George Sandberg, Teenage Boatbuilder

[Written by Meredith Murray for “The Magic Boat,” this story had to be cut in size for the final manuscript. Here is the original, expanded version.]

The Westhampton Yacht Squadron’s various club histories list all of the SSs ever built, but the whereabouts and ownership of two of these boats -- # 149 and #150 -- remained a mystery to members of the SS Association, the Great South Bay Yachting Association, and the various yacht clubs along the South Shore for almost 50 years. Until January, 2006, when a letter announcing the upcoming Centennial festivities was sent and re-sent through cyberspace to countless sailors via the modern miracle of e-mail.  Alexander “Skip” Pendzick was just beginning Center Moriches High School in 1959 when he learned that Louis Howell’s arthritis had grown so severe he couldn’t finish the two SSs he’d been building in his workshop on Lake Avenue. The numbers of the boats were already burned into the centerboard trunks -- #149, completed except for the deck, and #150, framed out with just the keel and sheer strake in place. Skip paid Howell $90 for the two boats. He kept the 149 for himself and sold the framed-out boat to his buddy George Sandberg for $40. 

The two boys had been best friends “forever,” according to George. The Sandbergs lived on Brookfield Avenue, some distance away from the water, but Skip’s family lived on Senix Creek, on the grounds of an old boatyard. “Pendzick’s Boatyard, that was my playground,” George remembers. “It wasn’t run as a boatyard then. It was just derelict.” The two boys built their first boat when they were in 6th grade, just “a little box,” says George, whose cousin Bill “Cut” Reden taught him how to sail, first in a Gil Smith cat boat and later in a Snipe Cut he borrowed from his high school English teacher, Mr. Debler.

Skip and George were only 15-years-old when they set to work on SS 149, and there was no one around to help them. “Skip’s father passed away when he was in 8th grade,” George says, “and my father had no boat experience.” Skip and his brother Dan, with some help from George, began to put the boatyard, located at 26 Union Avenue in Center Moriches, back into operation, and it was there at the reborn Pendzick’s Boatyard that they finished the 149.

“We couldn’t afford to buy sails,” says George. “Someone said the Fenners had some extra sails, so one day we walked down to Skip Fenner’s house on Union Avenue and knocked on his door and asked if he had an old sail.” Skip gave the boys a set of his old SS 2 sails that he’d been using as paint drop-cloths. SS 149 wore the “dropcloths” proudly for the next three years.

George then set to work on his own boat, the $40 #150, without any blueprints, with more curiosity and energy than experience. “What was kind of neat about putting this boat together,” he says, “was my mother would drive me to Riverhead Building Supply, and after I told them what I needed the stuff for, they basically gave it to me. They probably thought, hey, this kid is staying out of trouble! It was the only place we could get white cedar, which was basically logs, and they had to go out and mill them down.”

He worked on the 150 on and off throughout his junior and senior years in high school. “It was a chore,” he still remembers. “I struggled with it, just trial and error -- I didn’t have any plans, just a hammer. See that window? One time I threw the hammer through the window, I was so angry.

“The very last plank I couldn’t get in. I just couldn’t get it in, couldn’t make it work -- it was one plank up from the garboard plank. My cousin knew this guy named Harliss, a boatbuilder who specialized in building ice-scooters. He was a crankety old guy, not very cooperative. My cousin said if I went over there and talked to him and kind of hung around, that maybe he’d help me. So I did, I went over and I was with him from 9 in the morning until about 5 in the evening. He’d been a carpenter on a four-masted schooner, and he knew a lot about building boats. At the end of the day I finally got the nerve to say, ‘Oh by the way, I have an SS and I’m having trouble putting a plank in.’ He said, ‘I always wanted to build one -- bring it over here and I’ll fix it.’ So I went home and towed it over. The next morning I went back to ask him if he thought he could fix it, and it was all done. He’d done it overnight, and he wouldn’t tell me how he did it. I’d been working on it for months, trying to figure out how to get that plank in, and he did it overnight.”

