From the book “Master of the Sky and Sea – The Story of Ted Wells” by James Rix
A few regattas in the early ’40s had participants from other countries making them informal international regattas including one in 1946 at Lake Chautauqua, New York. Sailors from Brazil, Newfoundland, Portugal, and Switzerland participated as well as many from USA fleets. Dr. Martin Dupan, representing Switzerland, was so impressed with the regatta at Chautauqua, New York, that he became the initiator for the first world championship to be held outside of the US in Geneva, Switzerland in 1947.
This was the first invitational contest just between the national champions from different countries. Since Ted had won the US National regatta, he qualified as the United States representative to the World Championships.
In Ted’s words, “In 1947, the first world championship was held in Geneva, Switzerland, and it was quite an event. Europe was still recovering from the war, and the Geneva Snipe Fleet had gotten ahold of a small in out in the country a few miles farther out from Geneva than the yacht club was and had opened it to house the contestants. The inn had been closed all during the war and was completed unfurnished. At the time that Margie (editor’s notes: Ted’s wife) arrived, the inn had been furnished – with Swiss Army hospital cots – period. No drapes, carpets, chairs – nothing.
We were the first ones there and possibly by virtue of that, we had what must have been the deluxe accommodations. The “deluxe” part consisted of having a washbasin with cold running water in the room. The rest of the facilities were in a little room down at the end of the hall, one per floor. I think Marge was taking a pretty dim view of the whole situation when we first arrived, but when everybody showed up, it turned out to be a lot of fun.
In the days before the regatta started, we became aware of the fact that normal wind in Geneva is zero with light puffs, and the boats were rigged accordingly. The natives told us, however, that once in a while “La Bise” would show up. “La Bise” was a north wind which would start out about 30 mph for the first day, would blow for three days at a minimum, and if it were still blowing on the third day, it would blow for three more days with steadily decreasing velocities each day.
The boats were all borrowed, and we used the same boats throughout. I immediately moved the mast forward on the boat about 8 inches and slacked off the rigging, much to the disgust of the owner who advised me that the boat was perfectly rigged when I picked it up. We had been very friendly up until that time, but then he became noticeably cool.
“La Bise” showed up the day the regatta started, and I started winning races. When I had taken first places in all the races, he was very friendly again until the ceremony of turning the boats back in which was to be preceded by putting all the rigging back the way it was when we picked the boats up. This I did in accordance with the instructions and then the owner got really mad.”
Ted beat national champions from 13 countries and won every race. He returned in Wichita as a hero.
“Master of the Sky and Sea – The Story of Ted Wells” by James Rix – Relentlessly Creative Books
Some questions to the author, James Rix
– When did you meet Ted Wells?
Ted was a good friend of my grandfather John Rix as both fellow sailors in the Wichita Sailing Club and pioneers in the aircraft industry. I of course met him growing up in the club in the ‘60s. It took me a while to understand his achievements at the time. He had a pretty reserved personality and never boasted. I did have the opportunity to race against him a few times when I started sailing on my own and before he retired from sailing. His vast experience usually trumped my youthful energy.
– When and where did you start sailing and sailing Snipe?
Being a third generation Snipe Sailor, I grew up going to Santa Fe lake every weekend. I began crewing for my different folks in the club when I was old enough to handle the jib sheet and raise the center board, which was quite an achievement since they tended to be really heavy at the time. We had a bronze board that must have weighed 80 lbs. When my mom, Mary Ann, started sailing her own boat, I started sailing with my dad, Ken. We’d alternate between skippering and crewing for each other.
– Can you describe the sailing activity in Wichita at the time of Ted Wells and now?
The club and Snipe fleet #93 was located on Santa Fe lake which is only about 250 acres when it’s full. There were a couple seasons when it completely dried up. The club was exclusively a Snipe racing club with many talented sailors. Racing on this lake was all about boat handling skills around the marks and the ability to react to major wind shifts coming off the trees surrounding the lake. Courses were typically an X course with two separate windward legs and combination port and starboard mark roundings. The Midwestern Championships was one of the pre-eminent regattas in the District for years. Saturday socials were often formal black tie affairs in Wichita which included ball room dancing.
The club moved to El Dorado reservoir in the mid ‘80s and renamed it the Walnut Valley Sailing Club. Many Snipe sailors bought keel boats for the larger lakes and slips the club had built. The Snipe fleet declined over the years. I moved the fleet to a different lake and club, the Ninnescah Sailing Association, a few years ago with the hope of rebuilding. It’s a larger club with more active racing.
– Why did you decide to write a book about Ted Wells?
I wrote the book for a couple reasons.
- Being a Snipe sailor and an engineer of Beech Aircraft for over 30 years, I knew the significance he made in both the sailing and aircraft communities. I wanted to share the true history of Beech Aircraft origins as there is a lot of alternate history about the company being only founded by Walter and Olive Ann Beech. There wasn’t much of anything about Ted on the internet or in books about Beech Aircraft. Even where staggerwing number 3 is on display in the Beechcraft delivery center, there is no mention of its designer and company co-founder.
- A lot of material practically fell in my lap as my mom was archivist of the Sailing Club and had collected many articles about Ted. She had also picked up stuff from his estate sale. I even have Ted’s diploma, the first Aeronautical Engineer from Princeton.