Silent Maid: Loud Statement
This 33-foot catboat, the reincarnation of a storied Barnegat Bay racer, is the latest success of a former Wall Streeter devoted to bringing classic wooden sailboats back to life. Yacht Style from our December 2012 issue.
A little historical footnote is in order here. The original Vapor was designed in 1923 by Sweisguth’s arch rival, Charles D. Mower. Mower, a popular designer for members of the New York Yacht Club, was also design editor for Rudder magazine, the designer of record for the Nevins Yard on City Island, New York, and the chief measurer for the New York Yacht Club and the Cruising Club of America.
Yet another historical tidbit adding perspective is that one of Mower’s young protégés in the mid-1920s was Olin J. Stephens II, who would become one of America’s most celebrated designers, with eight America’s Cup victories and 14 Newport-Bermuda Race wins. Sweisguth and Mower, I mused to myself, would’ve enjoyed seeing exact replicas of their designs racing nearly 90 years after coming off the drawing boards. And, like me, they would have been interested in the outcome of the regatta.
Single-Sail Trim Tactics
The third and final race was sailed on Sunday on the last weekend in July. To reach the racecourse, the fleet left the Bay Head Yacht Club at 0900 for the scheduled 1100 start. It’s a long ride through a canal, under two drawbridges, and, finally, out into the ocean. Unfortunately, there was little wind. Jim Walsh, the principal race officer, waited for a sea breeze to build. During the break, I spent time below, looking at the many details to which boat manager Henry Colie tends.
Kellogg drew my attention to the modern flush head and holding tank, the diesel engine (no need for Noisy Lady), a laptop computer, and GPS navigation. Beyond those items is a roomy cabin. The boat has four bunks. Several of our nine-person crew napped during our wait, while others shared a newspaper. The boat is solid. When a large sportfishing boat passed by at flank speed, the waves had little effect, and there were no creaking sounds. I guess she’s well named.
A centerboard trunk separates the cabin. With the board up, the boat draws 2 feet 6 inches. The lowered board adds about 4 feet to the draft. Under way, she’s a dream. Every crewmate had a place to sit. The boat is dry. The hull form pushes the water away from the boat. Sweisguth clearly knew what he was doing.
I turned my attention to the rig. The mainsail is gigantic. There are reef points, but we didn’t need them on this light-air day. Many little tricks accompany trimming a boat with a single sail.
The gaff has to be hoisted to the correct position to set the mainsail for different wind conditions. If the gaff is hoisted too high, I found that the leech becomes overly tight and the sail stalls.
The mainsail trimmer and the helmsman must work closely together in every puff of wind because the boat’s easily overpowered, yet the wide beam does its part to impart considerable form stability. Getting all the crew on the windward rail is also helpful in a strong gust. I kept all nine of us moving to keep Silent Maid at the fastest angle of heel, about 12 degrees.
In light wind, the crew sat to leeward. In choppy waves, I pushed my luck and asked several crew to sit below to lower the center of gravity. A few of them looked at me sideways, but we were racing, and those A Cats were fast. After about an hour, a westerly breeze filled in.
Jim Walsh set a clever course that featured more reaching than beating, which was a big help to Elf. Silent Maid won the start and rounded the first mark ahead of Vapor. Doug Love, a veteran E Scow sailor and an expert on sailing the Jersey shore, helpfully suggested that there’d be more wind near the beach.
But on the next two legs, things changed. Vapor steadily gained. Aaron Rapoport, of Baltimore, Maryland, was on the crew and at the helm. A vet of MIT’s sailing team, he kept the boat sailing at her peak. But during the reaching legs, I remembered Schoettle’s words that “Silent Maid has a difficult time making up her handicap on the reach legs of a triangular course.” Things hadn’t changed for us that day.