As a sailboat-weary veteran of all 40 October sail shows at the City Dock in Annapolis, I have never been discouraged by snow squalls, gale-force winds, torrential rain, 100 degree temperatures, super-high tides with workers rowing about in dinghies, super-low tides with risky boarding on boats hard aground, and invasions of stinging honeybees.
Even after boat show owners suspended the good old freebie press luncheons of beef and booze at the Fleet Reserve Club on Ego Alley, I persevered and continued my habitual attendance.
As a fashion aside, this October I noticed a shortage of dude brokers draped in ill-fitting, heavily padded blue blazers made in Bangladesh. Casualness seems to be in, and there was still an abundance of red Mount Gay cap wearers to signify membership in the sailing cult. Unknowingly, I had tossed on a yellow “GonzoPromo.com” cap for the social occasion and was oblivious of my fashion selection until questioned about the logo.
At that first, long-ago City Dock sailboat show of 1969 — produced by the late Annapolitan Jerry Woods — wooden boats and wooden spars were fairly common among the 50 in-water vessels. In recent years, show regulars could not avoid noticing big holes in the water where production boats used to be packed in so tight one could walk across Ego Alley on them. I counted about 70 in the water this time.
As far back as I can remember, the colorful Spitzer brothers from North Carolina have been there promoting their trailerable Rhodes 22 as the best small boat in the world. Stan, a sailing engineer by training, handles demos on the water, and soft-spoken Elton takes care of the land demos, occasionally joined by his bro. For this event, they had a record four boats. These R22s are so tricked out they would surpass an expensive, working, full-scale nautical Erector Set with a dizzying array of gimmicks, gadgets and thingamajigs.
Stan the founder, who is in his 80s, proudly boasts of surviving in the trade with no dealers and no industry advertising. His verbose 24-page brochure (with an amusing array of typos and 100-word sentences) reports more reasons for buying his boat than you might care to know. He also brags about its speed, which he claims once caused an Ensign 22 helmsman being overtaken by him to remark: “Where are you hiding your motor?” Ah, but there is no way to conceal the outboard hanging from the squared-off transom on a clunky, but clever, elevator bracket powered by an electric motor, or a block-and-tackle rig with a 7-to-1 purchase. An awesomely impressive package, that it is.
Through the years I have playfully tormented Stan as he conducts demo sails in the crowded harbor (always sailing faster than him, I should add). As he moved along close-hauled in a 15-knot breeze this last time with his 175 percent genoa deeply roller-reefed, I eagerly anticipated yet another brief encounter.
As we tacked about in gusty winds, I could not help but shout to Stan in close quarters: “You may be faster than a full-keel Ensign 22, but you are not faster than this full-keel Sailmaster 22!” He smiled in a good-natured way, shook his head, but had no reply as he rolled up the sails and motored back to his slip. My humbling mission accomplished for the day, I blasted out to the Bay while hoping for another short match with Stan before he skipped town.
Of course, every boat owner and boatbuilder has the obligation to state that his or her boat is better than what the competition offers in the same size range. Stan and I are no exception to this rule. I try to go faster than every boat out in the Bay, but I know my limitations and rarely go after the racing classes or larger boats — except if they are under excessively shortened sail or stalled by poor sailing trim.
As for seriously looking at show boats, I am constrained by financial limits, ironically, on all but the affordable ($45,000) Rhodes 22, whose inventive builders also offer recycled 22s for the less-fortunate yachtie. One of these days I hope to visit the boys at the plant in Edenton, N.C., when they aren’t drumming up their product on the show beat. I hope they will have me.
The one boat that most appeals to me in the under 30-foot class, however, has long been the Alerion Express 28, a classic beauty with a “base price of $99,999.99.” A few sail out of Annapolis, but I dare not challenge their speed, although I can boast of having considerably more brightwork on my Sparkman & Stephens-designed fiberglass classic built in Holland in 1962.
As a single-handed Bay cruiser and day sailor, I spent some time aboard the 28 at the show and immediately began looking around for ideas I could steal, or things I would change or add to increase the base price: a roller-furling 130 percent genoa package at $3,000; double lifelines (no pulpits) at $2,200; a $930 swim ladder on the transom; $3,100 for a varnished interior; and perhaps a shoal-draft keel (3 feet, 8 inches) at $1,700. Standard are North sails with lazyjacks, a 14-hp Yanmar diesel Saildrive, a self-tending Hoyt Jib Boom, two Lewmar self-tailing cabin-top winches, and a lot more.
I’d handle many other options myself, including standard sheet winches, self-steering, exterior brightwork, cockpit cushions, and a hull bumper rail with stainless-steel strips covering the gold cove stripe.
The cabin arrangement is perfect for my Spartan purposes. It has sitting headroom (important), a full sleeping berth to port, and a reading seat to starboard between a sink and fridge counter. Forward of a strong cutaway bulkhead (with privacy curtain) is a full V-berth with a porta-potty hidden away to port of the mast compression post. So that’s what I’d go for if I were, say, 50 years younger (ho-ho).
Specifications of the Carl Schumacher-designed Alerion are: LOA of 28 feet, 3 inches; LWL of 22 feet, 10 inches; and beam of 8 feet, 2 inches. The deep-draft keel draws 4 feet, 6 inches with a displacement of 5,700 pounds and ballast of 2,200 pounds. www.alerionexp.com
Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.
This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.
Jack has been cruising Chesapeake Bay and writing about the region for more than 25 years. His critically acclaimed book, "Maryland's Vanishing Lives," was published by Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University Press and is now in its second printing. Before joining Soundings, Jack was a feature writer at the Washington (D.C.) Star for nearly 20 years and a senior editor at Chesapeake Bay magazine from 1995 to 1998. His monthly Bay Tripper column focuses on the Chesapeake.