A Brief History of the Origins of the Stockton Lake Governor's Cup Regatta
Denny Pilant, August 1999
The new dam forming Lake Stockton was dedicated in the summer of 1972. To celebrate the
occasion a regatta was held to help promote the recreational possibilities of the new lake.
The Lake Jacomo Sailing Club was asked to provide a race committee and sent an excellent
crew down to run the race. As I remember the occasion we completed one race in wind
gusting to about 3 mph and then the rest of the races had to be abandoned when the wind
died completely. I remember Cliff McKay being rowed off the lake lustily singing an aria
from The Flying Dutchman as he was hauled off the water. It was not an auspicious beginning
for a promising new sailing lake. After the race, someone had iced down the entire bed of a
pickup truck and filled it with everyone's favorite beverages, so the event was not a total
After the Dam Dedication Regatta the Queen City Sailing Club (QCSC) in Springfield
discussed the possibility of moving their weekly Sunday regattas from Fellows Lake (the
municipal water supply) to Stockton. With one or two exceptions all agreed that it was simply
too far to drive to Stockton when one could be at Fellows Lake in ten minutes and in half an
hour be set up for Sunday races. In any case there were no sailing facilities at Stockton
close to the city of Springfield.
Enter Bruce Blomgren. Bruce was a sailor from Illinois who had been working for the Illinois
Governor but had accepted a job as Communications Assistant to Governor (now U.S.
Senator) Bond. While touring with state officials who were determining how to augment
economic development in the state he crossed the MO 215 (mile long) bridge across Stockton
Lake sometime in 1973. (Later he told us that when he came out onto the bridge and looked
down the lake towards the dam he felt like he had just seen a local version of Lake Michigan).
Bruce looked out over Stockton Lake and saw in his minds eye a recreational Mecca with
hundreds of sailboats occupied by sailors from all over the region. Keep in mind that this is at
a time when there are all of 8 or so sailboats on Stockton Lake--most under 21 feet--and all
of them at Orleans Trail Marina. Stockton State Park Marina did not yet exist at its present
When Bruce returned to Jefferson City he tracked down the Queen City Sailing Club and
telephoned me as an officer in the club. He wanted to know if we would be interested in
helping sponsor a Governor's Cup Regatta on Stockton Lake. Due to Bruce's enthusiasm and
encouragement from the Governor's Office the state parks people in Jefferson City had
already contacted local people at Stockton and had set up a meeting.
Bill and Leslee Jaquette, Cliff McKay, and Mary and I met with a Mr. Burridge and Mr.
Oldman (who I believe were from the Corps of Engineers), Col. (Ret.) Fitzhigh, Dwaine
Hammons, and several others whose names I do not recall, at the Stockton Country Club. We
discussed what would be needed to put on a major regatta. Many other people helped out at
one time or another. Ferrell Mears, the "grand old man of sailing" in Springfield--as sea scout
sponsor he taught 90 percent of the sailors in the Springfield are how to sail--and Jack
Cooper of Harry Cooper Supply in Springfield, were among those who contributed to bringing
off the regatta.
The state parks people wanted us to run the regatta out of the State Park as part of their
50th Anniversary of the Missouri State Parks system. At that time the only facility at the
State Park was a launch ramp. The state agreed to put in some docks and a pavilion to
facilitate the regatta. The present pavilion on the rise of land south of the state park marina
and the finger docks in front of it would probably not be there today if it were not for the
first Governor's Cup. It did not occur to those building the docks that they needed to be
close to the ramp so dinghy sailors would have something to tie up to while they rigged their
boats--but then I guess you can't think of everything!
The Queen City Sailing Club, the Stockton Chamber of Commerce, the Missouri Department
of Natural Resources and State Parks Division all worked together to put on the regatta. The
QCSC worked with the Central States Sailing Association (CSSA) to have an officially
sanctioned regatta. The state parks people put on radio and newspaper ads all over the state
advertising the regatta, as did the CSSA (which covered Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas).
Individual volunteers from Stockton helped provide boats, including a pontoon boat for use by
the RC. The local Stockton US Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla provided safety patrol. Leslee
Jaquette sewed together some of the signal flags (some of which may still be in use!). We
decided that we did not want a wimpy sound horn for the signals. When the gun went off we
wanted a real gun. So we secured a shotgun with the proper kind of blanks--finding the
proper kind of blank turned out to be a real job--but they were found. Cliff McKay, then a
philosophy professor at Drury College (who is now retired and cruising the Bahamas in a
Catalina 34) agreed to head the RC.
The first annual Missouri Governor's Cup Regatta was held June 8-9, 1974. We were afraid
no one would show up. After all Stockton Lake was not exactly a well known sailing
destination. At the end of registration 157 boats with their skippers and crews had signed
up! Needless to say the registration committee was swamped. We had expected maybe 35 or
40 boats. At this time virtually all of the sailing in the area was in dinghies. We had a large
handicap fleet, and large fleets of Rhodes Bantams and Sweet 16s (from K.C.), which had
shown up to race. There were two or three "cruising" boats in the regatta. As I remember
there was a 22 and also one 23 foot cruiser (one was sailed by Lee Orth from Branson) and
those were all of the "big boats" in the regatta. We dinghy sailors referred to the cruisers
as members of the "camper class."
