5/22/09

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.

1 comment:

  1. Emily, Woodstock, Vt.May 28, 2009 at 10:03 AM

    Love the SS Blog and thoroughly enjoyed the stories written by Jim McDermott (I don't even remember him using our Quiogue slip as our land was still vacant then and, in fact, we didn't own any part of that slip). What a story of sailing the boat in the Nov. Northeaster, but then, it doesn't surprise me that he elected to take it out of the water that day....he is a courageous surfer, after all.

    The story of the SS written by the Centennialist is also fascinating and takes us all back. And Will Tuthill's remark that the best boat paints are imported to Woodstock, VT and then distributed in the US caught my attention..."Fine Paints of Europe", I'll have to locate the source.

    Good work...you do wonders for all of us.

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