George finished SS 150 during his senior year, and with great pride he berthed it alongside SS 149 at Pendzick’s. Not long afterwards, however, he and Skip narrowly escaped disaster in the 150. “We’d finished the boat,” George explained, “and I was out sailing with Skip. Around 10 or 11 o’clock at night we were becalmed. It was absolutely pitch black, and we heard a boat engine. And it was coming closer and closer. We didn’t have a flashlight, nothing. That boat came within inches of us, at full speed. I thought we were done for. As it passed we heard someone say, ‘Hey! There’s a boat!’”

Neither Skip nor George ever raced his SS, and neither one ever made any contact with the yacht clubs. “I liked everything about the water, and sailing was a part of it. The racing part never appealed to me,” says George. Instead he just sailed -- to the head of Senix Creek, out into Moriches Bay, exploring east and west. Half the time he sailed by himself, and half the time he took someone with him. Or the two SSs would sail together. “Skip would be in one boat, and I’d be in the other boat. One time we decided to see how far west we could go. We sailed to Great South Bay, way past the Smith Point Bridge -- I don’t know where we were. Skip’s brother was trailing behind us in an outboard, and we put up a little tent and slept on the beach.” When asked what they’d brought to eat, George answered, “Eat?? I think we just drank beer!”

The boys sailed over to the town beach at Great Gun, went for clams and crabs with their boats, and used one or the other of the SSs for camping trips. “We used to do a lot of camping,” George says. “We slept on the boat, one of us on either side of the centerboard. It was a perfect fit.”

Skip had the 149 until the early 1970s, when he sold it. George sailed the 150 until 1966 or 1967, when, he says, he “went to sea for a living,” beginning with service in the Merchant Marines, distributing supplies along the coast of Viet Nam.

SS 150 was still very much a part of George’s life in 1969 when he was courting his future wife Joy, who was not a sailor. He took her out in the SS to, Joy says, “drown me...in a hurricane.” Not so, says George. “It was just a squall. It was really blowing, and we flipped. I didn’t want anyone to know it happened because I was embarrassed, so I made her sit in the sun until she dried out.” However, George’s buddy Stan Abrahamsen had seen the SS capsize. “By the time we got back to town, everybody knew.” But, says Joy, “I married him anyway.”

Like George, Skip Pendzick, too, graduated from the New York Maritime College, as a Marine Engineer. After sailing for a few years, he earned a Masters Degree in Nuclear Engineering and went to work for Brookhaven Lab, where he currently is the Chief Engineer for the Accelerator. He and his younger brother still own and run Pendzick’s Boat Yard.

He never named the 150. “If I named it now,” he said, “I think I’d name it something like ‘Lost.’” Looking askance at the boat Joy mutters, “’Derelict.’” 

Six months later George wrote that he had “cleaned up” #150 and had put it under cover in a shed. But, he admitted, although things didn’t “look good for it,” he hadn’t given up yet. Not long afterwards he e-mailed triumphantly that he had bought his neighbor Ray Richmond’s SS 76 and was “getting ready for the Centennial!”

SS 150 may not make it to the yacht club for the 100th birthday celebration, but, with # 149, it is now safely logged into the official chronicle of SSs “that really were.”

And, “one way or the other,” Sandberg will be sailing an SS in the Centennial parade.

Today George Sandberg is a Captain in the United States Maritime Service. In 1990, after sailing for 20 years with the Merchant Marines and wearing ribbons awarded him by the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and the Merchant Marine, he “swallowed the anchor” and came ashore to teach at the Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point, where he is currently the head of the Marine Transportation Department. 

Both George and Skip still hold the SS close to their heart. As George says, “I have sailed around the world a few times, sailed on every ocean and on most seas, aboard many different types of ships ranging from a 65-ft. research vessel to a 1,000-ft. LNG vessel, but some of my best memories are sailing an SS on Moriches Bay.”

SS 150 still survives but only barely, as it has been sitting uncovered in George’s backyard for the last 30 years. “It came real close to being sawed up and used for firewood last year,” said George as he and Joy stood on their lawn, looking solemnly down at the rotting hulk of a boat. “But I decided I’d try to fix it up. I think I can salvage it with stitch and glue. I have some other ideas. I have a complete set of ribs in the basement.” A few seconds went by before he added, “Joy isn’t too enthralled with the idea of my restoring my SS.”

