The Boats I Have Known – A Brief Sailing History of Yours Truly (Entry #1)

I started sailing pretty early in life, and I thought it would be fun to take a retrospective and hopefully accurate look at the boats I’ve owned and sailed so far. Please note that, unless identified as a boat I actually owned, all pictures are representative sister ships.

Well, I guess starting at the beginning would be a logical as anything else, so lets reach back to when I was 3, and my dad bought a tiny little orange craft called a Sport Yak II. He bought it from Jack Culleys’ Sailboats, Inc, when it was a tiny store in Bloomington, MN, and we proceeded to go adventuring. To this day I can’t figure out how my dad, I, and eventually my younger brother Doug ever fit into the thing, but we did, and a great time was had by all (or at least me)… even when we almost got swamped by a barge wake on the Minnesota River one fine day. I don’t remember much about my first sail, but I do remember at age 4 (mom, don’t read this) my dad set me off on Lake Nokomis, in Minneapolis, on a tether and let me work my way around, learning the sail and rudder. By 5 (mom, you aren’t reading this, are you?) I was sailing alone, untethered – and at one point, somewhere around the age of 10, I loaded the boat on a wagon, tied it to my bike, and towed it off to the lake, and a friend and I went sailing. My parents were a little upset that I didn’t tell them about my plan though!

Sport Yak II

Sport Yak II

When I was a bit older, either 7 or 8, we were at a Bloomington Jaycees picnic, and there were prizes to be given away. Watching the kids and adults win various trinkets, and some cool stuff, I got a bit depressed at my lack of booty-gain, and walked over to the grand prize, a 14′ Bonito sailboat, and sat on the trailer tongue, admiring the glossy blue deck, whose gelcoat looked as deep as any sea. About 20 minutes went by, and they began the buildup for the sailboat drawing, to which I barely paid attention. They called out the winning number (printed on lapel buttons we were all wearing) and after a minute or so, I thought… “hmm, that number sounds familiar…”. Looking down at my button I saw the number I had checked so many times before was indeed the winning number! Of course, my parents had already figured that out, since the numbers were sequential, but they had no idea where I was, so while I went up on stage to claim my prize, they were searching the park for me! The boat was provided by Sailboats, Inc., so that was another tie I have to them from my youth.

I really learned a lot on that boat, and my father and I raced it for years at the Lake Waconia Yacht Club, each taking turns, for though the boat was capable of carrying 3, it was definitely a single handed racer.

After a couple of years, my dad decided he wanted a bigger boat, so that we could race together, and sail with others. His choice was an International Tempest, a boat that was briefly an Olympic class, and so loaded with sail area that it carried both a 500 lb bulb keel AND a trapeze for the crew! She was in rough shape when we got her, but had plenty of sails and most of the gear needed, so we proceeded to rebuild and refit her. Named “Arriba!”, she was one wild child of a sailboat, and had the same handicap rating as a Hobie 16! We sailed and raced her for a couple of years, learned a lot, sunk her once, and to date she’s the only boat I ever got knocked out on. Twice. They call that thing a boom for a reason…
Tempests on a close reach

At 14, it seemed time for me to escalate the family boat competition, so I sold the Bonito, added up my paper route money, and bought a 1959 19′ Lightning, built of mahogany by Lippincott. What a beauty! Electric blue, with a white canvassed deck and bright finished wood, she even came with 2 sets of cotton sails sewn with colored thread. Like the Tempest, she needed some work, and I learned a lot about marlinspike seamanship – splicing lines, repairing sails, etc. And she sailed beautifully – stable and stiff, I never capsized her, and when I got her a set of fancy dacron dress sails, she flew like a bird. During this time I was also introduced to catamaran sailing, via the new and amazing Nacra 5.2, Sol-Cat 18, and the assorted Hobie, Prindle, and Aquacat models. Of more interest was seeing, but not getting to sail, one of the Reynolds 21 micro-cruiser-racer cats… I didn’t know it yet, but I had been bitten by an exotic bug – one that would emerge years later!

After a couple of years with the Tempest and the Lightning, we realized something – we each had a boat big enough to sail on together, but with two boats, we still didn’t. Cold winters cross country skiing led us to talk about what we should do about that little issue. Some of the boats on Lake Waconia were getting bigger, and whereas a few years ago Montgomery 17’s, Balboa 20’s and Catalina 22’s were about as big as they got, some people had moved up to Catalina 25’s, and we even had a Montgomery 23 on the lake. With those boats in mind, plus the fact that we just HAD to be a little different, we went boat shopping. After looking at a few things, including a Piver Nugget trimaran (talk about planting another subconscious seed of desire…), we found a Pearson Lark – a 24′, raised deck, full keeled cruising boat with gorgeous lines, and a simple interior designed so that you could work the galley while sitting down. She had a sliding/folding hatch that gave full headroom over a fair portion of the boat, tons of stowage, acres of flat, safe deck, and drew 4′ of water. We bought her. Unfortunately, we didn’t tell my mom first, but at least I was 15 and relatively innocent at the time!

We brought her home, worked on her and rigged her, all in a big rush, as the ice has started melting early on the lake. The launch went uneventfully, and we got a tow over to our mooring, and continued to rig. Belatedly, we looked at the sky just in time to see a front in the distance. I raced to finish the mooring pendants before the brunt of the storm hit, and I finished them just in time, and we attached them to the bottom of the mooring buoy in probably 30 knot winds, 3 foot seas, and the beginnings of ugly rain. Not too bad from a deck 4′ off the water!

For the first year, we kept her without a motor, and I really learned the art of handing a displacement hulled sailboat from that. Sailing to and from the mooring in any and all weather was a skill I’ve always appreciated learning, and it’s come in handy many a time, even in unexpected ways.

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3 Responses to The Boats I Have Known – A Brief Sailing History of Yours Truly (Entry #1)

  1. Karen B says:

    I have selective memory….

  2. Cathy Barnett says:

    The Pearson Lark was the boat that I learned to sail on at Lake Waconia. Your dad loved to race the boat and many enjoyable weekends were spent doing just that!

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