Skip to main content

Classic Boats Gather on the ICW

Three classic boats head toward the finish line at Beaufort Yacht & Sailing Club—from left, Sam “Woody” Norwood’s Myrdie III, Roy Crocker’s True Love and Buddy Sharpton’s Three Part Harmony

Three classic boats head toward the finish line at Beaufort Yacht & Sailing Club—from left, Sam “Woody” Norwood’s Myrdie III, Roy Crocker’s True Love and Buddy Sharpton’s Three Part Harmony

A decade ago, here in the pages of SAIL, I wrote of my experiences with the inaugural Classic Boat Rally fleet as it sailed along the Intracoastal Waterway from Savannah, Georgia, to Charleston, South Carolina. It was a six-day cruise that led the boats through some of the prettiest waterways of America’s south. Naturally, when rally founder Sam “Woody” Norwood asked me if I would like to join the fleet once again for the 2016 rally, I happily said yes.

And so I found myself in the South once again this past April, with 10 classic boats ranging from 18ft and 22ft catboats to a Drascombe Lugger and Menger Oysterman 23 ketch, once again gathered to mark the 10th anniversary of the rally with a reworked three-day sail that would visit three iconic Southern yacht clubs: the Savannah Yacht Club, where the event started, the South Carolina Yacht Club on Hilton Head Island, and the Beaufort Yacht & Sailing Club on Lady’s Island, where the lucky crews enjoyed yet another round of Southern hospitality at the awards dinner.

The rally visited yacht clubs in Savannah, Hilton Head Island, and Beaufort

The rally visited yacht clubs in Savannah, Hilton Head Island, and Beaufort

I was delighted to see that the Classic Boat Rally lived up to its reputation as a gentleman’s race. These aren’t men who quaff Pabst Blue Ribbon, chardonnay or just plain cranberry juice, thank you very much. There’s no foul language, and each evening, as they trade their dirty shorts and Sperry’s for blue blazers and long pants, there’s no difference in demeanor.

It is the kind of event you’d be happy to have your daughter crewing in: civilized and competitive, but without the stress. The rally consists of five races, starting with a practice race that begins and finishes at the venerable Savannah Yacht Club, overlooking the ICW. Sam Norwood, who sails Myrdie III, a Cape Dory Typhoon Senior, lays out the courses, taking into account tides, winds, boat traffic, sandbars, narrow channels and more, organizes lunches and dinners at the yacht clubs and tracks participants while calculating ratings for each staggered start. For months beforehand he also communicates the plans of the rally to participants via e-mail, and as a result, it’s no surprise how the crews laud his efforts and ability to keep the spirit of the event ever-present with his pre-and post-race commentary.

At Thursday morning’s skipper’s meeting on the expansive veranda at the South Carolina Yacht Club on Hilton Head Island, Norwood reported the possibility of thundershowers. “Regardless, we’re going to proceed ahead to our destination with due alacrity,” he added, prompting many crews to start thumbing their smartphones to find the definition of alacrity. Norwood’s statement was oft-quoted throughout the day.

Friday’s rain never came, nor did the first race’s wind, prompting race committee chairman Frank Pontious to proclaim Point Royal Sound as “the flattest I’ve ever seen it.”Though there’d been a light breeze in South Carolina’s Skull Creek, Pontious shortened course, with the fleet motoring across Calibogue Sound. Fortunately, the afternoon’s final race was blessed with an onshore breeze that had spinnakers flying and sails filled in 8 to 10 knots of wind.

SAIL readers have learned much about the joys and challenges of sailing the ICW through the coverage of this magazine’s ICW Snowbird Rally over the last two years. Though I am being biased when I say that springtime in the Low Country is without equal, as bright green marsh reeds spike through oozing brown mud, white shell banks at Calibogue Sound glitter at low tide, and migrating birds beg your eyes to turn from luminous waters shoreward.

But despite the natural beauty of the ICW in the spring and the joy of knocking about in small boats, what really makes this event so special is the people who make up the fleet. Norwood has a great passion for sailing, adventure and detail. A former corporate wonk in financing, development and planning, he’s currently writing a book on entrepreneurial finance. He also has a certain je ne sais quoi as a result of world travel, and an ancestry dating back to the 1600s when various Norwoods populated Virginia and Massachusetts. Among Norwood’s old friends in this year’s rally was Frank Pontious, who, in addition to serving as PRO for the rally, is chairman of the Beaufort Yacht & Sailing Club Board of Directors and a US Sailing regional race officer.

