Skip to main content
Updated:
Original:

Wooden warhorses

Fiberglass, check; steel, check; carbon fiber, check; wood — uh, no, actually. So went my resume regarding the boats I’ve sailed. Okay, a few wooden Blue Jays and Lightnings as a kid, but for experience on proper wooden displacement boats, I had nothing. “Had” being the operative word. My eyes were opened to this fascinating subset of sailing at the 22nd-annual Panerai Antigua

Fiberglass, check; steel, check; carbon fiber, check; wood — uh, no, actually. So went my resume regarding the boats I’ve sailed. Okay, a few wooden Blue Jays and Lightnings as a kid, but for experience on proper wooden displacement boats, I had nothing. “Had” being the operative word. My eyes were opened to this fascinating subset of sailing at the 22nd-annual Panerai Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta.

Stroll the dock before any major regatta and you’ll see sailors preparing to do battle. Stroll the docks before Classics week and you’ll see the same phenomenon in a different version: crews prepping cotton sails, servicing ash-cheeked wooden blocks (not a ball bearing in sight), and putting the final aesthetic touches on boats that appear to be more museum pieces than racecourse warhorses (hint: prizes are given for the best-looking yachts; also fun is an annual “Parade of Sail” yacht inspection). Until the docking lines are slipped and the sails are hoisted, sometimes from two halyards, and from multiple masts. Then, the wind fills their shock-white wings and WHAM — you’re off on a sleigh ride as fantastic as anything a modern production cruiser/racer can deliver.

“She carries little freeboard and a trim beam,” advised Tim Blackman, owner and skipper of Infanta, a Phillip Rhodes-designed 47-foot yawl that was built just after WWII. “She goes like a rocketship.”

As soon as the starting gun fired for our class for the Cannon Race, a twice-around sausage-shaped affair, I realized the truth of Blackman’s words as Infanta clawed her way to weather, ticking past boats as her crew — resplendent in their blazing white buttoned-down, collared cotton shirts — hoisted sails of shapes and cuts that I had never before seen, let alone trimmed. Few things make you feel more foolish than being asked to fiddle with a bit whose name you don’t know, but perhaps an enhanced sailing vocabulary is part of the allure of these magnificent boats.

Take the gollywobbler, a four-cornered sail that’s hoisted between the masts of schooners. Jim and Norie Bregman asked me to help hoist theirs aboard Metani, their meticulously maintained 62-footer that was built to lines evolved from a classic John Alden design. Sensing my ineptitude, Norie graciously explained the sail, how it flies, and the hoisting procedure. I’m not sure what was more thrilling, feeling the gollywobbler add serious horsepower to Metani’s already-powerful sailplan, or watching the immense walls of sailcloth hung from the rigs aboard the two spirit of tradition J-class yachts, Velsheda and Ranger, rocket past us. And while the J-Class boats had their private wars (they became casualties when the two yachts tangled rigs and hulls later the same day). So too did Metani’s crew as we worked to get the Australian-built schooner around the big, triangular (and aptly named) Windward Course. Sadly for us, our gollywobbler succumbed to its years (all 25 of them) as the fresh Caribbean trade winds took their toll during the first takedown. Thus we crossed the finish line shy a horse or two under the hood, but still with massive smiles all around.

Perhaps most interesting was my education in how this niche within a niche of our already-niche sport differentiates itself from everyday sailors who have spent a lifetime aboard fiberglass boats that are nowhere near as graceful looking as these majestic classics. Blackman summed it up. “These boats are like furniture, really,” he said. “They have their own character. There have been times when I haven’t owned a boat and friends with fiberglass boats have asked me to go out sailing, but I’ll pass. If I can’t go sailing on a wooden boat like this, than I’d rather not go sailing at all.”

Related

01-LEAD-BahiaCobre

Charter the Sea of Cortez

Chartering and the notion of going “off the beaten path” may sound self-contradictory. Charter companies tend to put bases where demand is high and they can turn a profit, so if you’re lucky enough to find an outfit and a destination that gets away from the typical—say yes. To ...read more

22D6FB6F-AA49-4784-A3A8-960F5A7CE330

Cruising: Anchoring Skills

Watching charterers make a run for the last mooring in a cove is fun—and weird. I always wonder why so many would rather try to catch a mooring than drop the hook. Maybe charterers don’t trust their anchoring skills, but it’s harder to drive up and grab a buoy than most people ...read more

BD-TJV21_Malama_063

11th Hour Breakdown in the TJV

11th Hour Racing’s Mālama kicked off the second week of the Transat Jaques Vabre with keel problems, forcing co-skippers Charlie Enright and Pascal Bidégorry to adjust for a more conservative approach to the race’s remaining 2000 miles. “We’ve been dealing with a lot of ...read more

2021-rolex-y-of-y-email-graphic

Rolex Nominations Open

Award season is upon us, and US Sailing is looking for the next Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year. Established in 1961 by US Sailing and sponsored by Rolex since 1980, the annual Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year awards recognize individual male and female sailors ...read more

04-IMG_3448

Buying a New Main Sail

I’ve always known the importance of having good sails. As a low-budget boat punk, I prioritize making sure I can get where I’m going with the help of the wind, as opposed to under power. It isn’t necessarily my goal to be engineless, or basically engineless. It just happens that ...read more

WAC

VIDEO: Protocol and Class Rules of the Next America’s Cup

The Defender, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, and Challenger of the Record, INEOS Britannia, have announced the protocol and class rules for the 37th America’s Cup. According to team CEO Grant Dalton, “As the oldest trophy in international sport, the America’s Cup maintains ...read more

Chartwork

Are You Ready to Bareboat Charter?

Judging your own readiness is never easy. That goes double for chartering and running a yacht on vacation. What I hear most often from first-time charter guests is that they’ve been sailing for decades, so how different can it be to charter? The truth is it’s very different ...read more

Ventana

Looking Ahead at the USVI Charter Show

St. Thomas, US V.I. – While the crewed charter and bareboat industry are clearly slated for a very busy sailing season, the recent Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA) show https://vipca.org/usvi-charter-yacht-show/ held in Charlotte Amalie Nov. 7-10 ...read more