Could everyone write one simple essay about something that once happened in Saltaire…that they saw or were a part of…and put it on one big website? Somebody should collect a lot of stories before we all forget. Otherwise it is like a line in “On The Beach” : The history of the war that now would never be written.” -(JO'H)

Monday, August 11, 2008


After 51 years of shame and ignominy, the crew that capsized the Puffin in front of the whole village in 1957, thereby changing the course of Saltaire Sailing history, emerge to tell their heroic story.

Goats no more! This heroic duo reveal below the secrets that proved the Puffin was too puny for the perils of the Great South Bay. Innumerable future capsizings, maybe even drownings were averted. A generation of happy healthy Saltaire youngsters would have been turned off from sailing if they had to sail the sad sack Puffin around the Bay.

Background: It was 1957 and somebody decided it was time to move on from the CC to something newer. The village sailing establishment perhaps bought the “Perfect Pitch” of some huckster who was peddling the Puffin as the “uncapsizable” boat of the future ideal for Saltaire youth. It was just a matter of formality for a score of Saltaire families to “sign on the line” for the delivery of a fleet of Puffins for the 1958 season. So on Labor Day, 1957 the demonstration was to be held. The whole village tramped out on the dock after the Labor Day ceremonies at the Yacht Club, check books in hand to watch two of Saltaire’s best sailors demonstrate the uncapsizable Puffin. This was the first act of the coming 1960’s: kids prove they were not afraid to challenge the unchallenged decisions of the older generation.

This is their story, In Their Own Write:

Patsy O'Shea

by Patsy O’Shea

A moment of ignominy which turned out to be a service to the community instead.

The Puffin was capsized by Mary Parmelee and Patsy O'Shea in the summer of 1957 in front of a crowd of prospective buyers for the Puffin who stood on the dock watching us. Prior to our sail, nobody gave us any information or understanding of how this boat was radically different than the CCs (Cape Cods) we were used to. The wind that day was very strong and coming from the southwest. We were sailing right in front of the prospective buyers and curious onlookers lined up on the dock, about 75 yards away We had just been out a few minutes. Mary was the skipper, holding the tiller at the time that big wind gust hit us, and I was holding the sheets for the main sail and the jib. I was really surprised how tipsy that boat was relative to the wooden Cape Cods we were used to sailing. I'm not sure if it would have helped if Mary had adjusted by pushing the tiller away from her, “heading up” and therefore the boat up into the wind where its sails could lose wind. Perhaps she did. But I suspect there was simply no time to do this. Big gust, at least 25 knots, probably higher. The boat heeled so fast, I remember watching the water coming over the starboard gunnel, and thinking with surprise "Oh, Oh!!I" I didn’t dump the gust's air quickly enough from the main sail, and over we went. I remember feeling very calm and quiet, and also the warm feeling of the bay water, as I slipped in. Then I saw all the dangling lines and mast in the blur of the water. Enough to warn me to dive deep underwater, under all the lines, and sails before resurfacing, and to swim plenty wide of the boat and all the paraphernalia. Thanks to the rigorous training in swimming that Uncle Pete demanded of us for our Life Guard Certificate, swimming away underwater was easy, relaxed and freeing for me. But I was a bit embarrassed to surface!! Truthfully, my reacting quicker on the main, would have kept us upright, so I honestly hold myself accountable for the capsizing. Not Mary, the skipper.

That summer Mary was the skipper of the Parmelee CC boat, Calcutter II, in all the races, and I was her crew for the Series cup, also known as the Goddard Trophy. We were chosen to be the demonstrators most likely as a result of the suggestion of some of the adults in the Sailing Committee. We had just won the Goddard Trophy that year. This trophy was given for the highest total point score in all the races accumulated throughout the season. We, therefore, seemed like the best young sailors to demonstrate the coming technology: the fiberglass boat with Dacron sails. BIG least for the Puffin salesman!!

The CC (Cape Cod) boats were made of cedar wood, and had cotton sails with three battens in the main. They had a boom that was extremely long, just about the same length as the mast. One of the characteristics of this boat was a great stability on the bay. It had ballasts made of cement, under the floor boards which you could move around as necessary to balance the boat while on various tacks. Good movement of the weight of people and the ballasts was one of the techniques for gaining time during a leg of a race to win. It also had a fairly shallow rudder and a quick-moving relatively shallow centerboard that enabled us to work the shoals to take advantage when tides were strongly against us. The CC had an extremely heavy weather helm; and it took considerable force to steer it. In fact, sometimes the skipper had to put two hands on the tiller. When Mary and I undertook the demonstration, we were completely uninformed about the nature of the Puffin. It was so light; the tiller had little weather helm, the nylon ropes felt strange in my hands. The mast was tall, relative to the boom, so the shape of the main sail was less forgiving to a big gust of wind. Neptune came and blew our youthful pride away. We were two young, naive sea maidens. What more can I say??

