A Boy's First Sail

It is a moment in time that all of us, if we were old enough, clearly recall.  This past weekend, I had the opportunity to take my four-year-old nephew, Nicholas, on his first sailing excursion.  As a dutiful Uncle, you want your nieces’ and nephew’s first experience on a sailing vessel to go smoothly.  You don’t want a sudden gale to hit, nor do you want to wallow in the middle of the lake in a dead calm.  Basically you don’t want to be the guy to cause trauma in the minds of the youngsters that you have been entrusted to care for. So with clear skies, a steady breeze from the North, and no ill weather on the radar, we set out!

It’s wonderful to experience the questions you get from a young lad who is sailing for the first time.
 The quietness of the sail as we started out prompts the first query.

“Uncle Willy, where’s the motor?”

I chuckle.
  “Well, it’s up there in the sails – the wind pushes the boat.”

“Oh.” I can see his mind working.
 Pause. Next question…

“How are we going to get back?”

“Well, we’ll just turn the boat around and make it go where we want to go.”


“Uncle Willy, are you too heavy for this boat?”
  Another chuckle, and certainly a legitimate question.  Kids don’t pull any punches, do they?

“Oh, no – we’re fine, this sailboat can handle plenty of weight.”

“Okay – hey, we’re moving fast!”
  And we’re going at a relatively good clip.  Just enough wind for a good ride.  After getting three-quarters across the lake I announce it is time to "come about."

“Uncle Willy, what’s that?”

“It’s when we turn the boat around and head in the opposite direction.”

“Are we going to head there?"
  He turns and points upwind to the other shore.

  Okay duck your head a little and get ready to come about.”  Not that he needed to, sitting in the front alongside the centerboard trunk he has plenty of headroom between himself and the boom.  Ah, to have that luxury once again.

We tack up a few times about half a mile upwind.
  I can see he’s feeling at ease with this whole sailing thing.  Time to put the lad to work.

“Nicholas – would you like to bail some water out of the boat?”

“Okay, Uncle Willy, I can do that.”

“Thanks, Bud.”

I hand him the plastic bailer.
  He makes fine work of the task.  A few minutes go by.

“Uncle Willy, can I stop bailing now?”

“Of course.
  Thanks Nick, you did a great job.”

And he did – there was no water left in the boat.
  We sailed a little longer.  Fifteen minutes later I figured I should get the lad home, so we turned about and headed downwind.

“Hey Nick, do you want to steer the sailboat?”


I get Nick situated on the other side of the tiller to where I am sitting.
  With both our hands on the tiller, we look homeward.  He’s smiling.  So am I.

And so Nicholas joins a fortunate group of people who have sailed this magic boat.


Another newly-found SS returns to the line-up: “SS 101” Spindrift

SS ?-3 was launched today by new owners Bob and Meredith Murray. With the approval of the SS Association, the boat has been given the number SS 101, after a long-gone sailboat that was chopped up and taken to the dump many years ago. The “new” SS 101 now resides in Beaver Dam Cove, Westhampton, in front of the Murrays’ house on Apaucuck Point. Named “Spindrift” after Meredith’s grandfather’s yacht, the SS proudly wears atop its mast the tell-tale wind indicator that once adorned another of Meredith’s family’s SSs, #84 Mariposa, when that SS lived at Apaucuck Point in the 1940s-1970s. Danny Kammerer, the present owner of #84, presented Meredith with the tell-tale at the July 4, 2008 Centennial celebration. The boat has been meticulously restored by Fred Scopinich. 

Meredith’s and Bob’s plans for the boat are slightly different. To Meredith, SS 101 will serve as a vehicle for teaching all members of the family, children as well as adults, how to sail, and she envisions hours of happy, stress-free sailing at all times of the day plus on moonlit nights. Bob and Fred Scopinich, however, seem to have equipped SS 101 in such a way that it looks suspiciously like a racing machine.

Either way, another SS has been saved!!