But George’s imagination is captivated by the idea of sailing an SS in the 2008 Centennial celebration festivities. “One way or the other,” he says, “Sandberg is going to have an SS!”
EPILOGUE: George did indeed sail an SS in the Centennial parade, but it was not SS 150. Instead, George sailed #76, a boat he purchased from his Center Moriches neighbor, Ray Richmond. The “derelict” “flower pot” SS 150 George gave to Fred Scopinich in partial payment for the restoration of his “new” SS 76, which sailed in the parade as “The Spirit of ’76.” Fred miraculously brought SS 150 back to life, sold it to Paul Haines, and that boat, too, sailed in the Centennial parade. Paul named the boat “The Two Sisters” and registered it for the parade under the name of his two granddaughters Noel and Naomi Haines, who served as crew with Cheryl Baker and Sue Jenkins skippering.

After the Centennial, SS 150, once just a dream in the eye of an Center Moriches teenager, was trailered to up-state New York, where, renamed “Endurance,” it now resides with Paul’s son Will Haines, the author of this blog, who sails it on the waters of Keuka Lake every summer. From Center Moriches to the Finger Lakes, the fame of the SS continues to spread!


Chit-Chat: In the Lead?

Can anybody identify the people or boat in this photo, or the year or even the decade? The only identification on the back of the photo in the Westhampton Beach Historical Society's collection is:

"In The Lead, catboat racing, Wm H. Winters Real Estate & Insurance Book. "

Meaning it was from a calendar of old photos put out by Bill Winters sometime back when. The boat is flying a Shinnecock Yacht Club flag.

My only guess, time-wise, is that the crew and the photo look somewhat like the same
vintage as photos from the very early 1900s.

Any thoughts? - Merry

Note: you can click on photo for a larger view.


"The Days, Rices, Bakers and the SS, An Unfinished Piece" by Louise Rice Baker

A gift of gold, sent by Marty Baker to Meredith Murray on June 5, 2009, and written by his wife Lou, who passed away just two months ago. Marty writes:

“I am sending you a copy of the information Lou had started for your great book and never got finished before publication. If you have a sequel, (I'm sure there has been a cry for it), maybe it will add a little more data and history of the great class of boats. If not it will add a bit of info to your collection. Anyhow, she was sorry she procrastinated and didn't get this to you before your deadline. She worked on it
thru the end of last year before she got this much done. You have my permission to use as much or little as you see fit either in publication or sending it to those in the SS group that might enjoy it.  Thanks, Marty”

Because I procrastinated and
didn’t get the Days and descendants adventures with the wonderful little 16' gaff rigged wooden boat designed for the shallow bays of the south shore of Long Island I will now commit them to paper albeit late.

I don’t know the year but in the 1920's Newton and Louisa Day gave their 4 children SS 57.  She was named Pickle (a name I never liked) because of Heinz 57 Varieties of Pickles.  The boat was originally for the 2 older boys Newton and Bob.  I’m sure they were thrilled, but when they
didn’t do well in the races and mildly (in those days you didn’t complain about a gift from your parents) suggested the fault was in the boat.  My grandfather declared that he and my grandmother would race next Saturday.  They were renting (as they did for many years) a cottage at Jaggers or Cedar Beach, known for many years after as the “Day Cottage”.  My grandfather who worked a half day on Saturdays came out on the train rushed to the dock at Jaggers where my grandmother was waiting.  They won the race handily, sailed back to the dock and the boys were greeted with “There’s nothing wrong with the boat”.

On the other side of the family my uncle Charlie Rice won the very first Smith’s Point Race.  I regret I know nothing about that race or how he happened to be sailing an SS.

For several years the Day boys did much better in 57 and when my mother Sis Rice and her twin brother Tom Day were old enough they took over.  My mom told the story about being incensed when the newspaper reported that the 3 Day boys won a race in
Bellport when she was the one who bailed the boat around the course.  Imagine calling her a boy!!

Later probably in the early 30's Tom Day and his buddy
Erben Jenkins sailed 57 around L.I.  Their story was about taking a slip in Montauk Harbor next to a pristine yacht many times larger than their SS.  They were not appreciated when the can of baked beans they were heating on a sterno stove blew baked beans all over the yacht.  They didn’t know you should open the can first.  The uniformed crew on the yacht hustled to clean up the mess as they glared at the boys.

