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
Author:
Publish date:
wooden_boats_panerai_classic

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

MHS-GMR_3549

New Multihulls 2018

Farrier F-22 New Zealander Ian Farrier ushered in a new genre of sailing with his folding-ama trailerable trimarans, the best-known of which are the Corsair designs. Farrier’s last project before he passed away last year was this sweet little tri. Available in three versions, ...read more

shutterstock_373701682

Cruising: Island Comeback

The U.S. Virgins Islands have surged back from the devastation of the 2017 hurricanes, with new infrastructure plans that will benefit charterers and cruisers alike. After hurricanes Irma and Maria roared through the Leeward Islands in September 2017, it was impossible to ...read more

albintoilet

Gear: Albin Pump Marine Toilet

Head Start Is there room for a new marine toilet? Albin Pump Marine thinks so, having just introduced its line of Swedish-built heads—ranging from compact to full-size models—to the American market. The toilets feature vitreous porcelain bowls and either wooden or thermoplastic ...read more

07n_45R2699

Multihull Sailor: Classic Cats

If you’re looking for a decent sub-40ft cruising cat, you have few choices when it comes to new-boat offerings. It is a well-known fact that the multihull market has taken off in a way very few could have predicted. Despite Hurricane Irma’s recent destruction of a large part of ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Thanks a bunch  This scene is very calm and seamanlike. No frantic rope throwing or shouting. As he passes the line to the gent on the dock, the crew on the boat says, quietly and clearly, “Would you ...read more

mcarthy-and-mouse

Experience: McCarthy and the Mouse

Sitting at the helm in a light breeze, my arms crusted with a fine rime of salt, my skin so dry I’d lost my fingerprints, I heard a clatter and a curse from below. There were only three of us a thousand miles from shore and only one on watch at a time. Usually, the off watch lay ...read more