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Old 06-06-2013
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Re: Bob Perry's take on Wolfenzee's dream boat

Hartley,

You asked about how 'Indian' sailed. A little over a year ago, someone was thinking of buying the old girl from her then current owner and he wrote to me about her. Here is the write up on her that I wrote for him. I tells the whole story.

Indian was constructed by Joel Johnson for a retired ship's captain in 1939, just before the 1939 motor boat act, the first attempt to regulate engine and electrical safety. This meant that there was a total disregard for modern safety standards. The main power switch was a large knife switch mounted right above the engine. The ignition switch was also a knife switch located above the engine. The fuel tank was copper and located in the cockpit. It was a very clever installation which if it leaked would send the gasoline down the scuppers or through the scabbard type shifter located in the cockpit sole just above the transmission.

'Indian' was built simply; white cedar planking over white oak framing. These boats were designed for mahogany planking and internal ballast, neither of which did she have when we owned her, so her planking was a little lighter than the original design and which might partially mitigate the added weight of the sheathing.

On the other hand, as she was built, she was very tender (way too tender as the prior owner described it) and so a previous owner had added an iron or lead shoe beneath her keel which gave her a little more stability.

The glass sheathing was added to the boat by the time we owned her and was the result of a host of reasons. 'Indian' was iron fastened. The combination of iron fastenings in oak frames only has a limited lifespan and 'Indian's' fastenings were well past their "use by" date. Her butt blocks would literally fall off and show up in the bilge.

The story about the glass work that we were told is that a young fiberglass boat builder bought her and fiberglassed her. He wanted to keep Indian as his boat but also use her hull as a plug to build fiberglass versions. The story was that the layup was heavy polyester resin and fiberglass cloth intended to be strong enough to become her hull. While we owned her the hull was tight and stiff and we never saw signs of movement.

But, with the added ballast shoe and the glass sheathing she was clearly way over her design weight. Measurements from her rail to her waterline, and travelift weight measurements, suggested that she was literally 1000's of pounds, if not tons over her design weight.

Later, I heard that a subsequent owner rebuilt her decks, maybe replaced her sheathing, and added a new diesel engine instead of the lovely little Universal Blue Jacket twin cyl. gas engine she was built with. Depending on how all that was done, that could be either new net added weight, or net weight loss.

When we owned her, her mast was in great shape, but the booms were nearly shot. I also heard they replaced the bowsprit and king post but after talking to Howard Chappelle and George Stadel (a great story) about the installation, I can't imagine how that was actually done since the cranse iron was actually made by a blacksmith after it was passed through the stem and its fastenings are concealed behind the stem apron.

Which brings me to how she sails. First, this is not a modern boat. In any comparison with a modern design, she would be considered, slow, wet, cramped, rolly and pitchy, makes gobs of leeway, does not point very high and had a wicked weather helm when the breeze came up and you had too much canavs. She was at her best in 10-12 knots of breeze, above or below that, not so much.

Below 10-12 knots she sailed well in that she kept moving if you threw up enough sail, and she did not spin in circles like some lesser designs when the wind got in the 2-5 knot range.

In heavy air, she could be a handful. You needed to get rid of the genoa and change down to the jib-topsail, and perhaps reef early. (The partially reefed roller furling that a later owner added made no sense on this boat.) In heavy air, you could not sail her with the just staysail jib and mainsail (without reefing the main) without having massive weather helm. Reefing shorthanded was a bit of a pain when we owned the boat, but it was doable. You had to drop the boom onto the gallows and tie in the reef. Very old school stuff.

Her worst trait was her hobby horsing. Like most traditional, small, keel boats, she would hobbyhorse herself to a stop in chop. You got used to it, but it was frustrating watching smaller trailerable boats shoot past you in a decent breeze, seemingly unaffected by the waves that had stopped you dead.

I still have a file with pictures and news articles on the old girl.

I fear this all sounds way more negative than my true feelings about this boat. Perhaps I can say it this way, sailing old designs like this is a different aesthetic that simply sailing for sailing sake. It is a different pace and a different skill set than you would expect sailing newer designs, which frankly are far better sailing boats in all quantifiable ways. But sailing old boats pull at your heart in ways no new boat can, and requires a different set of sailing skills which are challenging enough to be interesting even if you are not going very fast.

But to me owning old boats is a bit like owning an old dog, which you have owned since she was a pup but she is now is old, blind, deaf and cantankerous. She snaps at you every time you try to pet her. And yet you have owned and loved this dog since both of your youths, and so keep trying to pet the old girl just the same.

In other words, as negative as I may sound, I truly loved owning and sailing 'Indian'. You have not said what you want to do with Indian. As a daysailer and overnighter, she would be great in an area with 10-12 knot prevailing winds and mild currents, and as long as you had plenty of time to get where you are going.
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Curmudgeon at Large- and rhinestone in the rough, sailing my Farr 11.6 on the Chesapeake Bay
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