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Rebirth of one more Sailmaster

Rebirth of one more Sailmaster

In early November I received an e-mail out of the blue:

“Dear Jack, I am trying to make two good Sailmaster 22s out of a Sailmaster 22C, two 22Ds, and parts from a 22C that was broken up more than five years ago.”

The message went on from there and lured me to go on from there, too.

Colin Willett of West Friendship, Md., knew of my keen interest in Sailmasters as a fellow owner and he, in fact, credits (blames?) me in part for his compulsive hobby of collecting these classic pocket cruisers.

Over the years he has accumulated many Sailmaster parts, some of which he will part with. He is a kind of nautical Dr. Frankenstein who cobbles together parts from dead and worn-out Sailmasters so that he may bring one or more back to life. He cannibalizes terminal cases after breaking them up and hauling off the discarded pieces to a landfill.

I, too, have collected many boat parts during my 35 years of boat ownership, including 22 years with a 1962 Sailmaster 22C (“cruising weekender”), but I have never owned more than one sailboat at a time. One is enough, thank you. Willett, it turns out, has gone through so many Sailmasters in the past 20 years that he sometimes loses count of the number and confuses some circumstances.

I have often wondered what goes into the creation of such an authentic, self-admitted boat nut, but I’m not sure I got the answer to “Why Sailmasters?” other than to have him respond, “Ask Jack!” (Welcome to the club.)

Willett and his female “partner in crime” — Lee D. Wieland of Annapolis, Md. — have yet to actually sail their only complete Sailmaster 22C, Canvasback. It was finally launched in October after much work and is berthed at Maurgale Marina on Nabbs Creek, a backwater of Stoney Creek off the Patapsco River near Pasadena, Md. It is awaiting an outboard engine.

When I arranged to meet Willett and Wieland at this boatyard in late autumn he was preparing to break up a Sailmaster 22D (“daysailer”) they had purchased for $150 for parts. Willett has cut up Sailmasters before and was about to do it again.

I couldn’t bear watching him destroy what looked to me like a salvageable classic designed by Sparkman & Stephens and built in Holland in 1966. I photographed him holding a boat-breaking reciprocating saw, but that’s as far as my heart would allow me to go. A few days later he sawed away, cutting out fiberglass sections containing fittings, two of which he kindly donated to my cause: the overkill stainless steel stem and transom tangs that anchor the forestay and backstay. He will install the Proctor aluminum mast (and a wooden boom from another vanished Sailmaster) on the bare hull of his second Sailmaster, stored on a trailer at his home in Howard County, Md.

Maurgale Marina is a kind of old-fashioned refuge for older neglected boats, both power and sail. Many on land appear doomed but some remain afloat, not as yet mortally wounded. Owners continue paying rent on boats that may never return to the water. Oddly enough, this was where my favorite wooden cruising boat met her end. I had long wondered what had become of that 32-foot Scandinavian sloop, designed by the famed Bjarne Aas and built in Norway in 1948. I owned her from 1969 to around 1974. She was a varnished, mahogany-planked leaker with an aluminum mast and, when I sold her, no engine.

Years later, in an effort to track down this cherished vessel, I wrote a story about her and got a surprise call from her last owner that she was being cut up for firewood at Maurgale. I dashed over there and found what was left of her full keel — skeletal bones (many oak frames that I had steam-bent and sistered) and a large hunk of lead ballast. I came away from the sad scene of destruction with a bronze sheet winch, which I use today as a bookend. That discovery produced a final story on this Viking Class sloop.

Now I was back in this doomsday setting where another sailboat was about to bite the (fiberglass) dust next to a large, fire-damaged sloop being rejuvenated.

Willett is a 70-year-old smiling, white-bearded, good-natured Brit with a soft, lilting accent and a great sense of humor — a necessary requirement for rehabbing tired, old sailboats. He came to the United States in the late 1960s to work as a laser physicist for the federal government. He retired in 1988 and found something to do in retirement after falling in love with the Sailmaster’s traditional lines.

His interest in the classic 22-footers began to blossom after reading Robert de Gast’s “Western Wind, Eastern Shore” and Howard Schindler’s self-published “Between Two Bays and the Sea” about owners single-handing their Sailmaster 22Cs around the Delmarva Peninsula. He also caught the wind of my numerous Sailmaster stories, dating back to 1984, and followed some of them in this column. (I should confess here that I am to blame for at least a half-dozen others who have purchased Sailmasters.) My interest in these lovely boats has inadvertently turned me into a kind of Sailmaster clearinghouse for questions, mostly about centerboard problems.

Naturally, Willett and Wieland encountered centerboard problems with Canvasback, which is in the water but has yet to be sailed by them. It seems the former owners couldn’t free the jammed steel centerboard from its slot in the full keel, and sawed away the top of the centerboard trunk in the bilge to get at the board to drop it, only to drop the project after this brutal surgery.

Then along came Willett and Wieland in the spring of 2004, who saved it from the landfill for $500. “I cleaned up the botched job, sealed the top of the casing with 3M 5200 adhesive, and applied three layers of fiberglass cloth over it,” Willett says. “I have never sailed any of my previous Sailmasters with the board down anyway, so I won’t miss the one that isn’t there now.”

But Wieland counters, “I will miss a centerboard. Side-slipping is for crabs.”

(I should add here that I disagree with Willett on his notion that Sailmasters perform just as well without a centerboard lowered, especially on the wind.)

The plot thickens …

A couple years ago Chesapeake Rigging of Annapolis reinforced my aluminum mast and spreader bases, and also fabricated new replacement chain plates, which I installed. Owner Tom Wohlgemuth told me he had a Sailmaster 22D, and guess who owns that now? Why, Willett, of course.

Wohlgemuth’s 1967 daysailer was donated to a non-profit group, and turned up for sale last year on eBay with a winning bid of $735. Willett lost out to a Wilmington, Del., man who bought the boat for its spars, rigging, sails and trailer. Willett, in turn, settled on $250 for the hull, which would have been broken up, so back it came to Maryland on its on-loan trailer.

Willett and Wieland are passionately on the lookout for old Sailmasters. I showed them around my boat, which isn’t for sale and is berthed next to a 22D that hasn’t been sailed in 10 years. Soon Willett was lusting after that one, too. He also spotted one at a mooring on Weems Creek in Annapolis and undoubtedly will be searching out the owner through the registration numbers on the bow.

He won’t run out of outdoor storage space for larger maritime objects at his 3-acre property in the country, but the small-parts collection has spilled over into Wieland’s Annapolis home, where bits and pieces of this and that are available for immediate access. Fortunately for Willett, she shares his passion for sailboats.

There are more Sailmaster and boating stories in Willett’s past, but as you can see I’ve run out of space. Try him at willettcolin1@aol.com .

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.