The 38 hurricane put SS 57 in a tree, but she
wasn’t damaged very much.  When my family began to summer in the Rice summer home in Remsenburg in 1940 she was refurbished and was sailed by the 3 (Martha, Louise and Bobby) Rice kids over the next several years.

During the war the races were held off the
Apaucuck Point House.  My parents raced an old catboat they had acquired and restored after the hurricane.  Sometime during that time my older sister Martha sailed and raced 57.  Then it became my turn and about the age of 9 or 10 I had my dreamboat.  As soon as we could prove our sailing and swimming abilities my cousin Snowdie (Brinkley B. Snowden, Jr.) and I spent many hours on the bay.  He sailed his family’s SS10 and I sailed 57.   These two little boats became pirate ships, exploration boats and Starboats the ultimate racing machine of the day.

Snowdie and I did something at about the ages of 12 and 13 in our SS’s that wouldn’t be possible today and most parents would not permit.  However, our parents gave us permission to sail our two boats from Remsenburg to Southampton.  We were to sail to their old friend’s house on the same creek the SHYC is on, spend the night and sailed back the next day.  In those days you were allowed to sail through the bridges without a motor.  We did it.  I remember struggling through the bridge fenders against the current on the way there and sleeping on the floor in her house but not many other details.  We were thrilled to death to accomplish it.

Those summers were filled with Ladies, Junior and Saturday races with much serious training by my mother.  “Watch your sail, stop sawing the tiller, look at your wake, why
aren’t you watching your sail!”  I loved every minute of it except maybe the cold, wet beat that seemed endless sometimes as you hung out as far as you could.  Then there was always the Midget Championships and that’s when the Fenner boys came into my life–mainly Pete and Skip.

When I was about 13 a bunch of us
Remsenburg kids and our SS’s started gathering almost every weekday to have impromptu races, sail to the beach, play tennis ball tag with our boats and when the day came to an end play croquet or cards at someone’s house.  Rice SS57, Fenners SS13, Snowden SS10, Royce SS101, Seibert SS68.  We called ourselves the Remsenburg YC and raced off a dock near the Fenner’s house.  When regular racing became boring we held races where you could not touch the tiller between leaving and returning to the dock.  All steering had to be accomplished with sail trim and weight.  So we would sail a standard triangle course and land at the dock without touching the tiller.  It improved our sailing skills and showed what a wonderfully balanced and designed boat the SS is.  One of our most memorable activities was the beach party–we would sail to the Royces’s Bunny Hutch beach house.  Swimming, baseball, hotdogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, watermelon, toasted marshmallows and singing around the fire all ensued.  What memories of the stars, the ocean murmurs and then the sail home in our SS’s.

About this time my brother Bob was getting into racing.  I was assigned to crew for him in the Friday Junior Races.  We sailed the first round without incident but as we approached the leeward mark (in those days the pin end of the starting line) I hurriedly took the spinnaker down and threw the pole under the foredeck.  Unknowingly I hit Bobby in the head with the end of the pole and was very surprised when he hit me over the head with the centerboard stick. Meanwhile the Race Committee nearly fell overboard laughing.

When I was about 14
WYS and Shinnecock YC had pretty good Lightning fleets.  As remember it they decided to have a race on a Sunday afternoon and the SS fleet decided join in the fun.  For some reason Pete Fenner didn’t have SS 13 and so he crewed for me.  The Lightnings started first on a reach headed for Seatuck Cove with the SS’s on the next gun.  For a few minutes Pete and I were busy with the start and maneuvering for clear air.  When we looked ahead into the gray, foggy looking cove we were wondering what those strange things in the water were.  As we got closer we realized they were Lightning bottoms.  A squall had hit and dumped the whole fleet except my parents and a Shinnecock boat.  The wind picked up as we approached the cove and as soon as we passed the mark we anchored and let the sails down.  We scrambled under the sail because the rain was so hard it hurt.  A couple of other SS’s did the same thing but as I remember it most of them turned over too.  When the squall eased up we hoisted sail and anchor and went on to win the race following the two remaining Lightnings.  Pete and I had a great time.

During those tween and teen years our lives were pretty wrapped up in the SS and the
WYS. We were racing in the Jr., Ladies, July, August Series as well as the Smith’s Point Race, Cruise Week, Bellport Labor Day Series and the SS Association Races.  Most of us at least second generation sailors.  The skill and seamanship was at a fairly high level as demonstrated by how our little club did in the Midget, Jr., Ladies and Men’s Great South Bay Championships over the years.  Several of us were also involved in teaching and running the sailing program at WYS.

