Outdoors

Miami sailing trophy mystery partially solved

Ivan Shestopalov, 14, holds the trophy, originally presented by the Miami Herald in 1962, that he received for winning the International Optimist sailing championship in 2014.
Ivan Shestopalov, 14, holds the trophy, originally presented by the Miami Herald in 1962, that he received for winning the International Optimist sailing championship in 2014. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

A 64-year-old auto salesman in Fort Lauderdale has unlocked most of the mystery surrounding a large silver trophy created more than 50 years ago to honor young racers in sailing’s Optimist dinghy.

Doug Brown was 13 when he and a group of 11 local boys and girls traveled to Aarhus Bay, Denmark, in July 1964 as the first U.S. team to compete in what was then called an international “pram-class” competition. Pram is the former name of the Optimist dinghy, the world’s most popular racing sailboat for kids up to age 15. With them, the South Florida kids brought a heavy silver cup engraved with “Miami Herald USA-Denmark Pram Challenge Perpetual Trophy.”

Unfortunately, the locals didn’t get to take it back home; a 10-person Danish team beat them. But the competitors hung around for a couple of weeks, holding two races in Copenhagen.

“It was a ball. It was a great time,” Brown remembered.

He provided photocopies of news clippings from the Miami Herald leading up to the event written by sportswriter Luther Evans, who died in 1987 after working for the Herald for decades. A photo accompanying one of the stories shot by Herald staffer Bill Kuenzel shows Brown and another youth standing on the beach beside Biscayne Bay watching their teammates practice, with the Herald trophy sitting between them.

But there’s no mention in the articles about exactly who was responsible for creating the heavy silver cup.

Brown believes Evans persuaded his bosses at the Herald to do it at the behest of the “pram parents.” But there is no one still working at the Herald who was there in the mid-’60s to confirm that.

Since the summer of 1964, the Miami Herald trophy has traveled around the world several times, evolving from a prize awarded to the few teams involved to become open to all the countries represented at the Optimist world championships. Until now, the last time the United States brought it home was in 1979 when a team anchored by Miamian Shawn Lobree — now a U.S. Navy captain in Oklahoma — got it back from Thailand.

Then last fall, the U.S. team anchored by Miamian Ivan Shestopalov, 15, won the award at the Optimist World Championships in Argentina — the first time in 35 years. Ivan’s mother, Julia, had it displayed at Miami’s Coral Reef Yacht Club during the Orange Bowl International Youth Regatta in December so U.S. Opti sailors could see it, and she became curious about its history.

The trophy, which decorates the Shestopalov family’s living room table, is a little worse for wear. Early photos show the cup topped with a gleaming pram in full sail. Today, the sailboat is missing — probably because it was dropped down some stairs in Italy in 1982, according to Optimist-class historian Robert Wilkes.

The Shestopalovs expect to hold onto it until some other U.S. team member asks for it, or if or when the Americans have to turn it over to the 2015 champs.

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