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 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 and even pain 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 along and along 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.
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
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
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.
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
Perhaps the most significant dimension is the person commanding it to
go this way or that. 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
sinks lower in the water. Even at its slowest, however, the Laser was
exhilarating experience when compared to the Hampton!
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
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 and exciting 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
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
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
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
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
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.
Bound for Sea
Charleston Harbor Entrance
Ship and City Lights
Wing-on-wing in Morning
Starboard Reach in Evening
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.
We are back to lake sailing—no dolphins,
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.