By Butch Ulmer
The PUFF TROPHY is a new perpetual award being introduced to the Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta’s this year. It will be presented to the runner-up team in overall scoring. This trophy was donated by three of Howie McMichael’s friends and shipmates, Pat O’Neal, Joe Fontanella, and Charlie “Butch” Ulmer, the three surviving founding members of the AMB (Atsa My Boat) Syndicate.
The AMB Syndicate came into being in the late summer of 1970 after the four of us, having sailed the 1970 Bermuda Race together, decided to take a chance at being owners. We selected the Gary Mull-designed Ranger 33 for our first boat. We spent the whole winter of 1970-71 working on it in the McMichael Yacht Yard that Howie owned and ran. Pat, Joe, and I were the doers and Howie was the boss; he had the technical knowledge and organizational skills to truly optimize this boat and our crew.
At the end of the winter, the boat was splashed and PUFF was christened. After a few warm-up races, we went to Block Island Race Week and came home with all the marbles.
Our “built-in” crew, which subsequently grew to six, was pretty close to perfect. All of us were members of the Storm Trysail Club, four out of six were members of Larchmont Yacht Club, and we all liked drinking stingers at Dead Eye Dick’s after racing. The time, resources, and effort we collectively put into the first PUFF proved more than satisfying from both a results basis and the great experience we all had working and sailing together. We liked it so much, we tried it two more times with bigger PUFFs, in 1973 and 1975.
Our secret weapon through all these years was Howie. He could fix anything we managed to break and we could depend on him to steer us out of trouble when we found it‑on the water and off. Not only did Howie serve as our syndicate’s leader, from 1999-2000 he led the Larchmont Yacht Club as its Commodore during a period when the Club had no manager and he stepped in as the de facto GM until a new manager was found.
The model of Puff on the trophy was actually the AMB Syndicate’s third boat, a Tartan 41. We debated calling this the McMichael Trophy but decided Howie would like PUFF better. That’s just who he was.