Buddy Melges with FERDINAND THE BULL on Lake Geneva at the 2001 Hearst Regatta.
FERDINAND THE BULL, owned by Buddy Melges, is one of history’s most successful Class A Stern Steerers. The BULL has its roots in a combination of a beloved children’s book turned Disney short film, a couple of brothers with a metal stamping factory now famous for vintage Coca-Cola machines, and leftover distinctive green paint from a cottage.
I am indebted to Grosse Point Yacht Club, Michigan historian and member Dr. Larry Stephenson M.D., for his article, THE GROSSE POINTE YACHT CLUB CONNECTION TO LARGE ICE YACHT RACING, about the history of the BULL. Read his article here.
Brothers Rex and Clare Jacobs founded the F.L. Jacobs Company, an automotive industry supplier and maker of Coca-Cola vending machines during WW2, which remain popular with collectors. Jack Jacobs, Clare’s grandson, invented the popular “J” iceboats, built for comfortable cruising. Rex Jacobs and George Hendrie, who also skippered, were co-owners of the BULL.
“At some point in the late 1930s or early 1940s, Clare Jacobs acquired DEUCE IV, a serious racing competitor to the BULL.” Both of these boats had been built in Harrison Township, Michigan, by the Vanderbush brothers. Their woodworking shop was just a few hundred yards from where iceboaters had been launching on Lake St. Clair in the 1930s, near the intersection of East Jefferson Avenue and Crocker Boulevard.”
Dr. Larry Stephenson M.D.
Even today, both DEUCE (now owned by Rick Hennig of Racine, WI) and BULL carry the same green livery, and there’s a reason for that. In a 2006 article about his grandfather Clare Jacob’s DEUCE, Jack Jacobs recalled, “The boat was the same flat green that the cottage on Harsens Island was painted. My grandfather felt you should never spend any time on parts of a race boat that don’t make it go fast (like paint).”
The boat’s namesake came from a popular children’s book, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, published in 1938. The story, about a mighty bull who would rather sniff the flowers than fight, was made into a successful short film in 1938 by Disney Studios.
The BULL’S long record of championship titles began in 1940 in Menominee, Michigan. Rex Jacobs and George Hendrie traveled there with DEUCE and the BULL to compete against the Oshkosh Ice Yacht Club for the Stuart International Trophy. This race was originally established in 1903 by Michigan’s Gull Lake Ice Yacht Club. Skippered by George Hendrie, the BULL brought the trophy back to Michigan, beating out the cup’s defenders, John Buckstaff in DEBUTANTE III and Tom Anger in BLUEBILL II. The BULL went on to win more championships with Hendrie at the tiller.
“Around 1960, “The Bull” and “The Deuce” were sold to iceboaters in Wisconsin. “Ferdinand the Bull” was sold to Harry “Buddy” Melges, Jr., of Zenda, Wisconsin, close to Lake Geneva in the southern part of the state. Buddy, now 83, is considered one of the most successful competition sailors in history, winning dozens of national and international championships. He was the helmsman in America’s successful defense of the America’s Cup in 1992 and took both gold and bronze medals in Olympic sailing competition.”
Dr. Larry Stephenson M.D.
Someone once told me that the BULL journeyed from Detroit to Zenda on the top of a car. I don’t recall if Buddy effortlessly transported the BULL’s 40-foot hull from Detroit through Chicago’s Skyway to southern Wisconsin. Still, based on another story from Mendota Yacht Club’s Lon Schoor of Madison, Wisconsin, that may have been the case.
“Bill Mattison and I were partners in several A-Scows beginning in 1982. All were salvaged after the insurance company declared them total wrecks. Bill and Buddy were close friends and talked frequently about their shared interest in both hard and soft water sailboat racing. That friendship resulted in some bartering between them. We would build boat parts for Melges sails. Unfortunately, I do not recall the year we built a new hull for Buddy’s Bull, but I believe it was in the 80s… We loaded the hull on the [Buddy’s] Suburban, and I swear the truck was barely out the garage door when the overhanging hull was in the street, stopping traffic. I remember looking at Bill and saying after all that work, it will be a miracle if it makes it to Geneva. …you can imagine the overhang on a Suburban was ridiculous.”
Check out Peter Harken’s tale of survival mode while crewing for Buddy on the BULL as they charged towards the leeward pin during a regatta. You can find the video on YouTube.
Buddy Melges and FERDINAND THE BULL had a strong bond, and Buddy went on to win 22 significant Stern-Steerer championships.
Read More: 2001 Hearst
FERDINAND THE BULL PHOTO GALLERY
REGATTA RECORDS FOR FERDINAND THE BULL Stuart International Cup
1940 -1947 DIYC, R. C. Jacobs, George Hendrie
1965 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Frank Morgan
1968 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Frank Morgan
1975 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., A. R. Wenzel
1980 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Harry C. Melges 111, Hans Melges
2001 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Harry C. Melges III, Hans Melges, Charles Harrett
Hearst International Cup
1961 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Frank Morgan
1962 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., G. Gerber, Frank Morgan
1963 – 1965 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Frank Morgan
1971 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Frank Morgan
1980 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Harry C. Melges III, Hans Melges
2001 Ferdinand, SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Charles Harrett
Northwestern Ice Yachting Association Championship
1961 Buddy Melges, Skipper; Morgan & Gerber, Crew
1962 Frank Morgan, Skipper Buddy Melges, Crew
1963 Frank Morgan, Skipper; Frank Trost, Crew
1966 Frank Morgan, Skipper; Buddy Melges, Crew
1967 Frank Morgan & Buddy Melges
1971 Buddy Melges, Skipper; Frank Morgan, G. E. Gerber, Jerry Sullivan, Crew
1980 Frank Morgan, Todd Morgan
1991 Buddy Melges
Big Tip of the Helmet to Henry Bossett for finding this historic footage of the 1952 Northwest regatta on Lake Monona. If you recognize some of these boats, drop a line to me and I’ll add to the post. Video link
DN iceboat plan c1950s from the files of John Bluel
1954 Northwest Archives
Since we are on the subject of the Northwest regatta, Kenny Beal, great-grandson of a long-time 4LIYC member, John Bluel, shared some of his grandfather’s documents with the club, including a report from Northwestern Ice Yachting Association Secretary Frank Meyer about the 1954 Northwest.
Rather than the typical three-day event, the regatta was held over two weekends in Pewaukee because of challenging weather conditions. The 4LIYC’s Carl Bernard won the A Class Stern Steerer title in MARY B, competing against Skeeter Iceboat Club’s Lou Loenneke of Lake Geneva.
1954 was the first year that the DN Class competed in the Northwest. The DNs had one race in bad weather, and the Northwest officials decided that the fleet would sail the remainder of their races in the Detroit area “as all the entries were from that vicinity.” Skip Boston won that first Northwest DN title.
The Northwest regatta is tentatively scheduled for January 20, 21, and 22, 2023. Stay tuned for the next update on Sunday, January 15, 2023 by 8 PM. Ice Yacht classes that sail the Northwest: A Stern Steerer B Stern Steerer C Stern Steerer D Stern Steerer DN Renegade B Skeeter C Skeeter A Skeeter