EPSTEIN/BERKELEY WIN 75TH ANNIVERSARY NATIONALS
By Joe Berkeley
The 2014 110 Nationals was the 75th anniversary of the class, and what better place to host the event than the birthplace of Raymond Hunt’s venerable yacht, Marblehead, Mass. James Eardley, Eli Slater and the good people of Eastern Yacht Club rolled out the welcome carpet.
The idea of being at the 75th anniversary party of the class was very appealing to me as I don’t know if I’ll be able to sail in the 100th. Humans tend to wear out before their 110’s. After an eight year sabbatical, where I devoted my free time to another form of antiquated transportation, bicycle riding, I returned to the class when Will Laidlaw was kind enough to reunite me with my first love, retread.
Retread, 110 number 632 was a boat that was owned by a gentleman who used to sail with two headsails, and a poodle as crew. The poodle used to go up beneath the deck and stick his head out of the spinnaker launcher hole. This is not a joke.
Will Craig made a living as a house painter, but I always thought of him as an artist. When he was thinking he would purse his lips, hold his head to the side, and utter a few words that would hold much meaning. Retread was his canvas, and he created a simple, beautiful yacht by replacing the deck, sides, and bottom with Okoume plywood, fastened to new frames with glue rather than screws.
I wanted her to be in top shape for the 75th anniversary, so after I bought her from Will Laidlaw, I sent her down to Prescott Cronin to do some work. He knew the boat. When Prescott was at Guck, Inc, he faired retread’s keel, bottom, and painted her topsides in 2001. Under Will Laidlaw’s ownership, other parts of retread were improved as well. He rebuilt the jib system with sliding cars, updated the rigging with some help from Mark Van Note, crafted new floorboards, updated the lifting gear.
Prescott and Will Craig are similar, as Prescott is a performing artist and has been in bands his whole life. His work, like Will’s, tends to have a soul. You put your hand on the finished piece and you can feel the energy of the craftsman. The work Prescott put into Steven Clancy’s #4 Jolly Green Giant and James Eardley’s yacht raised the bar. Both 110’s are spectacular.
I wanted retread to be in the same category as these two fine yachts so Prescott took on the job. Retread’s coamings were a bit war weary, so I was considering having new coamings built. Tom Craig, Will’s brother, very much wanted the original coamings to be repaired as they were Will’s work. Tom believed they could be repaired, and the nicks and scars were proof of retread’s accomplishments, battle scars that told the story of great victories and agonizing defeats.
Prescott stripped the coamings, center plank, cover plank, tiller, and splash rail. He repaired the crack in the coamings, sent the tiller straps out to be modified so the tiller would not drag on the coamings, and applied several coats of “juice” to the bare wood. Prescott’s recipe for “juice” is a secret, but it contains oil, turpentine, and other ingredients to fill the pores of the wood. He made sure all of the pieces he stripped had the same appearance. He also mounted the new third wheel I bought for the front of the trailer, and put the old third wheel, which was failing, on the back of the trailer. Not having to drag around a block to chock up the back of the trailer makes for a much nicer lifestyle.
In December of 2013, I was invited by my previous company to become a freelancer. My wife, who is ten times smarter than me, and had freelanced before, knew there would be some downtime. She said, “Go get your boat. It will give you something to do when you don’t have work.”
She was right. When I didn’t have work for the month of December and March, I worked on retread. I’ve always liked reading car magazines about people who do nut and bolt restorations. I set out to do such a restoration on retread. The bright work received 18 coats of varnish, I painted the topsides, the bottom, replaced every worn cleat, every worn block, all the air bags, the tiller extension, and went through all of the running rigging with new line from West Marine. Jim Reineck crafted new bearings for the rudder post. He is such an interesting guy, I sold a story to the Boston Globe about him.
One night, after a day of freelance, I was upside down in retread working away, sweating and swearing, when the phone rang. Halsey Herreshoff, the son of the Wizard of Bristol, was calling back to give me a quote for a story I was writing that featured his father. I couldn’t believe it. To be working on a boat that was designed by Hunt and talk to Herreshoff, what a treat.
