I grew up a half block down from Lake St. Clair in St. Clair Shores, Mi. My brother and I and our friends would sneak down to the lake every chance we could to go fishing or exploring. I was always fascinated with the boats. There were vintage wood boats with beautifully varnished cabins, houseboats and, my favorite, sailboats. I would dream of owning one of my own and imagine the voyages I could take. I knew that I could sail down the St. Lawrence Sea Way, out into the Atlantic, and around the world if I could just get a boat! I read all about sailboats and learned to sail with friends on a Hobie Cat-16 on Lake Platt, MI. We were 17 and I always seemed to be at the helm. I was guilty of dunking my friends in the lake, many times, when I'd push the envelope and eventually burry one of the pontoons.
A Sun Fish
Eventually one of my friends, Mark, borrowed a Sun Fish with the option to buy, with the thought that he was sick of me tossing him in the drink. Well, you see Mark is a big guy, (Eventually turned into a police officer.) and rarely, but on occasion acts before thinking. So, we hauled the Sun Fish, upside-down, to Lake Platt on top of his car. Mark was anxious to get the boat into the water and so asked me to help him get it off the roof and ready to sail. The two of us hefted the Sun Fish off the roof and to the side of the car, me on the bow and Mark at the stern. I was just starting to lower her to the ground when suddenly the bow spun 180 degrees in my hands and crashed to the ground, putting an 18 inch crack in her side!
I looked up and saw Mark with a sick grin and a beat red face. All he could say was, "I thought we would flip her over before we set her down."
Needless to say, Mark was now the proud owner of a slightly used and very cracked Sun Fish.
This is how I fell in love with working on sailboats. We had to repair the Sun Fish. We headed into town and bought a small can of fiber glass resin and a strip of cloth. We weren't sure if the resin would stick to the haul so I heated up an ice pick and punched a series of holes along both sides of the crack then applied the resin and cloth and pushed lots of resin into the holes.
That Sun Fish sailed great and never leaked! Mark on the other hand was always slightly embarrassed every time he saw that ugly scar running down the side of her haul.
My next adventure was when I purchased an 11-1/2 foot, 1947 Leg-O-Mutton cat boat for a whopping $5!!! She was a beauty in disguise. Her given name was Butch and she was made of cedar planks on cedar ribs and covered with duck canvas. She had a wooden mast and boom and no sails. The boom was rotted as well as a section of the gunnels. The missing sail would pose quite a different problem. The tiller was missing as well. Also the swing keel needed some work. The swing keel was hinged so as to swing to the port. It was held in place for sailing by two nylon lines run over brass "L" brackets and cleated off to the gunnels. When she got under way, Butch, hummed like a bumble bee.
To replace the boom I went in search of an old world craftsman. I found an old Italian gentleman who owned a cabinet shop. He suggested I use bass wood so I purchased two lenghs of the wood to glue and screw into a "T" shape. I salvaged all the hardware off the old boom including the slides and recreated an exact replacement part.
I next replaced a small section of the gunnels with a piece of oak. (I did not realize what a bad choice that was at the time but it did work.) It was only 1x1-1/2 and about a foot long.
The next issue was the rotting duck canvas. I stripped that off and decided to fiber glass the hull. Looking back I wish I had re-ducked it, but the fiber glass worked great.
About then winter was setting in and so I began work on the sail. I went to the library and found several books on sailboats and found a bit of info on how sails were designed. So I sketched out a plan, went to the fabric store and bought some bright yellow rip-stop, rubber coated nylon.
I got home cut up the fabric to my plans and borrowed my mom's portable Singer sewing machine, found a chunk of old candle in a drawer, and set about sewing together a sail. I used wax to keep the needle moving through the rubberized nylon. Amazingly...the sail worked great!!!
My final problem was a main sheet block. I couldn't afford any fancy hardware so I build a wooden block and purchased a cam-cleat, mounting the home-made block to the center of the rear seat. I'm not sure that the block would have held up over time but for the short while that I owned her it worked fine. In addition to the block the other piece of visible wood on Butch was the tiller which I fashioned out of oak.
Also while making the main I built a jib with the idea that I would add a bow sprit and see how that might work.
I did build the bow sprit out of oak that winter but never got around to attaching it or the jib.
Butch only had a mid-seat and a stern seat, not much good for hiking out. So, I added seats, port and starboard creating a boxed-in cockpit. I added the deep blue color into the resin, light blue interior, and painted the center board, rudder, mast, boom and gunnels black.
The following summer my friends and I had a blast sailing Butch on a small inland lake at Kensington Metro Park. Can you imagine how funny we must have looked...three lanky teenagers huddled in the 11-1/2 foot Butch? We got a lot of attention that summer. Boats from all around the lake would come cruising by to check out the bright blue and yellow Leg-O-Mutton...looking like she had just sailed out of a mysterious mist from the past. I must say, my work was good and we got a whole lot of approving nods. The sketch you see above is all I have to show you what she looked like.
I sold Butch a couple of summers latter to a young lad who was dreaming about owning his own sailboat...for $1.
It still brings a smile to my face when I think about that transaction. I believe in my heart that Butch is still out there making dreams come true...Live on Butch...Live on!!!
My next adventure with sailing was to crew aboard a Person 26 named Caspe'.
She was owned by my girl friend's brother Patrick. Three of us, Patrick, a good friend of his and myself spent the next two seasons learning to race...the hard way...loosing race after race until we finally started getting the knack of it.
Our first season we came in dead last!!!
Our second season we came in not-dead-last!!! Hooray for us!!!
In between the Wednesday Night Off-Shores out of Jefferson Beach we would take our girlfriend/wives on cruses. And it was on these cruises that I discovered that I was not a racer. I came to love cruising.
By now I was in my early thirties and...long story short...I lost the girlfriend...lost contact with my sailing friends and my next adventure would not happen for over 20 years.
The adventure continues. At the ripe age of 54 I decided that it was time to start sailing again. So I went out and bought a Catalina 22 named Comp-U-Sail and re-christened her The Christopher-Jin. And this is where my tale shifts gears and you can read on in various other sections to find out how this story unfolds.
Go to Project Gallery to see how you can build items for your boat.