Bob Blackwell Report and photos to be posted soon!
Bill Bithell by John Snow
William “Bill” Bithell of Swampscott, Massachusetts, passed away on December 28, 2006, at the age of 96. Bill was inducted into the AMYA Hall of Fame in 2003 and was an Honorary Life Member of the US Vintage Model Yacht Group (VMYG) for his contributions and longevity in our sport. Bill was a true gentleman, an extraordinary model yachting enthusiast, and a very self-effacing individual when it came to his notable achievements in our sport.
Building and Racing Accomplishments
Builder—Bill started his model yachting career under the tutelage of Fred Pigeon in 1932 at Redd’s Pond, Marblehead, racing his first of many scratch-built M 50-800 free-sailed models. He was a master and prolific craftsman, constructing 55 M and 25 A Class boats in the 1930s alone. As a measure of the esteem in which Bill is still held today in the antiques trade as a builder, his exquisite, wooden A boat models are considered the pinnacle for collectors—“Stradivarius” in quality.
Skipper—Bill was the American A Class National Champion three times in the 1930s and competed internationally as the US representative in the Yachting Monthly (YM) Cup, A Class regattas in 1935, 1936, 1948, and 1949. These challenger versus defender races were then considered the America’s Cup of our sport, with the winner crowned the World Champion of model yachting. Bill, with his mate Ains Ballantyne, became the first American to garner this honor at the Fleetwood Pool in England in 1949. His winning Ranger A boat is just as famous as Bill. The original Ranger has resided since 1949 in the Hart Nautical Museum Collection at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Equally noteworthy, Bill raced another of his finely-crafted A Class models in the 1936 Olympics in Hamburg, Germany; the only time when model yachting was an Olympic demonstration sport.
Two thousand six marked Bill’s 75th year of involvement in model yachting, with his continuing infectious attitude towards our sport. Couple this enthusiasm with his six decades-long commitment to the model yachting community as a superb mentor (pond-side), and an active sail-maker and supplier (1934–1998) of his Bithell-designed, quality model fittings. When I say “infectious,” you only need to know that Bill built an 86-inch, free-sailing (vane), plank-on-frame replica of his Ranger model in 1994–1995 at the age of 84. Subsequently, he finished his R/C Ranger III planked version in 2004 at 94! This was one of the R/C models featured in a 1995 Sail magazine article on our sport. Personal Reflections I will miss Bill greatly, as I have known him since 1956. Anyone he came in contact with truly valued his expertise. Also, his photographic memory and stories of the notable events he participated in and famous model yachtsmen he knew as leaders of our sport through the mid-1900s: Ballantyne, Berg, Black, Boussey, Daniels, Ipsen, Lassel, and Pigeon, to name a few as a who’s who. He was a living legacy in the Marblehead MYC and with members of the US and UK VMYG groups. This was from our perspective of being able to link today’s R/C model yachtsmen to their free-sailing heritage and predecessors (skippers, builders, and organizers) in the world from the 1920s through 1960s. Thus, as a special way to recognize and remember Bill Bithell, the US VMYG plans to honor him with a perpetual championship trophy in his name.
Photo: L to R: Jim Dolan (seated), Earl Boebert, Bill Bithell, and John Snow. Bill with US VMYG officials and Bill’s 1995 Ranger II A Class replica vane model with YM Cup. This was at entrance to Museum of Yachting in Newport, RI marking opening of AMYA-US VMYG sponsored “The World of Model Yachts” exhibit on May 15, 2004. Note: Bill scratch-built his Ranger II in 1994-1995 at age of 84 from original Carl Alberg, Naval Architect, 1948 design plans. Thus, it is an exact, free-sailing replica model of his famous Ranger I, a boat, which he raced in winning 1949 World Championship and YM Cup at Fleetwood Pool in UK. The original Ranger I model was donated to MIT’s Hart Museum in 1949. Photo by Steve Buczko.
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