Dick Scopinich found the boat discarded in Chesterfield Associates’ scrap yard in Westhampton sometime in 2006 and considered it to be unrepairable. The transom was out, the skeg was torn off, and the boat was held together by a medium-blue fiberglass hull covering. Dick brought the SS to his brother Fred at Fred’s Hamptons Shipyards “just in case” the boat was salvageable. The mast, boom and sails were missing, and no identification number could be found anywhere on the hull.

According to Fred Scopinich, the SS was built by Ben Hallock, as confirmed by the centerboard trunk construction and the mast step and by the fact that the boat had butt blocks on its planking which later builders (after 103) didn’t use. But, according to Fred, “this boat was fiberglassed and the deck was not typical Ben Hallock construction, that is, 5/8” x 1-3/4” cedar. This boat has an extra strong deck of ¾” x 2 ¼” wide vertical grain cedar, leading me to assume the deck was replaced at some point. This deck that was sound was the reason why I decided to save the boat.” 

The newly designated “SS ?-3/SS 101” is now fully restored with a new stempost, new keel, and new transom. It also has all new hull frames re-fastened at all planks; an all-new centerboard trunk; a new rudder assembly; and the hull has been covered with 2 layers of West System epoxy resin and cloth. The sails were made by UK Sailmakers of Bronx, New York http://www.ukhalsey.com/ and include a mainsail of 4.9 oz Dacron, Jib of 4.9 oz Dacron and a lightweight spinnaker.

Because Fred Scopinich has had occasion to sail in several boats that he has recently restored, he has incorporated a few updates into the restoration to better enable the Senior Citizens-pretending-to-be-children-again to sail the 16 ½’ boat. These include color-coordinated halyard lines so that age-weakened eyes can distinguish the jib halyard from the spinnaker halyard; a window in the sail to prevent some whippersnapper from ramming the newly restored sailboat; an extension-bar on the tiller; easy-hold mainsheet winches for arthritic hands; and, upon request, padded kneeling cushions (one on either side of the centerboard) for ancient crew members.


Jim McDermott’s First Love

Here's another story that didn't make The Magic Boat final cut, at least in it's original expansive form. Thanks to Jim for the permission to post this delightful story.

“I was seven years old and had stolen away from Quantuck Beach across Dune Road to gaze covetously at the SSs tied up at the Beach Club’s dock.  As usual, several were tugging at their painters in a soft southwesterly breeze.  I sat on a piling woolgathering, drinking in their gleaming varnished decks and spars and their trim white hulls.  I was startled out of my reverie by an approaching SS.  It was Cory Reynolds, one of the ‘big kids,’ artfully tacking an SS up to the western side of the dock.  When he was twenty yards distant, he pointed her bow directly into the wind and dropped the mainsail neatly into the cockpit.  As the he coasted in, the jib gently luffing, he pranced up to the bow, picked up the painter and stepped onto the dock just as the little boat lost way.  He snapped the painter around a piling in a quick half hitch, grinned at me and said, ‘Hey, kid,’ and walked toward the beach without looking back.  I was transfixed.  ‘One day,’ I murmured, ‘I will have an SS of my own.’

 “I regularly petitioned my family for one even though I knew the inevitable answer: ‘Maybe one day when you’re a lot older.’  Occasionally, Cory or Bill O’Brien would take pity on me and take me out, even let me take the tiller for a (very!) short time, but I was a little kid, and they would lose big kid status if I remained on board for any significant length of time.  Two years later, my father bought a newspaper in Madison, New Jersey, and our family didn’t return to SS territory till I was 19.  Curiously enough, I happened into Nickerson’s Boatyard in East Moriches the summer of ‘62 to see two of the last SSs, 152 and 153, being built.  The old pang returned, but I was into fast boats, waterskiing and girls. I did crew on Standish Medina’s MB, Ethel, and Jeremy Medina and I took the occasional picnic cruise on her with dates, but then the Army called as did the need to make a living.  When I got out of the Army and was ensconced in a job,  Bill O’Brien and Barney Edwards scoffed at my SS pipe dream and talked me into racing Sunfishes in the fledgling Aspatuck Yacht Club.

