Written by Mary Knauth
We are all familiar with the drill of the very dawn of sailing for young children. Parents eager to either make their kids fall in love with the sport – just as they did – or rather join the Green Fleet at their yacht club because “it’s the thing to do” when you’re a member. The little six-year old’s stand around awkwardly, some shy and intimidated and some overly eager and keen to show off their existing knowledge because they know the bow from the stern. They crowd in the instruction room with their PFD’s cinching up against their chins, sitting in front of the white board. Here, we will explore three one-class designs through a nostalgic journey of my later childhood growing up in Connecticut.
I didn’t grow up in a “yacht club family” or have weekend cookouts and clam bakes. I can say, satisfactorily and proudly, I did not grow up as a “yacht club kid”. I did, however, have the unmistakable fortune to learn how to sail at the Mystic Seaport, on a very small river, where the wind did donuts all day, and if you capsized you would sink up to your knees in mud and were most likely to go home stinking with the famous aroma of “Mystic Mud” well into the evening (ever after scrubbing relentlessly in the shower). This brings us to the first forgotten beginner sailboat: the Dyer Dhow, aka Bath Tub. The Dyer Dhow indeed earned her nickname “bath tub” for a darn good reason: It looks like one, it floats like one, and well, it sinks like one. These are not little boats you can right yourself after capsizing. It requires an immense amount of effort from your coach. Firstly, getting the sailor out of the water and into the launch, then awkwardly heaving the bow onto the gunwale of the launch, and then begin to bail, and bail and bail. After all this heaving and hauling, the sailor is set back into the bathtub, free to go and capsize once again, and so the perpetual motion goes on, great upper body workout when you have 50 bathtubs out and about.
A nine foot chunky beast of a boat, with a mere 45 square foot sail area, and held together with green weathered brass cotter pins, this simple and easy dinghy is virtually indestructible. Each dinghy of the fleet is “adopted” by local yacht clubs or families; an annual endowment is donated to the Seaport for the upkeep and maintenance of the fleet. While monetary donations support the financial wing, it’s also very special for families who adopt a Dyer in memory of deceased loved ones. In essence, the fleet symbolizes a certain spirituality; #51 was adopted in 2010 and named Lissie, in my memory of my mother. For decades, our local sail loft, Farrar Sails – run by Kevin Farrar since 1986 – has been sewing the sails for the Seaport fleet and is still the sailmaker for the fleet today. During the summers, the Dyer Dhow fleet can be seen on the Mystic River. The colorful sails dot the river in the mornings and afternoons with sailors attending the Joseph Conrad summer sailing camp. Every October, the Mystic Seaport holds their annual Dyer Dow Derby: a super fun, semi competitive, regatta to celebrate the Dyer Dhow fleet and tradition because in New England, we are ALL about tradition! For more information, visit the Mystic Seaport Dyer Dhow Fleet Page.
Second in line, is the indestructible, and extremely versatile, JY 15. Designed by Rod Johnstone (designer of the J Class) and first built by Hunter Marine in 1989, they were originally constructed out of APC (Advanced Composite Process). They continue to have over 80 fleets and are recognized nationwide. The summers following up to my high school graduation, and some after, can only be described as perfect sun drenched New England fun. A long-time childhood friend of mine and I taught sailing in Noank, CT, one of the cutest hidden towns on the East Coast, full of fresh lobster rolls and salty local fishermen. Our floating docks were anchored in the harbor in Fisher Island Sound, every morning packing the kids into the launch boats and ferrying out after the morning brief. The great perk from these boats was they were amazingly easy to take care of. Kids loved them, as summer sailing was all about being with your friends, being free, smelling like sunscreen seven days a week, and not having a care in the world. Smooth flared gunwales made hiking easy and comfortable. It was the perfect summer sailing fun boat.
Highlight of the week was always the Friday Inner Tube Triangle: an upwind triangle, and each of the marks was an inner tube, and each inner tube had either an instructor or sailor manning it. Not only was this super fun for the kids but also for the instructors, and it definitely helped with evening out the summer’s farmer tan! For more information, see the JY15 Class Association website.