Randall Swan was another long-time friend at this year’s Rally, his second. As teens, Randall and Woody raced Snipes in Charleston. Swan, 77, is a retired fourth generation Charleston Harbor pilot who sails a Drascombe Lugger, Tortuga.

At this year’s rally, he sailed with Bob Achurch of Beaufort for the first two days, and then with his wife, Nancy, on Friday. Bob and Nancy have sailed together 40 years; he’s sailed with Swan for 60.

“We’re too old to be sailing in an open boat in a distance race, but it’s in our blood,” laughed Swan. “I like the rally because it’s a point-to-point race/cruise with different host clubs and venues nightly. The fellowship is great among a bunch of small classic boat nuts.” Classic boat nuts, indeed. 

Another pair, skipper Kip Williams, 57, and crew Kevin Budd, towed their Menger 19, Valiant, an impressive 863 miles—each way—from St. Louis, Missouri, to take part in the event.Williams said his first Classic Boat Rally was a long-held dream. “I’ve been trying to get to the Classic Boat Rally since reading your article in SAIL 10 years ago,” he said. “But work, events and excuses got in the way.”

At the award ceremony, Budd was presented with the “Bunky Helfrich Award,” which recognizes the rally participant “who surmounts the biggest challenges, with persistence and good spirit.” The award is named for Carl Paxon “Bunky” Helfrich, the Savannah sailor and Norwood chum who worked and sailed with Ted Turner in the America’s Cup, waging a “heroic battle” fighting leukemia. Budd, currently battling cancer, was “a fitting recipient,” said Norwood.

Awards aside, Williams and Budd said the experience was “a far cry” from sailing lakes.“Sailing in the ICW, rivers and bays was a challenging venue, with skinny water and tidal currents, not to mention large ocean freighters crossing the course,” Williams said. “As tourists from the Midwest, the wildlife, ranging from porpoises playing in our wake to sea turtles popping up, also kept us watching for what was next.”

A few days earlier, the St. Louis men were among a handful of sailors attending a casual pre-event cruise to Savannah with a raft-up at sunset near the Wright River at Field’s Cut. Once there the evening was spent enjoying food, drink, sea stories and then the quiet anchorage, the peace of the scene broken only by the calls of Eastern Whip-poor-wills, and the ubiquitous annoyance of no-see-ums.

Andy Fishkind, the owner of a Bluffton, South Carolina, contracting company and also a chef, supplied the evening’s grub with the help of a giant cast iron Dutch oven, his specialty. Fishkind, 55, is a lifelong sailor who was sailing his Marshall 22 Catboat, Fair Ellen, for the fourth year with crewman David Prior. “Just being with friends with a like appreciation of classic sailing designs and practices is refreshing, not to mention very pleasing to the eye,” said Fishkind.

The other Marshall 22 catboat, True Love, belonged to LeRoy “Roy” Crocker, a renowned South Carolina sailor who has made a name for himself on the scene since retiring in 2004 with his wife of 53 years, Carol, who regularly sails with him. After competing from 2006 through 2009, Crocker returned to mark the event’s 10th anniversary with crewman and retired plastic surgeon, John Kenny.

“What makes the rally different is the point-to-point races, where the goal is to sail to a destination instead of just sail around the buoys, and doing this with other smaller classic boats of similar size and capability,” said Crocker. “The challenge of doing this in the restricted waters of the ICW made it fun.”

Also on hand for the event’s 10th anniversary was Savannah native Buddy Sharpton, 66, and his crew Sonja Wallen, 50, racing Sharpton’s Harmony 22, Three Part Harmony, which he’s customized with 170lb of wraparound ash interior.

In his seventh Classic Boat Rally since 2008, and first with this boat, Sharpton said his favorite moment was the nine-mile spinnaker run in the last race after the zephyrs from the first couple of days were replaced by an offshore breeze from the southeast.

Marvin Day’s Marshall 22 Oxygen and Kip William’s Menger 19 Valiant on the Wilmington River prior to the practice race outside Savannah Yacht Club

Marvin Day’s Marshall 22 Oxygen and Kip William’s Menger 19 Valiant on the Wilmington River prior to the practice race outside Savannah Yacht Club

“Being the scratch boat in the rally’s pursuit starts, we have to overhaul every boat one at a time to win,” said Sharpton. “We passed everybody but Marvin (Day), and he won the final race and series. It was well-earned.”

