Liberty is being free from the things we don't like in order to be slaves of the things we do like.--Ernest Benn

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

George O'Day Changed my Life

How I Became an Addict

It actually occurred when I was quite young. I'm thinking I must have been about twelve. Dad order a 12-foot sailboat in a huge kit from George O'Day Fairey Marine, as I recall. Maybe it was a Penguin class. Either that, or that is what we named it. But something tells me we might have named it "Flying Saucer" or "Gull". I don't remember. But the first one was built the same year I was born.

So, I remember putting a little token assistance in its building: holding, gluing, counter-sinking, screwing, shellacking, painting - that sort of thing. The Gull was a sturdy, 12-foot, V-bottom plywood boat with wooden floorboards and no deck to speak of. We must have had a trailer for it. Boat and trailer took up half the garage. The Penguin was big enough for Dad and I or Dad and my brother to sail around in. We sailed it in Prospect Lake and Monument Lake, two small puddles very close by.

A friend of my father's about whom I have yet to write about, Vernon Seifert, went out with me in it on Monument one day. He sailed it very close-hauled, causing considerable healing and allowing for an alarming amount of lake water to rush in over my bare feet. I have to say I probably screamed and maybe even cried. A memorable day. But that little Penguin never capsized; not while we owned it, anyway.

Dad was not satisfied. He bought another boat kit. This one was also from Fairey Marine but also came to us via George O'Day. This was to became a 15-foot cold-molded sloop with deck called a Swordfish. The whole craft looked like a shortened Thistle with a deck. It had that International 14 plumb bow with the hull rounding to a flat transom. I think it was cold-molded mahogany. Is that possible? This took a lot more creativity than the Penguin. 

This time around, Dad availed himself of additional help from an accomplished wood-worker and neighbor who lived on the other side of Mesa Road. Col. Hunt was his name. I think they did a good job. I think we named it "Teal". I remember watching its maiden voyage. Dad and Col. Hunt had some kind of a misadventure at the dock. Maybe they hooked the mainsheet on the dock's cleat or something. But after that, it was smooth sailin'!

I wasn't that much into sailing at the time, I guess.

Sailing was pretty much a family activity. Enjoyable? Yes, when we went on vacation for ten days or so every summer up at Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake, northwest of Denver. We car-topped the Penguin and towed the Swordfish. Maybe after my brother's death in '55 we mostly stopped going. I did tow the Swordfish up to Grandby Reservoir once by myself, which is next to Shadow Mountain Lake. But that wasn't too much fun. That was the last time I sailed in Colorado. Actually, playing baseball became my preferred summertime activity once I had my own car.

I sold the Swordfish in 1961 just before coming to California. Because I wouldn't have time for it with my studies and everything! Right?

That would have been it for me as far as sailing is concerned except for one August day back in 1953, as near as I can place it. We were on our regular family vacation with the two boats. On a whim (I guess), Dad entered me in a race sponsored by the Grand Lake Yacht Club. At that time GLYC called itself the 'world's highest yacht club'. Small center boarders such as Snipes, Comets, Lightnings, Thistles, and Scows race under its burgee. Dad entered our Penguin in the smallest category, maybe 12ft and under.

The only other boat was a 11 1/2 foot Moth which in those days, looked just like the shortest varnished mahogany Scow you could imagine. I was to sail against another kid who was two years older than me. I have no idea how long a course it was except it basically was to circumnavigate the lake. We were the last class to start. I was all set. At the last moment prior to shove off, Dad jumped into the boat with me. He saw signs of a approaching rain squall and thought I might need some ballast.

The first leg of four was uneventful. The wind steadily built, and with it the chop, and then came the rain. The Moth was always within reach. It capsized a couple of times and we gained a little. But we were fully occupied, too. We took turns sailing and bailing and felt good about not losing more way to our adversary. We were speculating as to which of us were more miserable in terms of being cold and wet: us or the kid a few boat lengths in front of us. Suddenly, he was gone: he had had one capsize too many and abandoned the race. Tucked tail and ran, he did. We sailed on a nominal amount of time into increasingly deep sheets of rain before calling it a day ourselves. Later, in the evening, we had dinner in the kid's home overlooking Grand Lake.

That day's competition represented the penultimate experience I had as a kid learning to sail in Colorado. It would remain as a seed, germinating, but still dormant in my soul for a decade and a half. Then I met a young, toned and tanned girl who reawakened the embryo and hatched it.

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