“But old dreams die hard.  In the summer of ’76, just when my new bride, Judy, and I built a summer house in Quiogue, I heard that Jay Dudley had restored SS 128 and had decided to sell it. She had had fine racing provenance, having been campaigned to championship seasons by George Carmany at the Westhampton Yacht Squadron in 1956 and thereafter by Bob Murray at the Shinnecock Yacht Club.  Adding to her charm was the fact that she was built in 1939, the same year I was.  While Judy and I had no intention of racing her, I bought her on the spot, and we were sailing her as soon as Jay’s final coat of bottom paint had dried the next week.   

“Emily Graves Jones let us keep her in a slip adjacent to her property on Quiogue’s Delafield Point.  Judy and I regularly commuted to Quantuck Beach Club from Emily’s dock space in Quiogue each summer weekend day.  Our first such sail was on a fair, late-June Saturday in a light southwesterly.  I tacked to the western side of the Beach Club’s dock and, about twenty yards out, pointed directly into the wind, dropped the main, pranced past the luffing jib, picked up the painter and jumped on the dock just as our little boat lost way.  I snapped a half hitch around the piling and grinned at Judy.  ‘That was pretty neat,’ she said.  ‘Where’d you pick that little trick up?’

“’Right here about thirty years ago.’  I answered in my best Cory Reynolds offhand manner.  

“Each fall we would delay hauling SS 128, which we named Random since so many of our sails had no particular purpose or destination other than to be out on Quantuck Bay’s halcyon waters.  In our second season, we enjoyed a string of beautiful October weekends and decided to keep Random in till the weather turned.  On the first weekend in November it did, with a vengeance.  That Saturday morning it was gusting well above forty miles per hour out of the Northeast in a light, but stinging, rain.  We had to sail from the west side of Delafield Point to the takeout point at the end of Sheppard Street on the point’s east side.  I feared for Random’s rigging in the stiff northeaster.

“We tried sailing her with just the main, but she wouldn’t point, so we tried with just the jib, but she jerked and yawed around uncontrollably.  So we set both sails, set her into a broad reach and gritted our teeth.  We nearly capsized in the first gust, but let both sheets way out as the sails flailed furiously, then gingerly began to haul them in.  The mast groaned against the stress and the deck crackled as the little boat gained way, her every fiber—and ours!—strained to the breaking point.  Then she bobbed up on a plane.  The little boat surged forward like a puppy let off his leash, and suddenly we were flying.  The halyards thrummed and hissed.  I glanced astern and we were throwing up a rooster tail three feet high and fifteen feet long.  The tiller felt alive in my hands -- remarkably tender, yet scarily responsive.  Although the whitecaps were deeply troughed, the little sloop skimmed smoothly over them.  SSs are renowned as ‘wet’ boats, but Random was flying too high and too fast to take on water other than the rain.  It felt as if the little sloop had been created to be on that broad reach in that November northeaster.  We were at the south end of Quantuck Bay in what seemed like seconds, came about and screamed back to our starting point, making pretty near forty knots.  

“We tacked to and fro for an exhilarating hour, then, chilled to the bone and adrenaline-depleted, decided to head around Delafield Point to the trailer we’d left at Sheppard Street.  To this point we had avoided jibing, but this destination would involve a jibe, which terrified me.  So instead, we tacked a 270 degree partial circle, perhaps the smartest, if decidedly unseamanlike, move I have ever made on a boat.  I have never gone faster in a sailboat before or since, though we did get Random up on the plane in fall blows several more times thereafter.”

Judy and Jim continued sailing their SS every weekend, “commuting” from Quiogue to the Quantuck Beach Club -- “usually a lovely reach each way because of the prevailing southwesterlies,” Jim remembers.

In 1980 they moved to Quogue, where they moored their SS at the Shinnecock Yacht Club for three seasons, but the little sloop proved too small to accommodate their growing family.  Shortly after the birth of their son David, Jim sold Random for a down payment on a 19-ft. Cape Dory Typhoon sloop. 

