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)

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Brief History of Saltaire Sailing

Essay by McManus Mate Richard McManus
(Originally posted July 3, 2008)
Saltaire Sailing 1948 (Click on all photos to enlarge)
Cape Cod Baby Knockabouts (CC’s) being readied to race in 1948.

A CC at speed, same era.

Edna Lange, Margery McManus and Dot Schmidt, 1948
The Schmidt boat would later become the club boat (I THINK).

CC’s Racing, 1948 off Saltaire dock.

All photographs Dr. Richard G. McManus
Copyright Richard G. McManus 2008

The CC's (Cape Cod Baby Knockabouts) were built in the 20's and 30's. They were handsome and very well designed for use on the Great South Bay as they drew about eight inches of water with the centerboard up, were
fast upwind and down, and were pretty entertaining to sail. They were 18 feet in length and usually needed a crew of three to race but could sail with six. Cape Cod Shipbuilding had built them extremely well with cedar planks and sturdy structural members. They had a lead ballast beneath the floorboards to help them stay upright.

By the late 50's they were dwindling. Someone would decide that by golly they could do the care of the boat themselves right on the beach in Saltaire instead of sending the boat to Southard's boatyard in Bay Shore.

Within a year the boat would be a planter, rotting out and hopeless. The fleet kept getting smaller. By 1961 there were only five left--the club had one, the Paul Connelly's had 'Con-Tiki' the fastest and best cared for of the CC's, the Lapps, Oliver Hull and Hugh O’Brien had one.

Con-Tiki sailed away from all the others in any races that were held in that era, and the cost of keeping a CC up had become a real problem. The sailors wanted a different class boat, but finding the right one did not go smoothly.

There are a series of good stories about this. The Tom Connollys purchased a Cape Cod Rhodes 18, a very nice and fast boat, but the price was prohibitive and the one they purchased remained the only one for some years. The Rhodes also had the disadvantage of a deep rudder and centerboard, so one had to approach the various flats cautiously.

Then the Ervins and another family bought a Puffin. This was a cute little boat, about 14 feet long and kind of chubby, like a catboat. They were fiberglass and relatively light. A sales rep came down to demonstrate the little boat one day in 1959 or so. Unfortunately while the boat was being put through its paces it capsized in front of a dock full of prospective customers and interested spectators. ** (see note below) That was a problem. Worse was that the little Puffin was too slow to fight the powerful tides on the GS Bay. Sailing it into a tideway was a pilgrimage, with the boat going backward over the bottom no matter how lovely she might look on the water. In fact I came close to throwing Johnny O'Shea right off the boat when, on a sailing picnic, he insisted on sailing the damn thing straight into the channel for about 400 successive tacks near Captree Island as we attempted to sail to the inlet. Each time we came up to the dock at the same fisherman, who looked at us with a great deal of curiosity.

My dad had been a resident at Mass General Hospital and consequently had
seen the Boston Community Boating Mercury fleet, which had already established itself as a very hardy bunch of sailboats. He bought Mercury #653 in 1961 (I THINK) and Ann Buchler, later Riley skippered the little boat against the CC fleet. While the Mercury was NOT perfect for the Bay, it was a great improvement, and the second year four other boats were purchased. The Ervins, Standards, Frank McManus and the Gibson's all purchased Mercurys. The following year Jonathan Leigh and the O'Sheas purchased them as well and the era of the Mercury began. These boats will probably outlast Fire Island, as they all look about the same more than 40 years later. Not fast, not sporty, and not smelling good like the old cedar CC's, it was the Mercury's that got many of us racing. They were evenly matched and didn't overly favor the better cared for boat. You could have your teenager paint them with bottom paint and do a bit of varnishing on the rudder and you were in business for the season. They were an excellent teaching boat and even if you planed one into a buoy (I did that) the resulting damage was minuscule.

Better boats came later but the Mercury's ruled the 60's and early 70's.


Richard McManus

***post note by JOH:

Among the great mysteries of Maritime History are:

  • Did the Savannah go down off Fair Harbor?
  • Could the S.S. Californian have saved the victims of the Titanic?
  • Did the Bismark go down under enemy fire or was she scuttled by her own skipper?

But perhaps the greatest mystery is :

What caused the “uncapsizable” Puffin to capsize in front of hundreds of prospective buyers on Labor Day in 1959?

  • What was the weather?
  • What were the sailing conditions?
  • Who were the crew?

The controversy lives on. Check us next week, same time, same blog for the controversial epic: The capsizing of the Uncapsizable Puffin:

Eyewitness accounts of that terrible day.
Serious speculation.
The greatest intrigue until the grassy knoll.

Cosmo adds:
            Back in the late 60's and early 70's, each Spring I would have to spend weeks getting my Father's Cape Cod ready for the Season.  Scrape the hull, chalk the seems, paint the hull and deck.  Finally it was time to put the boat in the Bay off the Lapp House.  Some of the Old-Timers will remember what happened next.  The boat would immediately sink up to the gunnels.  I would be the laughing stock of Saltaire for the next three or four days.  Then, after I baled the boat out, it would float like a cork after the hull had swollen with the Bay water.  In the Fall of 1973, I left for college, and a storm blew our CC against the bulkhead and broke her ribs.  I'll miss her.
And you can read about it here



Beaver said...

1)The Savannah - speculation is that maybe it went down southeast of the western part of Fire Island - she sank within a year or two(approx 1816 or thereabouts) of her crossing the Atlantic

2)Maritime investigations in both the US and England concluded that the Californian may have been able to save people on the Titanic but her radio had been turned off for the evening and the crew had conflicting testimony as to what type of ship they saw some 5-6 miles in the distance.

3)The few surviving crew members of the Bismarck(some 120 odd men) state that "scuttling charges" had been placed after she had been pounded on her topsides by the combined power of a few British battleships. Robert Ballard, who also discovered the wreck of the Titanic stated that based on the condition of the wreck that he saw(some 13,000' below the surface) would lend credence to the claim that Admiral Lutjens and the ships captain ordered her to be scuttled rather than risk the humiliation of the beaten ship be boarded and captured by the British.

cosmo said...

I appreciate my name being left out.