The sails went off to Allerton Harbor Canvas to have a few imperfections repaired, and the symmetrical spinnaker went back to North Salem to have the take down patch changed from a piece of webbing which ripped out to a grommet system with five layers of sail material. Mark Van Note built a new pole and when you hold it in your hands it is every bit as perfect as the work of Prescott and Will. Milly Biller crafted a new spinnaker sock made from mesh material as well as a jib cover.
I restored retread and she restored me. The transition from staff to freelance is cause for introspection and busy hands help clear the mind. In May, retread rolled out of the garage looking almost as good as if Will Craig or Prescott Cronin or Will Laidlaw had done the work. What you can’t tell is that some of the jobs took me five attempts. All of those guys would’ve gotten it right on the first.
For one of my freelance clients, I created a video about a man named Dr. Robin Wallace, who was my doctor when I was at St. George’s School in 1984. A founding member of Sail Newport, as well as an America’s Cup Race Committee, Dr. Robin Wallace is a great ambassador for the sport. When I worked on his video, before I interviewed him, I interviewed ten of his friends. One of them said something that hit me in the face like a shovel. She said, “Dr. Robin Wallace believes in proper sailing with a joyful heart. There are many people who want to win at all costs, but they don’t have a joyful heart.”
I decided I wanted to be like Dr. Wallace. Every regatta we attend is a competition. But more importantly, it is also a celebration. Yes, we sail against each other. But we also sail with each other against the wind, against the waves, against the tide, against the storms, and if we don’t have others to sail with against the elements, we may as well all be at home sweeping the garage. That Corinthian spirit is important to me and I decided to be a person who has joy in their heart, lets their sailing do the talking, and gives fellow competitors the benefit of the doubt.
With all due respect to the work that went into the restoration of retread, I wanted to sail with a crew who had a joyful heart and understood the soul of retread. Dr. Ep and I sailed together for a couple of seasons in the early 2000’s and she said yes.
Dr. Ep is no dummy. She has a PHD, is a researcher at Amgen and her days are spent looking for cures for diseases like cancer. She works in a lab and is known for having “good hands” which in science talk means she conducts good experiments. During her free time, Dr. Ep crews for Dru Sour in Rhodes 19’s, Carole Cronin in Snipes, and Erik Goerthert in IC dinghies. She also loves to ride her bicycle, so we can connect on that front.
When I tell someone like Judd Smith, or Jack Slattery that I’m sailing with Dr. Ep, and she is the best that ever lived, they nod and say yes, as if I have just informed them that beer is cold, the sun is warm, or ice cream tastes good. It is a statement of fact and only a fool would debate it.
Between Dr. Ep’s busy calendar and my Laser schedule, we got in retread for one regatta and one practice session before the nationals. We concluded that the symmetrical spinnaker is faster than the A sail on windward leewards and is a more versatile all-around sail. Going into the Nationals, we had a bias for the symmetrical sail.
We had a chat with Jack Slattery of North Sails about the A-sail. He believes that the 110 would be better served with a masthead A-sail. Ross Weene and Eli own that rig and that sail and just won their division at the Panerai classic regatta. This rig calls for another pair of spreaders up high, but it does improve performance considerably.
Before the regatta, we also concluded that this Nationals was a bit of a WD-40 event. Pretty much everyone was rusty. We had only sailed three days prior to the Nationals so we made a decision to keep it simple. No fancy lee bow tacks, no sticking it into the weather mark on port tack at the last second, no moves that were highly technical. Because of the Laser, my timing in the 110 was not totally dialed in.
Judd Smith won the NOOD Regatta two weeks before and he said, “we tried to not have a bad race.” That was in the back of our heads as well. I sailed Lasers at the NOOD Marblehead and was schooled by JB Braun who is an animal in the Laser as well as on the road bike. I learned a bit about the current, the waves, and became familiar with the marks and the courses the Marblehead RC uses. They tend to like course C, which favors the symmetrical spinnaker.
