Building the Fleet, One Donation at a Time

Private funds help the Coast Guard Academy upgrade its sail training boats. "Past the Spindle" for our October 21, 2009, CW Reckonings

Leadership 44 368 drawing

By design, the Leadership 44 is meant to be durable and to provide a team-building experience for the Coast Guard cadets onboard.Pedrick Design

Though they're still waiting for final contracts to be resolved, a small cadre of Coast Guard Academy supporters found a reason to toast the future during the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland. Now, only a final bit of bureaucracy stands between the scuttling of a fleet of well-worn, half-century-old sail training vessels and the launch of a brand spanking new flotilla of Leadership 44s. Designed by David Pedrick, certainly four, and possibly eight of the L-44s will be built in Maine by Morris Yachts, with work expected to begin later this fall.

On hand during the boat show reception earlier this month were members of the Coast Guard Foundation, a group of private citizens who raise funds to support the Academy, located in New London, Connecticut. The Foundation is working alongside the Alumni Association and the Parents Association to raise approximately $6.5 million in private donations to build the new boats. Federal dollars are not available because of the way the Coast Guard's funding is structured.

"This project will absolutely impact every cadet at the academy over the next 15 years," says Bob Hallock, former chairman of the Alumni Association and the current chair of the L-44s' Procurement Committee. For that reason, he believes the groups involved will meet their goal and be able to provide one boat for each of the academy's eight cadet companies.

Currently, the academy conducts its summer coastal leadership cruises with four Luders 44s that were bought in the early 1960s. While the U.S. Navy has upgraded its own fleet of Luders twice in the same period, Hallock notes Coast Guard cadets are sailing the same boats he sailed as a member of the Class of 1972. And because of the small number of boats, about 40 percent of each class of cadets don't get to participate in the two-week-long training cruises that take place between their second and third years.

Coast Guard operations rely on relatively small squads, says Hallock, and the summer cruises are used to teach cadets how to effectively build and work in small teams. By building eight boats, it will ensure every cadet-six or seven per boat, per cruise-will receive this small-boat, skill building experience.

The new L-44s are based loosely on Pedrick now-8-year-old design for the new Navy 44s. Some of the new design elements include slightly less sheer, a bit prouder stem, and an open transom.

But, notes Hallock, like the Navy's boats, these new ones will be "cadet proof."

"In our parlance, we don't refer to them as yachts, we refer to them as workboats," says Hallock.

"They're teaching tools, they're education platforms. It's not about teaching how to pull strings and sail, it's about the teamwork involved in making the boat go, and identifying the leadership ability and team building skills in the cadets," says Pedrick, describing the design criteria he brought to the project. He says they've significantly updated the hull and rig design, and optimized it for coastal cruising. But in the end, the L-44s will still be fairly conservative and heavy boats that can weather a long lifetime of being abused by novice sailors.

To find a builder, about a dozen yards were approached, but in the end, Morris Yachts won out because they already build a similar boat-in size and strength-with its ocean-going sailboats. Of note, says Hallock, is the relationship that developed with Morris during the bid process, and the fact that the builder agreed to provide 10 years of technical support.

Hallock says he expects the contract for the first four boats will be signed in the next couple weeks and that they could be ready for sailing, possibly next year. He expects a follow-on agreement for four more by spring. With luck-and donations-there'll be eight boats sitting at the academy's docks by the summer of 2011.
Interested in learning more? A new website www.cgaleadership44.org is scheduled to go live on Friday (October 23).

Who knows, a couple years from now, that kid with the Iowa accent stepping aboard your boat in the middle of the night might just know what sailing's all about.