The regatta was held in the Little Sac arm across from the current State Park Marina. The
wind had been building all morning. The RC boat was having trouble staying on station. They
kept letting anchor line but to no avail. They ended up staying on station by running their
motor to stay in place and to keep the anchor from dragging. It was so windy that sailors had
a hard time getting their boats rigged and then had a rough beat out of the cove to the race
Mary and I were sailing a Geary 18 dinghy in the handicap fleet. When the blue flag went up
we were planing up and down the starting line--not that we had planned on doing this--but the
wind seemed like it was blowing 40 mph and was probably close to 30. Not only was the
velocity high the wind was also swirling around unpredictably. When our gun went off (we
could barely hear it over the wind) we headed for the weather mark on a flat out plane. he
Geary 18 has a trapeze and Mary was out on the wire getting covered by rolling waves as they
came down the arm of the lake. I remember her yelling at me over the wind "can't you slow
this #$@ thing down!" We rounded the weather mark and headed for the jibing mark. The
jibing mark looked like a graveyard of boats. There were many boats completely turtled,
broken spars, cushions, life jackets, paddles, bailers, etc. floating everywhere. Somehow we
made it around the mark upright (I really thought the boom was going to carry away the
rigging it came around so hard) and beat back to the finish line. Just as we got to the line
(we were about 10 yards away) the race was abandoned and the Race Committee pontoon boat
was pressed into rescue boat service. Waves were washing over the boat to the extent that
the race committee members were up to their knees in water while standing on the platform
of the pontoon boat. Of the 157 boats out on the race course 100 were capsized. Others
had headed for coves, pulled their boats on the beach, and some refused to budge off the
shoreline until the wind subsided. The rescue boats were overwhelmed. We were extremely
lucky that no one was seriously injured (there were a number of minor injuries) and that no
The next day the wind continued to howl. The RC conferred with the survivors of the day
before and it was decided that it was too risky to try another race. Jim Beddow of Wichita,
a long time CSSA sailor, said that it was the first time in his memory that the CSSA was not
able to complete a single race in a regatta and he agreed that the wind was just too high to
try a second race.
Several images of that day still remain with me--Jack Blizzard, sitting in his Thistle with
water up to the gunnels, bailing like crazy. And then there was Ted Brezius, a retired
commercial airline pilot, Laser sailor, and a wonderful gentleman. Ted had retired from the
race to help pull sailors out of the water who couldn't get their boats righted. One young
bikini clad woman lost here top as she was pulled into the rescue boat. Ted gallantly averted
his eyes and gave here a life jacket to cover up with as he helped her to safety. Ted took a
lot of ribbing about this from his fellow Laser sailors for many months after the regatta.
A few of the dinghy sailors at the first Governor's Cup were new to racing and fairly new to
sailing. But a number of the sailors were old hands from Grand Lake, Carlyle Lake, and Lake
Cheney near Wichita. It can blow really hard on those lakes so the sailors from there were
used to wind. But they were not used to the oscillations of the wind or the gusts that we
were getting that day. Needless to say Stockton Lake got a fierce reputation after the first
Governor's Cup. Some sailors left saying never again. Others considered the lake a real
challenge and wanted to return to see if they could survive a second time around.
The Division of State Parks hosted a magnificent meal and entertainment following the event
and set a standard that has been hard to meet ever since.
After the first Governor's Cup Regatta the Division of State Parks asked the QCSC if it
would be interested in putting a sailing facility in the cove at State Park. The QCSC's
membership believed that there would never be enough interest to justify the expense of
such a facility. (Actually they were right in regard to Springfield sailors but they forgot
about the Kansas City area, which has contributed so many good sailors to Lake Stockton.)
Marvin Yarnell built a marina on the main arm of the lake in the State Park. It was located
just west of Highway 215 across from the present state park marina. His dock was
destroyed by a tornado and he rebuilt on the Little Sac arm at the current location in the
In 1975 the Governor's Cup was finally awarded. The winner was Merle Canfield, a
Windsurfer sailor from Newton, Kansas. The Cup was presented by Lt. Gov. William C. Phelps.
Other winners included: "Flying Junior" class--Gary Wheatly, Overland Park, KS; "Demon"
class--Larry McCracken, Liberty, Mo.; "Laser" class--Jim Pierce, Wichita, KS; "Sweet
Sixteen" class--Walt Hodge, Roland Park, KS; "Small Boat Handicap" class--Merle Canfield,
Newton, KS; "Butterfly" class--Todd Pasek, Greenwood, MO; "Cruising Catamaran" class--
Mike Alferd, Norman, OK; and "Rhodes Bantam" class--Robert Lytle, St. Louis. The regatta
attracted 61 boats from Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. A complimentary fish fry
was held after Saturday's races, with music provided by the Chet Taylor band of Pittsburg,
MO and the Charles Faly band of Bolivar.
The Governor's Cup has been held nearly every year since the initial blowout. The sailing club
was not able to continue with joint sponsorship with the State Parks Division because of a
new requirement by the Division of Parks that liability insurance be provided by those running
the race. Since the cost would have been about $2,000, and not affordable by the club,
subsequent regattas have been held out of Cedar Ridge (one or two times) and then Orleans