We kept those buyers from buying. The Puffin was tubby and flippy, a bad choice for the Great South Bay, in my humble opinion. Only the Ervins and Stones bought one. Everyone else walked away. Around this time, the Tom Connolly family invested in an impressive 18 foot long CC Rhodes 18, called the Wahoo. Swift and light, made of fiberglass with Dacron sails, it was beautiful, and had a wonderful ping when the halyards hit the aluminum mast. But it was costlier, and faster than the CC’s which meant it had a handicap, and the ultra-competent Connolly boys had to sail “alone.” They missed out on the delicious things we did among the CC’s to steal each other’s wind or scoot in close to a buoy and ace out another boat. Later the CC Mercury was introduced. Richie McManus has written earlier in a June blog about Saltaire sailing history, that it was his father, Dr. Dick, (a sailing partner of my own father, Carbery who played crew on the jib to Dr. Dick’s skippering) brought the boat to Saltaire. It was made of fiberglass, also with Dacron sails. It was a little longer, sleeker, and more stable than the Puffin, and more comfortable to seat 3 people. The O'Sheas finally bought their own family boat, a Mercury. My mother, Genevieve, usually thought of as the mother of 8 children, but really a poet and artist, named it Tern. If you watch a tern fly, and then watch a puffin fly, you know why Saltairians invested in the Merk. Of course, the capsizing demonstration might have played into their decisions too. . .

Patsy O’Shea

P.S. I want to thank Jean Parmelee, who taught Mary Parmelee lots of sailing tricks, and Mary, who taught me. Later, in 1960, I got to skipper the Lapp boat and won the coveted Goddard trophy, this time as skipper, not crew. I want to thank Natalie Lapp, my first mate, who always let the main run out just right. We never had a gooseneck jibe in her capable hands. I thank Adrienne too, who controlled the jib, so tightly on a point, and also willingly shifted her weight and ballasts to enable us to run, rather fly, before the wind, and use the shoals to beat our competition. And thanks to both of you for backing the jib so heartily, despite discomfort, when we were on a running leg and also for moving to the bow with such trust in me.

The best Saltaire historian of the early program with CCs , by far, would be Edie Whitney Watts. I hope one of her tech savvy sons or daughter will get her to write it. Also Patti Connelly and Jeanne won lots of races, so Patti McAllister is a major memory source and a very capable sailor. The Connellys won the Goddard Trophy more than once.

Besides Richie McManus, other sources of knowledge of the sailing program, as it evolved in Saltaire, would be Jerry & Carol Hopkins, Jill Imray Shapard, Richie Miller, Kathleen O’Shea Alexander, Jean Parmelee, Mary Parmelee Ried and Louise Parmelee Sylvester, Kathy (now known as Katia) McManus Buchler Lund, John O’Shea, Sheila O ’Shea Gibbens, Dionnys Miller, Billy Ervin, Charlie Lapp and brothers Will and Joe, and sisters Natalie, Adrienne and Teresa, Jonathan Leigh, Gregg and Mark Dietrich, Angus Jameson, Patrick McElhone, and undoubtedly some others I don’t yet know. I hope some more of you will write about your sailing. It’s fun conjuring up these memories. Awakening these neurons will keep us all young!

Mary Parmelee Ried…when you read this account do you have anything to add? Your obedient crew, Patsy O’Shea

by Mary Parmelee

The mystery of the famous capsizing of the Puffin is solved! Mary Parmelee (that would be me), having just become famous as the winner of the prestigious Saltaire sailing trophy, was asked by the Puffin sales rep to take a test sail while a crowd of onlookers watched. The salesman boasted that the Puffin could not be capsized, but only yards off the dock I proved him wrong. I have lived in fear of revenge of the manufacturer ever since. Patsy O’Shea called me up recently to tell me about this wonderful blog. I now want to go back more than ever.

Mary Parmelee Reid

RICHARD MCMANUS, sailing a 28 footer up north these days, adds to the growing chorus of praise for the Capsizers:

"I absolutely agree with all Patsy and Mary said---and I TOTALLY am glad that the Puffin didn't make it in Saltaire. It was a gruesome boat to sail upwind against tide, and it would have turned off many potential sailors. BTW if you google Cape Cod Mercury OR CC Knockabout you will find a LOT of listings. You can't find the Puffin sailboat anywhere. It was not beloved sufficiently to leave an internet mark. GREAT SAILING ladies, and thanks for all the history prior to the Mercury infestation. I recall the lead ballast in the CC's but I DID NOT realize there was also cement. That was an awesome boat!

Richard McM.

Editors’ note:

Q: why did it take 51 years to break this story?
A: The answer is simple: there has never been a website as perceptive as
Saltaire38.blogspot. com

Reveal your stories here too. Contact us. Confession is good for the soul. Even after 51 years, it is not too late.

George “Derf” Fontanals
Jim O’Hare co editors.

Vote here:

Was the 1957 Puffin capsizing the disaster the older generation thought it was, or was it a service to the Village?
Are the crew goats or heroes?
Register your comments below by clicking the word “comments.”

We report.
You decide

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