October 27, 2009

Rich, Corinthian Sailing


Most sailors are familiar with the term 'Corinthian' sailing.

The word 'Corinthian' connotes 'amateur' sailing - sailing that is free of any commercial sponsorship or material compensation. Traditionally, the Corinthian sailor sailed his own yacht, without a hired captain.

But no one can agree on just how the word 'Corinthian' came to be used in this way. Who first made the connection between amateur sailing, the ancient Greeks of Corinth, and their love of fair sportsmanship?

The term's application to sailing is actually relatively modern. Few people realize that it refers to the very sailing dinghy I learned to sail on - the 15-foot Mutineer - and to its larger, more famous sibling - the Buccaneer.

These two boats were born of very unlikely parentage - they were products of the Chrysler Corporation - the same company that gave us the Hemi 'Cuda and the Dodge Dart. Chrysler's brilliant engineering was applied to producing truly groundbreaking designs in sailing dinghies in the early 1970's. And the Mutineer is probably most famous for the innovative roller furling system of its jib.

Where conventional systems allow the luff of the jib to be tensioned by a halyard, the engineers at Chrysler - who had no actual sailing experience - found what seemed to them a purer solution. Rather than use a costly commercial furler, they developed a solution better suited to amateur sailors. They attached the jib to a simple piece of limp PVC tubing with ordinary hoseclamps.

The genius of this design was that, no matter how much tension was applied to the forestay, the luff of the jib hung in a graceful, untensioned arc. In the true Corinthian spirit, no competitor would benefit from the unfair advantage of a properly trimmed jib. Thus, the Mutineer was the ultimate expression of Corinthian sailing - amateur engineering for amateur sailors.

To celebrate this remarkable engineering achievement, the marketing department at Chrysler also named the upholstery in their fine motor cars for the Corinthian spirit embodied in their sturdy little sailboat, giving us, in one bold stroke, both Corinthian sailing and Corinthian leather. They hired for their spokesman famous Olympic sailor, Ricardo Montalban. And the sailing world has used the term 'Corinthian Sailing' ever since.

While, sadly, there are no surviving examples of Mr. Montalban's promotional work for the Mutineer or Buccaneer, at O Dock, we have recovered a rare example of his campaign for an equally noteworthy engineering achievement of the period, the Chrysler Cordoba. No Mutineer sailor can watch this stirring tribute to the Corinthian spirit without shedding a few tears.



  1. So that's three posts in a row with Chrysler products. When do we get the homage to Lee Iacocca? Is somebody about to start singing "Volare"?

  2. I was afraid someone would find me out, Carol Anne.

    But I thought the Chrysler product in the Seinfeld photo was well enough hidden that no one would notice. My contract with Chrysler requires eight product placements per month, although half of those can be subliminal.

    With all of this blogging I'm doing, I'm looking for a better caliber charger for my laptop, and I'm considering adding more RAM, too.

  3. This is a pretty circular argument. Let me get this right.

    1. Nobody knows why the word Corinthian is applied to amateur 'sport' although it has been used for a long time (e.g Corinthian football club established 1882 - quite a while before Chrysler)

    2. It was used in sailing and Chrysler adopted the phrase for their marketing purposes.

    3. Sailing continued to use the word despite the guys in Madison Avenue or equivalent.

    Not sure this advances the argument any...

    The closest I have come to a reason why the word is associated with amateur sport is:

    Corinthian (FC) refused to join The Football League or to compete in the FA Cup due to one of their original rules forbidding the club to "compete for any challenge cup or prizes of any description."

    Why the team was named Corinthian in the first place, I am still trying to work out.

  4. Further to my last comment, I have found this on the history page of Corinthian YC in san Fransisco. (circa 1886 - also pre Chrysler)

    The Corinthian was founded in 1886 by a group of high-spirited young yachtsmen who wanted to promote amateur small boat yachting in the Bay Area. The word "Corinthian" is taken in the sailing world to mean "amateur" and is derived from the Corinthian games in ancient Greece, contemporary to the Olympic games and took place on the ithsmus of Corinth.