Not too many years later these same teenagers were getting their own kids started in our great little boat and the 3rd generation took over.  
Although it was difficult for us old folks to give her up and many of us raced on into adulthood.

One of my first races with my (then) non-sailing husband took place at
Quantuck in an Association race.  It seemed like that tiny bay was wall to wall SS’s.  It was 3 times around which didn’t help the crowdedness.  It was light air, we got a not very good start, but managed to be near the front of the fleet at the windward mark.  Poor Marty struggled with the unfamiliar spinnaker for almost the entire run and by the leeward mark it seemed everyone had gone by.  We fought our way back up to the front only to have the same thing happen again.  At this point we were literally snarling at each other.  Finally on the last lap the jib eyebolt pulled out of the foredeck and we could respectably retire.  Then we laughed and Marty says that anything said during a sailboat race cannot be held against you in divorce court.

My kids feel as attached to the SS as I do.  When they started getting good and 57 was getting very tired we bought SS 148 from Kit and Cliff Cramp.  Bud
Simes let us unofficially call her 157 and they spent many years sailing and racing her.  Their attachment may be different–times had changed but the specialness of that little boat–the freedom, responsibility, freedom of imagination (my SS was a pirate ship, a Starboat, etc.), that she gave us all is irreplaceable.

A word about the design of the SS.  In our family her ability and gracefulness in the south shore bays was much admired.  The
skeg and inboard rudder did not pick up seaweed (a real problem in her earlier years before the inlet) not to mention the very important ability to sail in very shallow water with the board up and a rudder still functional.  Today’s design leaves you with no board and no rudder and actually no way to “sail”.  She was a small version of the boats of her day and a wonderful design.  The pureness of her lines was proven when Bayard Fenner and Bob Mattison began to make a fiberglass version–the Cottontail.  Of course they put a Marconi rig on her and deepened her freeboard but basically she was the same hull. She was so fast that that little 16 footer was always sailing in the “big boat” fleet during cruise week and Bellport.  Unfortunately, she never caught on and I am not sure if any are still around.

Rest assured Lou, the SS fleet sails on.  Thank you, Marty,  for sharing this wonderful narrative with the SS community.


First Sail on the Spindrift

We had our first sail in the newly restored SS 101 [SS ?-3] today, May 30th, 2009. It is a very beautiful boat. So! What’s it like to sail an SS for the first time in 50 years, when the once 15-year-old sailor is now a card-carrying Medicare recipient?

The boat is smaller than it used to be, I swear it is.

Standing on the bow seemed tippier than in yesteryears. And more slippery.

The boom seems much lower than when we were kids, but of course it isn’t.

The new Dacron sails are stiff and noisy and unromantic. Crackle, crackle.

We still had to bail the boat out despite the beautiful new sail cover because we had torrential rains yesterday.

The fancy sliding jib pull takes up 6” on the deck, just where I want to plant a grandchild.

The fancy mainsail winch, which is ever so easy to operate, is located on the aft part of the centerboard and we’re so big now that between the over-sized winch and the tiller there’s barely room for the skipper and not enough room for bailing, at least not with my 1944 hand-carved scoop….and, indeed, being an SS, there is still a lot of bailing to be done, just like 50 years ago.

The strong wind which I blithely called “whussy wind” was too much for the whussy senior citizens. Because as soon as we tucked in for a scrappy fast sail, the first wave came over the bow and hit me. WOW!! Was it ever COLD COLD COLD!! Now, I expected to be wet…but I never imagined that a bow wave in May felt positively Arctic.

It was a short sail. I sit here at my desk, staring out the window at the benign-looking little sailboat. How hard could it be to sail that silly little boat??

I kept thinking about the grandchildren and the fun they’re going to have learning to sail. Okay, we take away the sliding pulley and make room for their little tushes. We go out when the wind is calmer. In July when the water is warmer. Okay, this can work, they’ll love it. And then I saw the pink jellyfish. IN MAY!! What the !@#$% were JELLYFISH doing in Beaver Dam Cove in frigid bay water??

End of first report.