SS Mystery: What does it stand for?

Those of you who are a part of the SS email community know that recently there was a flurry of activity discussing what exactly the SS stands for (if anything). I counted over 40 emails sent discussing this matter. It is a mystery, and certainly this post will not resolve the question. For the benefit of this blog, and those outside our community who may stumble upon it, here’s a review the discussion, and the possibilities of the abbreviation.

Seaford Skiff? Nope.

First, we can put to rest a notion that Will Tuthill had to hear from an “expert.” As Will explained, “While I had SS59 at the dock at the Museum of Yachting in Newport, R.I. some dude came up wanting to know where I got the Seaford Skiff. Ooo-kay- I had actually heard that name before, but from everything that I have ever heard it comes down to South Shore or Small Sloop. Not for this guy. He was CERTAIN. He told me in absolute terms that Seaford Skiff was what SS stood for. I'm not buying.” Soon after Will’s email, Roger Holzmacher provided clarification on Seaford Skiffs: “This is a Seaford Skiff built by Paul Ketcham of Amityville, NY. These are local to the west end of Great South Bay. I've seen a few that had "SS" on the sail but I've never heard of them refered to as anything other than "Seaford Skiff".” Thanks to Roger for providing a photo of the Seaford Skiff.

George Carmany provided further clarification. “The Seaford Skiff was indigenous to the west end of Great South Bay and beyond, and was popular at the Cedarhurst Beach Club. They would occasionally show up in small numbers at race weeks in the '50s. They were basically a 14' duck boat with a lateen rig and bore no resemblance to an SS, not even close. However, in addition to the SYC records, where they first raced in 1909, I see that Stan Medina's book on the WYS also refers to the boats as ‘Special Sloop,’ commissioned by William C. Atwater (p. 48)."

Small Sloop?

Arma "Ham" Andon, age 90, called Meredith Murray to say when he got his SS 92, which was built by Benjamin Hallock, "it was called a small sloop." That’s certainly noteworthy, given the historical significance of knowledge held by one of our elder statesmen of our SS community. Others recall a similar response from elders. Tracy Cast: “As far as my mother can remember (Karin Storer), SS always stood for Small Sloop.” Denise Dalmasse says her family also referred to it as the Small Sloop.

George Sandberg: “Small Sloop - very descriptive of exactly what the boat is.”

Small Sloop certainly seems to be the most fitting piece of the puzzle. But there are others…

South Shore?

Dean Speir: “On the other hand, the Rice family of Club Lane in Remsenburg, which had some sailing credentials, often said it was ‘South Shore.’”

George Sandberg: “
South Shore - very descriptive of the area it was / is sailed in. But not of the boat itself.”

Personally I like the nod to
South Shore as it does celebrate the area in which our magic boat fist sailed. Sailing #150 in the finger lakes, when asked about SS, I say that it is a small sloop whose specific design was the work of Benjamin Hallock in 1908, and many sailed the South Shore. But this is no proof, certainly, what SS stands for.

Special Sloop?

Doug Simes: "I recall the letters standing for 'Special Sloop' since the boat was such an early one-design concept. I'm sure it's debatable whether the SS was actually the first one-design class, but that's what I was told when I was a kid."

Shinnecock?! Really?

Meredith: "I love some of the 'I’m-absolutely-sure-it-stands-for ...XX.' My favorite is the opinion of a number of Quogue residents who think SS stands for Shinnecock Sloop. Now I ask you, would Benjamin Hallock from Center Moriches and William Atwater of the Quantuck Yacht Club (soon to be commodore of Quantuck and not long after the commodore of the Westhampton Yacht Squadron), who sent the first couple of dozen SSs to the Westhampton Yacht Squadron in Moriches Bay, name the boat 'Shinnecock Anything'??"

Rob Dudley: "Of the first nine SS boats that hit the water in the summer of 1909, five went to Quantuck and four went to Shinnecock. SS boats didn't go to Westhampton until 1914, when seven went to Westhampton and three to Quantuck. My source for this information is the QYC 75th anniversary booklet written by Gordon Dudley and Cory Reynolds."

Hmmmmmmmm. Nah, can’t be.

Slow Sinking?

Rob Dudley: “Sinking Submarine.” Rob also noted, “There is the old story of when my uncle Gordon asked Ollie Howell what SS stood for and he replied that he ‘guessed old Ben knew,’ referring to Ben Hallock who had passed away.”

Dean Speir: "Then I am compelled to note that Bobby Rice (brother of Martha and Lou) and David Royce (brother of Nancy Fenner), who are eight-nine years senior to Rob, always referred to the boats as 'Sinking Sloops' throughout the mid-to-late '50s."

Sounds like the mystery was alive and well back in the ‘50s, and those who were assigned head bailers pondered the answer.

The Alphabet / Harry S Truman

Merry: “Well, personally, after all my reading I think “SS” stands for nothing, just two letters of the alphabet like the AA class and the BB class and the B class. It was designed by all the guys who sailed the AAs and BBs, so to my mind they might have thought it appropriate to put “SS” on a small sloop. I vote for the alphabet letters SS.” Good enough for Harry S Truman, good enough for the SS.

Still a Mystery

After reading the blogs, Fred & Doris Scopinich say leave it SS. As no one knows for sure, let the mystery remain!

Bob Millstein: “Voting for something doesn't make it so. Since it is a mystery and shall probably remain a mystery I think we should leave it SS - no more and no less. SS - one of the earliest one designs in

Dean Speir: "I'm on the plain 'ol "SS" side of things, and would prefer that it be said that if it actually stood for anything, that the origin of the name is lost in the mist of
Great South Bay."

I agree with you Dean, and unless the answer is found in a “beacon” of a yet to be found historical document, we will continue searching in the mist! I for one am simply happy to have the luxury and privilege of sailing one. Let the mystery endure!


  1. Excellent wrap-up, Will! Now at least we've recorded for posterity the fact that in 2009 SS sailors still don't have the foggiest idea what "SS" stands for. Interesting and amusing. Well done! -- Meredith

  2. From my girlfriend who saile dthese in the early 1960's:

    Just for fun……Here’s a postcard (not attached to this post) from about 1906 with images of the boat I sailed, with jibs down, as a kid in Quogue. 16’. They were called “SS’s” for Shinnecock Sloops

  3. Further to my last and now my girlfriend has waded through the 2008 regatta listing:

    She sailed SS 152 with George Horton - though she doesn't recollect that the boat was called "Thanks Dad" at the time.

    Her recollection as to why it is the "Shinnecock Sloop" is simply that they were named after the bay which was named after the Native Americans.

  4. Of course, I grew up learning to sail on Shinnecock Sloops on Shinnecock Bay. ( in the 60's).. and remember the name Horton and the lovely girl who bore that family name... ... lessons with Johnny Sartorious .What a wonderful boat and with the centerboard to lift up perfect for the shallow water of Shinnecock. I wonder if any one knows whether Samuel Carter lll the famous boat builder in East Quogue made any? Cathryn Cockerill de Wilde