  5. Like all good words, Shakespeare used it. Prince Henry says in Henry IV part 1 ...

    I have sounded the very base-string of humility. Sirrah, I am sworn brother to a leash of drawers; and can call them all by their christen names, as Tom, Dick, and Francis. They take it already upon their salvation, that though I be but the prince of Wales, yet I am king of courtesy; and tell me flatly I am no proud Jack, like Falstaff, but a Corinthian, a lad of mettle, a good boy, by the Lord, so they call me, and when I am king of England, I shall command all the good lads in Eastcheap.

    I'm no expert on the bard but the word seems to mean being "one of the lads" in this context.

  6. I stand by the soundness of my logic.

    I researched the truthiness of my argument extensively on the internets.

    When I could find no corroboration in the first hundred Google hits, I kept digging relentlessly until I found someone who agreed with me. On the internets, we discard counter examples until we find what we're looking for. Finally, there was the proof I needed, on the web site of a used car lot in Paramus, New Jersey, which also had for sale the Chrysler Lebaron once owned by Jon Voight.

    I think circular logic is just as sound as any other kind. Here on O Dock, we seldom let the facts interfere with a good argument.

  7. Now didn't I post a relatively serious discussion of Corinthian sailing a few months ago?

  8. Pat, I think Corinthian sailing has been discussed on a few sailing blogs lately.

    But when I inadvertently revealed the identity of the dinghy I learned on, I was curious about its history and decided to do a little research.

    A little research can be a dangerous thing.

  9. Oh, my, this is so sailor-geeky, I am stunned into silence.

    Yeah, that's probably a good thing.

  10. Ricardo Montalban just affected some people that way.

  11. Buccaneer, Mutineer...no Pirateer?
    How about the Lone Star, Barracuda, Dagger or Man O War? Did they all go the way of the Imperial?
    Sing it Frank!

  12. This will probably not be my last post about that little boat (you have been warned).

    Despite the crummy jib furler (which a lot of people tossed), it was a pretty sweet ride - stiff enough that you could spend an afternoon learning how to sail, not how to swim. Very dry for a 15-foot dinghy, and enough of a main that you didn't need the jib above about 10 knots.

    I think the Mutineer and Buccaneer sold a lot better than their other small boats. These guys now have the molds and are actually building new ones again - along with Lightnings and Snipes.

    If that guy in Rhode Island wanted to take his grandkids sailing, he could do worse. Used, they're less than Lasers.

  13. Especially if you can pose as a pathetic little boy scout and get one donated to your local troup.

  14. Klove Hitch, actually somebody donated one to a local high school JROTC program here in New Mexico. The folks running the program are still trying to figure out what to do with it.

    Meanwhile, in this state, we will remember Señor Montalban, as he is the voice on 11 recorded messages for the state tourism department, which you can hear by tuning your car radio to 550 AM when you see the signs along the roadway telling you to do so to get tourist information.

  15. Going back to your earlier comment, well, we don't need to deal with any fury; we can be intrepid about facing any criticism -- if anybody gives us any storm, we can be like the 300 from Sparta. Our allies can be reliant upon us.

  16. Carol Anne, I'm curious if that's my Mutineer. From time to time I have wondered what ever happened to that old float. She served us well. We had her up at my Folks' Lake Tahoe cabin a few summers, down to Richmond for bay sailing, in the delta, and on various local lakes. We hauled that Bad Boy (Bad Girl)all over California. Alas, when it was time to move on we had a struggle sharing her with others. We literally could not give her away.

    The first attempt was to gift her to friends with a lakeside summer home; they opted for a canoe. I tried to donate her to NPR; they were having none of that. Plan C, help the kittens and puppies, SPCA wouldn't touch her with a . . . Plan D, the Boy Scouts, Bingo! If she isn't with you in New Mexico, I shudder to think that she may be where some ole' salts go to die, a heap of scrap plastic, fiberglass, and metal;)

    Awwwww. I do miss the smell of my Dad's Chrysler Luxury Cordoba with Corinthian leather only rival to the fragrance of freshly tanned genuine naugahide. How many naugas does it take to upholster a Barka lounger?

    Now there's a blog, O Docker-

  17. Darn, I was 100 feet from that Mutt (Mutineer) today and didn't know to take a look at it. It's sort of sitting stagnant because the Navy Jr ROTC program it was donated to hasn't been able to use it yet, but won't let anyone else use it or buy it. Pat