Maybe someday fiberglass boats will evoke the same feelings of nostalgia and history that the site of a wooden boat evokes.
But that’s improbable, because wood, unlike fabricated fiberglass, is and has been such an integral part of our being since the beginning.
It’s the houses we live in, our forests, our kitchen table, our musical instruments — the list goes on forever.
When it comes to boats, wood is the embodiment of history.
The sight of a wooden vessel provides the opportunity to look back at how craftsmanship once was and how the world is changing.
Of course with development and modernization, we gain and we lose.
We gain a more effective machine, but what sometimes disappears in this pursuit of progress is character that can only be found in something that was crafted by someone’s own hands.
The invisible truth locked inside the wood is that men took more time than is ordinarily taken these days to methodically cut, sand and shape a boat that could last a century or more.
Saturday, February 25th, 25 classic vessels gathered in Santa Monica Bay for the 31st Annual One More Time Wooden Hull Regatta.
Schooners, sloops, cutters, yawls and ketches of all shapes and sizes raced from the Venice Pier to the Santa Monica bell buoy, on to El Segundo and back.
“It looked like Newport Rhode Island in the ’40s,” said Wooden Hull Yacht Club commodore Jerry Klein, who was racing his beloved 1934 gaff rigged Webfoot.
“With the beautiful lighting of the day, it was stunning.”
The race began in light winds with the fleet hoping for more power, since many of the boats in the group are extremely heavy and need a good ten to 12 knots to get them moving.
But it would be a light wind affair, giving the edge to the lighter boats.
In the middle of the contest, it seemed like things were going to pick up, but they never did.
“It went up and then down like a shot, ” said Klein. “After El Segundo there was a little blast, but then someone just turned off the wind machine.”
Klein, like the other wooden hull owners in the race, is impassioned and fervent in his love for these classic designs.
“I just read too much Joseph Conrad,” Klein said. “I didn’t even know how to sail when I started looking for a wooden boat, I just had this 19th century romance about it.
“Now I’ve had my boat for 30 years and it’s a serious affair. And it will be a lifetime affair. A lot of these guys feel the same way.”
To view the fleet, there is no doubt about the truth of that statement.
One of the trophy winners was Eddie Holister’s Lady Gwendolyn, a 90-year-old, 26-foot gaff ketch that was looking spry and agile, as were almost all of the boats in the fleet.
The care and concern that these aging vessels garner is obvious.
In addition to how well maintained and healthy the aging fleet appeared, members of the Pacific Mariners Yacht Club (PMYC), the longtime host for the event, and the Wooden Hull Yacht Club were pleased that the turnout was larger for this regatta then it had been for many years.
“As far as participation, this is the best showing anyone can remember since sometime in the ’90s,” Klein said. “It was fantastic.”
The race has been running every year since 1975 and in this race the overall winner, Robin, a PC 32 owned by Jonathan Blindman, was also the winning boat in the very first race 30 years ago.
“It was really interesting that the boat that won the overall this year was the same boat that won the first perpetual trophy back in 1976,” said PMYC race chair Andy Kopetsky. “And it was the second year in a row that a 32-foot PC took home all the marbles.”
In the other classes:
Larry Wave’s Angelman ketch, Bettina, was the winner in the “B” Fleet.
Siouxsie, a 36-foot Herreschoff ketch owned by John Salisbury, won split rigs “A” and best corrected time trophy for split rigged boats.
In sloops and cutters “B,” Karl Lindblom won aboard Cannibal.
“Karl had a problem with an alternator bracket that had become disconnected: the old bolt-in-the-bilge how-did-it-get-there routine,” said Kopetsky. “After getting help from one of the local South African sailor/mechanics who ran up to the Ship’s Store for parts and gathering up his all-girl crew, he went out there, had a late start and still took home first in sloops and cutters ‘B’.”
The fleet will be out racing again in another regatta out of Long Beach in May.
Until then the owners will be varnishing, repairing, tweaking and manicuring these prized floating antiques in the unrelenting, never-ending labor of love that these boats inspire.