Dr. Ep was in charge of housing and she set us up at Bob Slattery’s place in Marblehead. I was in charge of boat prep, so I got retread ready to go. The first day of the regatta, which was Dr. Ep’s birthday, we were second place in the practice race. We won the next two races, and ended the day on a perfect note, with a 1, 1 for 2 points.
Day two was blown out which was a bit of a disappointment. I would always rather sail than not sail, and our boat was in the water when the day was cancelled. While we are not the heaviest team on the water, we have learned that by easing the jib cars aft, cracking off a bit, and vang sheeting the main, we can hang with the big dogs. We did talk about throwing me out on the wire and putting Ep on the stick but decided that it could be a recipe for disaster. Ep’s 140 pounds in the right place at the right time is better than my 178 pounds in the wrong place.
The next day, as a result of the storm, the seas were confused and so was I. Giant swells were going in the opposite direction of the wind. Steven and Patrick Clancy were on fire, posting a 1, 1, 2, a near perfect day. Russell and Will Laidlaw won a race, and US Blues with Mark Van Note and Josh was in the hunt. We had a 3, 3, 4 and I was upset we could have done better. I don’t get to sail with Dr. Ep very often, so I feel like I should be perfect and I clearly wasn’t. I started on the right side of the line in one race, the breeze died, we dropped to 12th. We kept it positive and fought our way back to a 4.
After the day, we had a team meeting and Dr. Ep gave me the, “hey, we’re a team. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. Get this perfection crap out of your head and let’s just go sailing.”
With my head back on straight, we went into the final day knowing that with throw outs, Jolly Green Giant, US Blues, or retread were all in the hunt. Before the day started, I reflected on the fact that Judd Smith once said, “Everyone in the Etchells class always congratulates me at the end of the day for winning the race. But at the beginning of the day, when I’m washing the bottom of my boat, no one else is.”
I washed the bottom of my boat, and we worked hard on the team vibe, with me realizing that no one is perfect and Dr. Ep is gonna make mistakes and I’m gonna make mistakes and just get over myself. We won the first race by a foot. US Blues was second.
We had a team meeting before the last race, reviewed the scores, and realized that we had to do better than a 4th for this race to count for us, it was mathematically impossible for US Blues to beat us, and Steven had to win the race to win the regatta. We got caught up at the boat at the start with US Blues, Steven escaped to the left, and for awhile, he was looking good. Ross Weene was winning the race, Steven was in second, and were deep on the right in crap breeze.
The chemistry with Dr. Ep is good so we don’t fight. We settle in, work the boat, and try to improve our situation. Going up the second beat, Dr. Ep liked the right. Two weeks ago at the Laser regatta, I worked the right in similar conditions and had my best race of the series. At times it looked like we were overstanding. From the wire, Dr. Ep said, “bear off in the puffs, head up in the lulls.” And we did. By working the right, we clawed our way back to the top three at the weather mark.
The mark boat was at the weather mark with a new bearing to the finish, 60 degrees. I looked at the compass and noted that 60 degrees was pretty low. We bore off, set, and a lot of boats started going high. We were one of the lower boats in the group. After the Wild Thing reached by and crossed our bow, I spotted a piece of green on the horizon which was the pin next to a rigid bottom inflatable. We bore off more, pulled the pole back, and finished at the pin to win the race. John Huff was second.
We finished the regatta with a 1, 1, 4, 3, 3, 1, 1, throwing out the 4 for 10 points. After the douse, we had a celebration where Dr. Ep received a hug she did not ask for nor want. For Dr. Ep, the hug became rather awkward at the one-second mark. I reached the same conclusion two minutes later.
Dr. Ep sails with Carole Cronin who informs her that the most important race of the regatta is the race to the hoist. We lost that race because of the unwanted hugging. If I live to be 100, I will never forget the feeling of sailing into the harbor having accomplished the goal in the boat I love with the teammate I greatly respect.
If I had just seven days left to live, I’d spend one of them sailing with Dr. Ep. It’s just fun and being in her presence makes you a better sailor and a better person.