Finally the historic icon, the Blue Jay, whose lines were sketched by none other than the Drake Sparkman, leader of Sparkman & Stephens. The restoration of a Blue Jay is a project accountable of me falling in love with the smell of epoxy and varnish. My Uncle had an old wooden Blue Jay sitting in his garage, calmly waiting to be restored. I was to be his apprentice. With wood, comes rot, with rot comes inevitable holes, and there was a lot of rot – hence the extensive application and use of epoxy. We started restoring Yankee in February, when temperatures in Connecticut typically do not rise above 20 degrees Fahrenheit. I soon came to find that the chemical reaction which occurs when mixing epoxy is heat, lovely wood smelling heat in your frigid hands. I was hooked. The hull and rig were stripped of all hardware, naked and ready to be hand sanded. Low and behold, after months of sanding, priming, sanding, priming, sanding, painting and varnishing, Yankee was looking quite majestic and handsome once again. With a fresh glossy red hull, and a clean off-white for deck and inside, she was rejuvenated to her original beauty.
One late summer day after sailing practice, I came home to find my family having a Saturday afternoon barbecue, and standing in the yard was Yankee. It was the most beautiful gift a young 16 old girl could ask for. I sailed it with my mother on the Mystic River, along the shore beside Mystic Seaport. She was striking and robust, a salt of her traditional past. It must be mentioned that Mystic is not a place where high performance, new hardware, and racing sails are appreciated; granted we still have Wednesday night regattas and die-hard foredeck sailors. In this area of the country, particularly Mystic, history and tradition of wooden boats are preached about and honored; the authentic art and technical skill that goes into designing them, building them, and maintaining them. We call it the “labor of love”. It’s challenging sailing an old wooden boat with brass hardware and blown out sails with no battens. Luxury items like aluminum vang packs won’t be found on those older rigs. But the rough saltiness from sailing these unique, traditional dinghys absolutely extends a certain skill for feeling the boat and how she reacts, feeling puffs and lulls before they hit, they require tenderness, respect, and love. In the 1960’s, the class association voted to allow fiberglass construction, providing a lightweight hull which is highly responsive and excels almost effortlessly in light air. They are still heavily raced today. For more information please visit the Blue Jay Class Association website.
While the present-day youth sailing scene is heavily invested in Opti’s, 420’s, FJ’s, and Laser’s, there still exists niche pockets of dinghy sailing centered on appreciation of tradition, pure fun, and history. If there is one prominent common denominator with the Dyer Dow, JY 15, and Blue Jay, it’s versatility. Dyer Dows are great beginner boats and can allow for a simple and straightforward introduction into sailing basics. It can also be towed as a tender, used for picnics to the beach, and general putzing around with no nonsense. If you’re looking for an easy to rig, simple and comfortable design, that can be used for racing and also family activities, the JY 15 and Blue Jay are a great match. Quite simply, the enjoyment of sailing comes in all shapes and forms, all ability levels, and all ages. Whatever your goal is in sailing, we can all appreciate the simple solitude of being one with the ocean and the wind, and always having fun.
For more information:
Since 1949, Mystic Seaport Museum has run the Joseph Conrad Summer Camp, ages 8 – 15 learn to sail in Dyer Dows during a week long overnight camp. Campers sleep on the historic square rigged Joseph Conrad, while sailing and living in the 18th century village of the Seaport. The Seaport is also home to the famous school ship Brilliant, a 62 foot wooden schooner designed by Sparkman & Stephens in 1932, it is the oldest sail education program in the country. https://www.mysticseaport.org/learn/sailing/
Farrar Sails is headed by Kevin Farrar who has a steeped footprint in one class design sailing. Kevin started making sails since 1971. Among many trophies, Kevin – along with crew – won the 2007 IOD Worlds in Nantucket. The loft uses an advanced CAD sail design process and autoCAD to design custom sails. The loft makes sails for several one class fleets, including 420’s. http://www.farrarsails.com