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Regattas Behind the Scenes: Here Comes the Judge: Arthur Tuna Wullschleger

He’s a daunting figure to face across the protest table. No nonsense. Stern. Gruff and grumpy if the complaint you bring has no merit. Yet, there is no one in the Caribbean, likely the entire world of yacht racing, who will say Arthur ‘Tuna’ Wullschleger isn’t fair. This is just one reason why this 92-year-old ISAF Judge commands respect, admiration and a hearty handshake wherever he goes.

Wullschleger’s predilection for the sea proved more proximity than genetics. “My father was Swiss. He didn’t particularly like the water,” says Wullschleger. “In fact, the closest he and my mother got were trips to Europe on the big transatlantic liners.”

Born and bred in Larchmont, New York, Tuna lived in a family house that sat right on the water. “I got involved in the sailing program at the yacht club from young,” he says.

But, it was power rather than sail where Wullschleger first staked his claim to fame. “I got into outboard powerboat racing in a big way during college,” he says.

Wullschleger raced 10-foot outboards in four classes ranging from 12 HP to 65 HP and won the championships in 1938-39, all while attending Cornell University and majoring in petroleum engineering. World War II put an end to the sport and marked the beginning of Wullschleger’s five-year career in the Navy. He swiftly rose to the rank of commander and ultimately accepted the surrender of Japanese troops on a small island in the Pacific to the north of where General McArthur simultaneously accepted the same down in Tokyo.

“The powerboat scene was dead after the war, so I started sailing in the frostbite dinghy regattas at Larchmont,” Wullschleger says. “We’d do five or six races a day for six months, and I did that for four years. That’s more than 4000 dinghy races. It was a good place to learn and a lot of the old timers were there—Arthur Knapp, Buzz Morris.”

Wullschleger graduated to offshore sailing and racing next. He bought his first yacht, a 50-foot Sparkman Stevens yawl, in Turo, Denmark, where the vessel was built and sailed her across the Atlantic. Over the years, he sailed 18 Newport to Bermuda races, 25 Southern Ocean Racing Circuits (SORC), a couple of Transpacs, and a fateful Fastnet race where he earned his nickname, Tuna.

“We were coming back and one of the crew aboard insisted we carry the spinnaker and we kept broaching,” Wullschleger explains. “I couldn’t sleep, kept falling out of the bunk. So, I went out, told him to take the spinnaker down and put a double head sail rig up instead. He moaned and groaned, but he did it.”

A few days later at the finish party in Plymouth, the story made the rounds and Wullschleger was dubbed “Captain Tuna”—chicken of the sea.

Wullschleger moved to Florida in 1982 and got into judging. “When you’re too old to sail, the way to stay active and not get left out in the cold is to start judging and running races,” he says. He traveled the worldwide circuit in his judging duties and ultimately found himself a key player on the most prestigious yacht race in the world—the America’s Cup.

“The New York Yacht Club asked me to run the syndicate,” Wullschleger says. “The first time it was for Ted Turner in 1980.”

When Turner was eliminated, the Australian syndicate signed Wullschleger on. He ultimately participated in four America’s Cups with the likes of Dennis Conner and Bill Koch and ultimately helped pioneer on-the-water umpiring at the same time.

The Caribbean has been on Wullschleger’s global radar for the last 30 years. “Johnny Nichols (from St. Thomas) brought me down to do Rolex,” he says. “I’ve been going to Antigua since almost the start as well as Fajardo and the BVI. That was back in the days before the racing got serious. It’s a lot more fun today.”

With a long career behind him and the next race always in front of him, what does Wullschleger like best about his present life of serving as a Chief Judge? “It’s all this,” he says, sweeping his hand around the table past the likes of fellow judges, Pat Bailey, Tom Rinda, Ruth Miller and Don Makowiecki. “Sitting around, talking, waiting for the protests to come in. This is what it’s all about.”

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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