There were a couple of things I had to remind myself of during the regatta, and Dr. Ep reminded me as well: do not over trim the main. In the Laser, you trim the main until it’s two blocked. Many times Dr. Ep reminded me to not over trim the 110 main. Downwind, do not ease the outhaul as much as the Laser. The new sail has a full top batten and it gets distorted if you ease it too much.
Trust your teammate. When we were at our best in big waves, I just tried to steer the boat and Dr Ep kept her head up and out of the boat.
Get your head out of the boat. Trimming the Cunningham an inch isn’t worth it if you can’t hike for a minute.
The symmetrical sail is faster than the A sail on windward leewards.
In big breeze, ease the barber haulers or jib tracks to open the slot and vang sheet if you have to. Crack off the sheets. Speed first, pointing second.
Read the sailing instructions so you know where the marks are and what color the new mark is. Leave the dock one hour before the warning signal. After working on the boat for 400 hours over the winter, I did not want to be late for a race.
Sail in the pressure. You have to get in it before you can tack. When Steven crushed us on day two, we often tacked just two boat lengths from him thinking we were in the same pressure. We were not. You have to be in it before you can tack. If you’re in pressure, it’s okay to sail in a header rather than be lifted in no wind.
In Marblehead, sometimes it’s okay to over stand if you are in pressure. A lot of times, boats over stand the weather mark in a righty and crush the boats on the left that are wallowing.
Be true to yourself. If you’re a preparation person, don’t apologize for it. Just be yourself and prepare your boat.
After all of the prep work, remember that the most important piece of equipment in the boat is the sailor. Prepare yourself. Dr. Ep and I both like to ride bicycles. She is trained to be a strong 140 pounds, I ride enough to stay at 178, but not so much to dip down to 167 as I will get killed at Laser regattas.
At a 110 regatta, we are ready to sail at least three races a day and we have adequate food and hydration onboard to go the distance. I drink two bottles before the first race and get one bottle of water in me per hour. One bottle per hour is a good rule of thumb.
Treat your boat like crystal and your crew like gold. I tend to retread’s needs first after sailing, mine second. I only get to sail with Dr. Ep seven days a year, so I do my best to do right by her on the water and off.
Win it on the water, not in the protest room. I believe the rules are a shield, not a sword, and I do not want to be involved in cheesy protests. We had a protest flag in my life jacket, but I prefer to leave it there. What comes around goes around.
I like to sail in fleets when you are on port and hail, “tack or cross” the other boat responds with a hail of “tack” or a hail of “cross.” It sorta sucks when the other boat responds “starboard” which is code for screw you.
Enjoy the whole process. My Laser coach Peter Shope took a 22-year sabbatical from sailing. When he returned, he said in an interview that he wanted to enjoy the entire process — the boat prep, the on land training, the practice, the regattas, the off-the-water camaraderie. Me too.
On land, the friendships that were started decades ago in the 110 class endure today. Dr. Ep lived in Hull in a group house with no insulation and little heat with Steven Clancy and other 110er’s. Kurt Fleming who won championships with Jack Slattery was there. The Dreher clan all arrived for the reunion. Mike Blanchard was in good form. It was great to see all of the faces and get updates. Winning a 110 championship lasts for one year. Being part of the camaraderie of the 110 fleet lasts a lifetime.
Speaking from experience, as the prodigal son who walked away from the class and squandered his earnings from the sale of his boat on something ridiculous like a bicycle ride, you will be welcomed back with open arms. If you’ve been away for a long time, you will be greeted with technical assistance, a smile, and a feast after sailing.
I’m hopeful that the kit boat 110 project for DIY’ers can be successful. Prescott Cronin of Goetz boat builders believes it’s possible, Robb Ladd may have created a 3D drawing, Ross Weene and Eli Slater and Tom Craig have the technical expertise to ensure the boats are true to the class. We even have a guy who wants to be the first customer.
I see the kit boat offering as another way to bring people into the class, not the only way. We have a new glass boat offering, we have nicely renovated older boats, and we have project boats. The new wood kit boat for the DIY’er could tap a new audience, and broaden the appeal of our class.
Thanks for reading and I hope to see you on the water.