To look among the slips within the basins of Marina del Rey and notice that nearly all the boats are made of fiberglass is striking on a certain level. Prior to the 1950s, the notion of building a boat from materials other than wood was a novel one, since wood was, for so long, the undisputed make-sense choice material for the boating industry. It was an accepted fact that boats were made of wood — it had always been so.
But by the 1960s, fiberglass was well along the way to replacing wood as the accepted material standard, and the market would continue to shift until wood boats would exist more as an esoteric interest than as anything mainstream.
Like the biplane, the wooden boat would no longer be relevant and its population would rapidly shrink.
Saturday, February 24th, the Pacific Mariners Yacht Club hosted its annual Wooden Hull Regatta, in which 15 classic boats in an array of shapes and sizes gathered for a day of sailboat racing on the Santa Monica Bay.
To see these graceful old creations bounding through the ocean’s swell was to be reminded of what was lost when fiberglass moved so dominantly into the fray. These older wooden vessels all have a most distinguishable character that resonates from their unique rigs, hull shapes and varnished topsides.
Some of the bulkier yawls and/or ketches almost seemed like the family St. Bernard in their clumsy, hulky gait, while boats like the Sparkman/Stevens Niuhi oozed 1930s Hollywood savoir-faire as they made their way around a course that stretched from the Santa Monica Pier to El Segundo.
“It was a beautiful day,” said race chair Andy Kopetsky. “We could have stood a couple knots more breeze, but everybody finished.”
The fleet was slightly down from last year, due to the high winds that ran through Southern California on Friday. The 20-to-25-knot wind (gusting to 35 to 40 in certain areas) that dismasted Scout Spirit near Long Beach during the beginning of the Marina del Rey to Puerto Vallarta International Yacht Race is what kept some of the out-of-town wooden hull sailors from participating.
“Friday’s weather handicapped the fleet,” said Dennis Peitso, skipper of Bluenose. “Every boat that tried to come up on Friday [from the South Bay area] got turned around and sent back.”
But the boats that turned out were rewarded with a pleasant day of sailing and fun. In Peitso’s case it was an especially rewarding day, for he decided to get married after the race. The original plan was to have the ceremony while racing, but there were too many distractions, Peitso said, so he and his fiancÈe waited and got hitched after they docked.
“It was super-romantic,” said Peitso. “We couldn’t be happier.”
And perhaps that is the allure for many of these owners — the romance that these vessels exude. They are time capsules, reminders of a day when craftsmanship existed on the highest order and while we’re on board, they have the ability to channel us back to a simpler, less complicated time.