Buddy Ebsen once battled James Arness in a yacht race across the Pacific Ocean
Place your bets! Who do you think won: Jed Clampett or Marshal Matt Dillon?
On the 4th of July, 1968, a cluster of sailboats set forth from Point Fermin, the tip of land in San Pedro, due south of Los Angeles. The weather cooperated with perfect conditions. As Californians celebrated with fireworks, these eight boats set their bearings for a destination about 2,500 miles away. The yachts were beginning the third annual Multihull TransPacific Race, beginning in Los Angeles Harbor and finishing in Honolulu. The entire race would take anywhere from 10 days to two weeks on the open Pacific waters.
The biggest boat in the bunch was a 58-footer named Seasmoke. The catamaran stretched nearly 10 feet longer than its competition. The craft belonged to James Arness, the star of Gunsmoke, Marshall Matt Dillon himself. Dodge City may have been landlocked, but Arness was a formidable sailor — and favored to win the race. After all, he had the most impressive boat.
But Arness had some famous competition. Another beloved TV star played the role of the underdog in the 1968 Multihull TransPacific Race. None other than Buddy Ebsen was cutting through the waves aboard his Polynesian Concept.
Jed Clampett may have been the richest feller in the make-believe-land of television, but the actor piloted the smallest boat in the race. His sailboat measured only 35', a full 23 feet shorter than the one belonging to the Western icon. It was cheaper, too. Ebsen's twin-hulled boat carried a price tag of $55,000. Seasmokecost $175,000.
Five days into the race, about halfway through, the superior Seasmoke had built a solid lead. Arness held a 70-mile advantage over the field.
But there were 1,545 miles left before the finish line at Diamond Head. At this point, the manly actor was trailed by a Dr. Martin Crumrine in second place, followed by the Hawaiian crewed Manu Iwa in third, according to an update in The Honolulu Advertiser.
Buddy Ebsen and his relatively modest boat sat in fifth place. But he would claw his way back. He may have been a bronzed 60-year-old actor with money to blow, but the man had served in the United States Coast Guard during World War II. (Arness, on the other hand, served in the Army.)
On Sunday, July 15, true to expectations, Arness and his Seasmoke were the first to cross the finish line at Diamond Head. A luscious, thick lei of flowers was draped over the head of craggy, tanned celebrity, as if he were a prized thoroughbred. Arness double-fisted cocktails in his victory photo, as above on the right.
His celebration was a bit premature.
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, at 1:30 a.m., Polynesian Concept became the second boat to drift over the finish line. Ebsen's plucky catamaran had passed the rest of the competition, a full six hours ahead of the third boat.
Due to the arcade rules of competitive sailing, which are too complex to delve into here, the Polynesian Concept was declared the winner due to "corrected time."
In the final standings, Ebsen's correct time was 10.5995. Arness clocked in at 10.8835.
The Beverly Hillbilly had bested the rugged lawman. Never count out a Coast Guard man.