Alloy sailboat via executive jet to some far-off land. I remember him walking past the copy room and noticing me, then coming back and telling me he was not going to make twilights that night, and it was okay if I wanted to take the boat out.
TC has spent his time at sea. At the age of 21, he put a crew together for the 1963 Transpac aboard the family boat “Islander.” This boat was designed by Kirk Uhlman, and built-in 1958 by Joh de Good & Sohn in Germany. “The boat did not sail to weather very well, but it could sail to its rating downwind,” TC said. TC knew how to put together a winning team with Dr. Jack Paschall as navigator, Gary L. Myers, William Cook, a rigor from Lido Shipyard by the name of Mark Von Mills and Burke Mooney. The crew was very young, and TC was the youngest skipper to enter and win a Transpac. He had a young crew. Three were in their 20s and two in their early 40s. What they lacked in age, they made up with experience. Four of the six of them had sailed in Transpacs before, and all had done plenty of offshore sailing.
They only had one serious problem during the 14-day run. On the fourth day, their steering unit began to cause trouble. “Islander’s” wheel, mounted on a pedestal in the cockpit, was connected to the rudder mechanism by a bicycle chain working the sprockets. When two of the sprockets popped the chain, it developed so much slack, that there was far too much play in the wheel to steer efficiently. After seven hours of handiwork, the crew completed a gadget called an Idler consisting of a metal wheel at the end of a plywood handle which could be wedged from the chain to keep it taut, which held up for the remainder of the race. “We sailed rhumb line and the great circle; we sailed the shortest course and ended up winning the race,” TC said. He went on to describe that they had blown out all their spinnakers and finished the race with wung out jibe. “We should have had new sails. We purchased used sails before the race and they were tired before they even got on the boat. I found out really quickly, you cannot sail that race with used sails,” TC said.
Another offshore event that TC participated in was the 1992 Pacific Cup from San Francisco to Kaneohe. He and his longtime friend Scott Abrams double-handed the 68-foot Nelson Marek “Peregrine.” In that race, they faced the hottest navigator of our time, Stan Honey, aboard a Santa Cruz 70 named “Mongoose.” He was also sailing double-handed with the owner. TC and Abrams won on corrected time.
Over the years, TC has taken home some of the most prestigious awards that can be given out on our harbor by winning the Newport Harbor Yacht Club’s Burgee of Merit and Don Vaughn Memorial Trophy, but my favorite and maybe even TC’s is the War Canoe he won for winning the Transpac overall in 1963.
Today, you can find TC at the start of this year’s Pacific Cup aboard “Runaway” or racing a Harbor 20 with one of his 10 grandchildren.
When I ended my interview, I thanked TC and he said: I’ll sea ya on the water.
Len Bose is a yachting enthusiast, yacht broker and harbor columnist for StuNewsNewport.