For some years afterwards sailing continued to play a large role in the lives of the McDermott family. In time golfing’s Siren call lured Jim to the golf course, but memories of his SS days -- of a 7-year-old boy coveting the trim sloops tied to Quantuck Beach Club’s dock, of planing Random across the bay in a terrifying yet exhilarating nor’easter -- refuse to fade away.

"I own SS 136 !"

Merry just sent me this today regarding an email she received last year.  Those of you who have read her book know that there are many SS's out there whose whereabouts are not known to the SS community. Happily, another one has been recently "found" :-)...

This came to me last year. It’s typical of the fun and spirit we SS sailors have discovered in the search to find and save the SS-class sailboats.

Dear Ms. Murray,
I just discovered the article about SS-class sloops in Woodenboat Jan/Feb 2008.  I was so surprised to see it that you could have knocked me over with a feather!
I own SS 136, built by Oliver W. Howell, who initials are carved into the mast step.
I am sure that I am just one of many of the owners of "missing" SS boats who are "reporting in."
She is currently resting comfortably under tarpaulins on a trailer in my yard, not in sailing condition, but I'm sure she is repairable.  Her boom was broken while riding a mooring in a storm some years ago, and I have not used her since. The tiller and tiller casting went overboard in that storm. I have obtained a tiller casting which "will fit", but it is designed for a much heavier boat. I've not yet tackled the tiller problem.
I collect and use antique woodworking tools, which I'm sure will be a great help in the repairs.
I have an UNUSED set of Ulmer sails and an original set of cotton sails. The folks at Ulmer were kind enough to give me a spare copy of the SS sail plan, which was in their files at that time.
I would like very much to obtain a set of drawings for her, especially a spar plan.
It might interest you to know that I am a great-grandson of Bant Hanson, the naval architect of the six-mast schooner Wyoming and many other famous vessels.
John R. Ruth
Metuchen, NJ

John adds that the Nina 136 has her name on her transom in bronze letters, including the Spanish accent mark. The letters are screwed on and may be cast rather than stamped bronze.  Impressive letters for such a little vessel!  It would be interesting to compare this to other SS's built by Howell.  Did he always use bronze letters?

If you have an SS that's not currently on the known fleet list -- please send us an email!  We'll post the news here!


Christine Ehlers, our Centennial Sailor

Christine Ehlers, age 98 as I write this, was once one of those “kids who live near water.” She holds a very special place in the celebration of the SS, as she is our Centennial sailor, born August 24, 1908, just as William Atwater and Ben Hallock were finishing the design of the one-design small sloop. 

The Ehlers family owned the Corner Grocery (formerly the Nilsson & Bishop store) on the corner of Baycrest Avenue and South Road in Westhampton, just a few hundred yards from Beaver Dam Creek. Christine and her sister Helen grew up living over the grocery store, with the creek as their after-school playground. 

“We made our own fun,” Christine says, remembering what it was like to have been a child in the days before World War I. “We used to row up the creek to Cook’s Pond to go for a swim.” She learned to sail racing with her friend Earlcdene Bishop, who “had a boat larger than an SS (I think it was classed as an Indian),” Christine remembers. “She handled the tiller, her father was the Captain and I was ballast!” 

Sometime in the mid-1930s Christine acquired an SS, #92. She was in her late 20s at the time, and was a physical education teacher in the Westhampton school system, having graduated from Westhampton Beach High School in 1925 and the Arnold College for Hygiene & Physical Therapy in 1928. She kept the boat in Goodman’s Canal at the end of Baycrest Avenue, just a short walk from the grocery store, and sailed with Helen as her crew. 

“With the wind usually southwest, we would tack going west and return home before the wind,” Christine wrote in a careful hand, in answer to the questions I had written down for her prior to our meeting. “Once in each of the first two seasons while Helen was standing on the front deck preparing for a landing I inadvertently let the boom swing around. The result was a dunking for Helen! The first time we went out the third season, Helen said, ‘Sis, if you are going to knock me overboard again this year, let’s get it over with today.’”  

Christine doesn’t remember anything unappealing about the SS. Did you think it was a very wet boat, I asked her? “I don’t remember that part,” she said. But, she added after thinking on the question for a few seconds, “I was at the tiller. It was the one tending the jib who got wet, not me.” Ah, yes. Helen. 