This was not only Day’s first Classic Boat Rally, but he nailed the victory sailing a newly acquired Marshall 18 Sanderling, Oxygen, that he’d only purchased in December.

“This is the first sailing race I’ve participated in where running aground is so much in your thinking,” laughed Day.

Day secured the overall win by finishing first in three of the five races, with second place going to two-time Classic Boat Rally winner, writer and solo sailor Bill Cheney aboard his older Marshall Sanderling 18, Shorebird. Sharpton and his 1970s Harmony 22 finished in third.

“I have always liked catboats and find they’re the perfect craft for the Lowcountry,” said Cheney, 75, who started racing the Classic Boat Rally in 2012, taking second place his first year, and then going on to win, first in 2013 and then again in 2014.

Classic Boat Rally regulars, like Sharpton, said they were already marking their calendars for the 2017 event, even as the 10th running was still fresh in their memories.

“Fifty miles of long-distance racing with fancy dinners and overnight docking at three yacht clubs, after-dinner visiting aboard each other’s boats—all arranged by the incomparable Woody,” Sharpton said. “Of course I’ll be back!”

For Norwood, it’s a reunion heartily anticipated. Soon after the rally ended he was towing his beloved Myrdie III to Florida in order to solo-sail the 400-plus miles back to Beaufort. “I sail, therefore I am,” he says, rephrasing René Descartes.

Coty Dolores Miranda is a maritime journalist with 30 years of experience covering sailing and power boating on the west coast

Photos by Paul Keyserling

August 2016

Related

Rescue

Cruising: Safety Lessons Learned

It’s not often that sailors get a chance to put their rescue and MOB training to the test, rarer still that they do as quickly as newbie California sailor Khosrow “Koz” Khosravani did recently. If and when an emergency situation ever arises, though, it pays to be prepared. This ...read more

01-LEAD-'22.01.10_FALKEN-Maiden_Emma-Bow

At the Helm: Sailplans

The first thing you notice when you look at the sailplan for the Farr 65, Falken, which Mia and I recently added to the fleet here at 59-North, is the sheer number of headsails. Falken was built in 1999 as a racing boat to go around the world, and the crew would have carried the ...read more

01-PR-2-Throwing-it-Back-_©LaurensMorel

Racing Class Reunion

Where does an old VO70 go to retire? Right back to the racing circuit, apparently. This spring saw a remarkable contingent of Volvo Ocean Race one designs back on the water and duking it out on the Caribbean circuit. While it’s no surprise that some of the VO65 teams intending ...read more

05-Sailboats-moored-in-sheltered-waters-off-of-Kärrsön

Charter: Sweden

With 2,000 miles of coastline, 270,000 islands and seemingly countless bays and inlets, Sweden is truly a sailor’s paradise. One of the top sailing destinations here is the archipelago just outside the country’s second largest city Gothenburg (locally known as Göteborg), on the ...read more

fa70b13c-8eec-4c35-b30f-f89e497b469a

Crowdsourcing Age-of-Sail Weather Data

Although big, multi-million-dollar projects like the Large Hadron Collider and the human genome project with their legions of PHD’s tend to grab headlines, there’s still a part of play for the “citizen scientists” of the world. Amateur birders have long contributed to an ...read more

01-LEAD-Ultime-race-Yvan-Zedda,-OC-Sport-Pen-Duick

Ultims to Race Solo Around the World

For years now, maxi-trimarans, both solo-sailed and fully crewed, have been racing the clock on their own around the world in an effort to set ever faster records for the world’s fastest circumnavigation under sail. Back in 2000-01 there was also a no-holds-barred ...read more

P1-01-LEAD-018_CARYNBDAVIS_AMISTAD

Juneteenth on the Water

Discovering Amistad and Mystic Seaport Museum have partnered to organize their third annual Juneteenth festival, featuring concerts, speakers and a reflection on the lasting legacy of racial injustice in America. Declared a National Holiday in 2021, Juneteenth celebrates the end ...read more

Lead-2021-01-17-vue-03-34-av-tb-01

New Multihulls for 2022

Lagoon 51 In keeping with many of the more recently launched models created by French multihull builder Lagoon, the Lagoon 51 is all about comfort, “en plein air,” in particular, as the French might say. Topside, a whopping 80 percent of the boat’s flybridge is given over to ...read more