Hampton one-design    My first sailboat (ca. 1975) was a Hampton one-design. The hull (#282) was constructed of wood planks sealed with Oakum. Deck and spar hardware was bronze!

    A friend and I rescued the derelict from
Lake Murray South Carolina mud. There was a lot of rot, most of it in critical places (centerboard trunk, ribs, chines, transom, rudder, and more). It was about three months before the boat was ready for water. I replaced all the rot that I could see and covered the hull with a fiberglass skin, and the deck as well. For a non-skid surface I sprinkled sand on the deck resin before it had cured—a very bad idea, which caused considerable discomfort for years to come.

     I learned to sail by trial and error. On one occasion after running into a narrow cove before the wind, I was forced to accept a tow from a good-natured fisherman. Eventually, though, I got the hang of it.

    At first only my immediate family risked their lives to sail with me, but as time went on I invited other friends. On one Sunday afternoon a neighbor lad was along in a moderately strong breeze, when suddenly the rudder snapped at the top (just below the bottom gudgeon) and sank like a lead boot. By then, the original wooden rudder was more fiberglass than wood, and fiberglass sinks! Nevertheless, the story ends well, I was able to steer the boat using just the sails, and maneuver it to the launch ramp (about a mile distant) without a rudder.

    The Hampton is about the same size as the Lightning one-design, which was still an active boat in those days. So I thought to replace the rudder with a Lightning rudder. However, I could not afford the cost of a manufactured rudder.

    Having no concept of the hydrofoil shape of a rudder I constructed the replacement from a flat sheet, by making a rudder-shaped cutout. I also could not remember the size exactly, and guessed much too big. Better too big than too small.. Sailing with the replacement rudder was a little like sailing with two centerboards, one fixed and one adjustable. Very little adjustment of the tiller was needed to change course.

* * *

    At some point we heard about a sailing club on the Lake, and soon afterward joined the Lake Murray Sailing Club. At first the main attraction was having a place to park the boat trailer, not needing to tow it behind the car for 15 or 20 miles each time we sailed. However, we soon discovered that sailing clubs are great for all kinds of
camaraderie, and especially for learning more about sailing. One of the first things I learned was that my boat was slow—No, worse than that! It was the slowest boat in the club, slower than any sailboat anyone there had ever seen. Well, sailing is supposed to be slow, is it not? Alas, that was not the prevailing opinion among club members.

Laser bill of sale

Laser sailboat    Most of the fast boats in the club were unaffordable. Lightnings, Thistles, Y-Flyers and other popular boats were expensive. Only the smallest of the ‘fast’ boats was within the realm of possible ownership. That was the Laser.

    The bill of sale (image above) was signed, of course. The man who sold it to me was an accomplished racer. That particular Laser had previously participated in national and international regattas. However, making a sailboat go fast is a multi-dimensional problem. Perhaps the most significant dimension is the person commanding it. And this Laser’s new owner was pleased just to be able to keep the boat right side up in moderate air.

    Another drawback was that the Laser is a one-person boat. Two or three people can sit on the boat if they are agile, but with each additional person, the boat moves more slowly and the hull sinks lower in the water. Even at its slowest, however, the Laser was an exhilarating experience when compared to the Hampton!

San Juan 21     There is a thing in America called the ‘monthly payment plan’—Other countries have this as well. Essentially it means that you don’t need to afford something in order to own it. The boat we liked best among those at the sailing club was the San Juan 21. We had been invited to sail as guest ‘crew’ on one of the San Juan’s. The boat had a small cabin, good for weekend camping, but glided through the water as smoothly as smaller one-designs do. At that time the boat was being manufactured by Bob and Coral Clark in New Bern, North Carolina, a day-trip from our central South Carolina location.

    We sold the Hampton to a Boy Scout troop. Nowadays I would have donated it, but then was a different story. The scouts surely got their value in bronze tracks, cars, turnbuckles, and deck hardware, if nothing else. After persuading ourselves that the monthly payment would be doable, we were off to New Bern. The memory that sticks out from that trip is of Coral Clark springing all over the boat like a young dancer, although she was already an older lady.

    When San Juan number 2133 came home with us we did not realize that day was to mark the beginning of our sailing glory days. At first I resisted any and all suggestions of racing the boat, but on one regatta weekend a sailor from another fleet offered to sail my San Juan—I would crew. Why not? Well, it was a miserable cold and rainy weekend, but except for the weather this first regatta was a wonderful experience. I was hooked.

    One of the great things about sailing clubs is that experienced sailors are always willing to share their knowledge, and to help newcomers in any and every way they can. So it was when I first tried my hand at racing the San Juan 21. We finished last or near the back of the fleet in every race. But the good (fast) sailors talked to us about trim and tactics, and even sailed with us and alongside us, offering suggestions for improvement. Racing itself is a teacher. If something doesn’t work, it is sometimes possible to figure out the cause.

    Old folks can steer a boat, but crew work is a youthful activity, requiring agility, strength, and good reflexes. It is best when the crew ‘talks back’. Yes the captain is the ultimate authority, but he or she is not immune to mistakes. A large part of our improvement in those years was the luck of having excellent and dependable crew. We rarely missed a weekend sailing, and over the next few years our sailing skills improved to the point that we won several regattas, and placed in others. That is why I refer to those as the glory days, although the term ‘glory’ is relative—I
’m not talking Olympic glory!

    The San Juan 21 was a great lake boat, but not as well suited to harbor and offshore sailing, where the seas can be a little rough on a flat-bottom lightweight daysailer. In 1988 I acquired an S2-7.9 (the decimal number stands for meters in length). The S2 was designed for Lake Michigan sailing. Harbor sailing is somewhat similar, except of course the harbor has tides. We raced the S2 only a few times, and never in significant regattas. In 1989 the boat was damaged in Hurricane Hugo, but was successfully recovered and repaired. That is another story.

    We sailed the S2 (named Mazurka) in Charleston Harbor and offshore until the spring of 2017, rarely missing a weekend, winter or summer. The photo gallery below shows a few shots from those years.

Outbound-1 Charleston Harbor Entrance
            Bound for Sea            Charleston Harbor Entrance

Bow Lights Lighted Ship
       Bow Lights       Ship and City Lights

Wing on Wing At Sunset
  Wing-on-wing in Morning Starboard Reach in Evening

Rain Cloud Blue Sky
Rain Cloud Blue Sky

Beacon 18 Three Cups of Tea
 Beacon 18 (Bell) Three Cups of Tea

    Our current sailboat is a small daysailer, an American 14.6, made in Charleston SC. It is a gentle and roomy boat, not suited to racing, but perfect for the retirement phase of life.

American 14.6

    We are back to lake sailing—no dolphins,
no tides, no immense ships, usually no wind (or not much wind). The bumper sticker says that a bad day sailing (or whatever you like to do) is better than a good day working. So far there have been no bad days on the water.