No, our Centennial sailor liked the rough seas, hated the days when there was no wind, and thought the best part of sailing was “Tacking!” Not a speedy reach or a relaxing downwind run? Nope, said Christine, “Tacking!” 

The Ehlers family sold SS 92 after Christine joined the Army in 1942. “I was a physical therapist in the Army Medical Specialist Corps,” she says. “That’s the story of SS 92 while in my possession. I really don’t know where it ended up... I’d like to know what happened to it.” [NB: the fate of #92 may be unknown, as it is not on the list of surviving SSs.] 

Christine Ehlers returned to Westhampton after World War II and has been retired for 47 years now. She never married and today lives alone with her black Labrador “Missy” in a tidy cottage on Oneck Lane, not far from where she grew up.  

It was there that I interviewed her in the spring of 2006, in a meeting arranged by her friend Jean Halsey, who had advised me to submit written questions ahead of time because, Jean warned, “She’s sharp as a tack, but she may not be able to hear your voice -- she’s almost totally deaf.” In her three-page hand-written letter of answers, Christine had assessed the state of her own health this way: “In spite of being 97, except for a hip prosthesis that is out of kilter, I am doing fairly well physically and can still add 2 and 2 mentally!” 

Dressed in a crisp navy blue skirt and a blue and white pin-striped Oxford, she walked towards me, leaning on a cane but leaving her walker aside, as I entered her house. Her eyes were alight and curious, her handshake warm and firm. We settled in the living room, where she sat in her favorite chair, with Missy leaning against her knee. I positioned myself on a stool facing her, our faces about two feet apart so that she could read my lips if she couldn’t hear me. 

We managed to communicate, one very short question at a time, and the years slid by as she recalled living over the grocery store, rowing and swimming in the creek, sailing her SS. She was proud of the fact that, other than “periods away,” she has lived her entire life in the village where she grew up.  

Even now, after all these years, the nearby water is never far from her thoughts. A painting she did of Beaver Dam Creek hangs over the mantelpiece, just a glance away from her favorite chair. 

EPILOGUE: Christine Ehlers passed away in April, 2009, at the age of 100. 

----- Meredith Murray 

From an interview in preparation for the publication of “The Magic Boat and The People Who Sailed It, 1908-2008,” R.R. Donnelley, 2007.


Old World Paint

Hey folks, we got our first boat tip!  Will Tuthill (SS 59, R.I.) says "Got to try these paints & varnishes. There is NOTHING available commercially in the US that compares."  

Says Will, "U.S. paints are like gravel in water- the coarse pigments sink immediately and the water evaporates leaving a thin & spotty coat at best. Fine Paints of Europe [imported into Woodstock, VT & shipped direct from there]  can be compared to honey & glitter. The pigment never sinks all of the way-  the fine quality resins and distillates go away at a rate that makes for a luster that is simply not available in U.S. marine paints. http://www.finepaintsofeurope.com/

Judging from the photo alone I would have to agree :-)  Thanks Will!


Welcome to this newly created blog for SS enthusiasts.  

For the first post, I think it is appropriate to thank Meredith Murray here for writing her book "The Magic Boat and the People Who Sailed It, 1908-2008."  Just as many of the SS boats were restored in time to sail in last year's Centennial Celebration, Merry has triumphantly restored and preserved the history of the famed South Shore sailing vessel.  I think I can speak for all who have had the opportunity to read Meredith's book that it is a true gem.  Boating World agrees. 

As your humble blog editor, I can see this blog continuing the spirit that Meredith has restored.  Feel free to e-mail me any updates, photos, and / or questions to share with others on this blog.  Comments to posts are welcome, and can be done directly on this site.

Finally, I'd like to thank my dad for bringing Captain George Sandberg's restored SS into our family's lives.  I've enjoyed sailing for many years on Keuka lake, but never before had the opportunity to sail an SS.  His grandchilden are assured years of sailing - a gift you can't put a price on.  I share the same sentiments that #152 has so appropriately stated: Thanks Dad :-)