Let’s get small… Day One at the Small Reach Regatta

July 25th

John and I are in Maine and managed to get in a great day of kayaking in Merchants Row, and now the Small Reach Regatta is about to begin. 65 or so small, mostly wooden, mostly owner-built sail-and-oar boats getting together for a rendezvous and to share their quirky love of old-fashioned small, slow, motorless boats. On Wednesday night we joined the opening dinner under the big tent at Oceanfront Camping at Reach Knolls in Brooklin, hard on the shores of Eggemoggin Reach.

After dinner the organizers gave a briefing of the next day’s events, where the fleet was going to sail, who’s in charge, safety procedures, etc. When it came time for questions and announcements, I raised my hand and announced that we were two hardy sailors with good intentions but were boat-less, as my boat is hard aground back in New York on the broken trailer. We had come anyway, sans boat, and were “looking for a ship”. Would anyone take a couple of lost sailor souls on board?

Thankfully, Tom Jackson, who is the head honcho of the event, introduced us to a couple of folks who expressed their openness to taking on crew, or ballast, and we confessed our willingness to be either as long as it got us out on the water.

John lined up a ride with Gardner Pickering on his Caledonia Yawl. At 19’6″ and with a wide beam and lifeboat-like volume, the Caledonia has room for lots of people. Even better, the Iain Oughtred-designed Caledonias are beautiful, notoriously fast in almost all conditions but especially in the light air we’re likely to see today, and probably the most numerous model of craft at the SRR. I think there are seven of them in this year’s fleet. Gardner and his Hewes & Co. millwork and cabinetry shop in Blue Hill, Maine is the exclusive agent for cutting Oughtred’s CNC kits in the USA, so John will surely learn a lot about the design and maybe the building process from Gardner.

Gardner’s Caledonia Yawl “Vivian Robinson” (dark blue) and another Caledonia (right)

I got a berth on a unique boat in the fleet, Susan from Massachusetts’ 22′ “Elyssa”, designed by Roger Long and built by Paul Rollins in 2011. Susan refers to it as a yawl dory, but I don’t think it is either of those; the large size and fairly far-forward placement of the mizzen makes it a ketch rig, and it does not have the flat bottom, wide planks and tombstone stern I associate with a dory design. It’s more like an stretched salmon wherry, with a strip-planked hull below the waterline and traditional lapstrake above, and a wherry-shaped wineglass transom stern. I’m guessing the beam is about 5 feet, so it’s truly stretched, almost like one of those limousines. That’s great for me though, as with my addition we’re five souls on board, but not at all crowded into this big and beautiful boat.

Susan and Dave’s “Elyssa”, the longest boat in the SRR fleet. Grey Fox’s boatless skipper is at the helm

The wind is all but nonexistent as the fleet weighs anchor from Atlantic Boat in Herrick Bay, Brooklin (on the Blue Hill Bay side) and heads out towards today’s lunch destination: Sellers Island, a 1-acre Island at the eastern entrance to the Eggemoggin Reach. Sellers is one of the many islands in the region that have Maine Island Trail (MITA) campsites on them, and last time I was there we camped overnight and had it all to ourselves. Today, 65 SRR boats will descend on it for lunch! It’s a good thing that it will be just about low tide when we arrive, as otherwise there would not be enough exposed beach to handle all those boats.

The fleet getting underway with nary a zephyr

With little wind, our trusty crewmate Christophe moves the boat along under the “ash breeze” (oars).

Christophe, another boatless sailor, came all the way from France to experience the SRR

After an hour of rowing and drifting, a slight breeze comes up and gets us – slowly – to Sellers Island. The beach there is already crowded and at about 2,000 pounds, Elyssa is not a boat you want to be hauling up and down the beach with the tide, so we anchor and wade ashore. The sight of the whole fleet from the water with the island as backdrop is truly impressive:

Sellers Island – with visitors

In addition to snarfing down our picnic lunch and a beer, we spend a good part of our lunch break walking up and down the beach inspecting all the other boats. It’s a veritable museum of small craft, most of pretty traditional styles including Banks dories, Swampscott dories, double-enders inspired by Shetland Islands yole boat designs, Penobscot Bay salmon wherries, Maine Peapods, and Whitehall rowing boats. There are also a few more modern designs, the most popular of which seems to be the Goat Island Skiff (five of them). While a number are built in the traditional lapstrake manner, with cedar frames riveted or screwed to oak frames (including Elyssa), the large majority are traditional shapes rendered in modern epoxy-plywood construction.

Trailer sailors aren’t stupid, and they recognize the advantages of this method of building, which produces a 100% watertight boat that doesn’t need to “swell up” in the water, doesn’t suffer from going from in the water to onto a trailer, is probably 50% lighter than a similar sized traditionally built boat, and — perhaps most important, or at least most causal of the preponderance of these boats at SRR — is much more easily built by an amateur knucklehead with no real boatbuilding skills, no access to good boatbuilding timber, and limited time available to spend building a boat. You know, a knucklehead like me.

After lunch, the fleet shoves off / weighs anchor for the sail back to Herrick Bay. With a bit more wind, we’re able to move along better and the sailing is delightful. Surely sailing in Jericho Bay on a crystal clear day, with the big hills of Mount Desert Island looking in the distance, is about as good as small boat sailing gets…

Back to Herrick Bay with Mt. Desert in the distance

Author: Larchmont Jim

A 50-something investment banker from Larchmont, New York (about 15 miles from midtown Manhattan). Amateur small boat sailer, boatbuilder, kayaker, musician. I grew up spending summers sailing the New England coast on my grandfather’s beautiful 47’ 1952 Sparkman & Stevens wooden yawl. I’ve lived in Larchmont, a major and historic sailing center on Long Island Sound, for 25 years, but career and family obligations kept me off the water for all of my 30s and 40s, and only about 7 years ago did I get back on the water, first in sea kayaks, and then in small boats.

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