Smitten by a ‘diamond in the rough’
Smitten by a ‘diamond in the rough’
Seductive, long overhangs in a sailboat may present something of a false allure in some minds when comparing benefits and/or drawbacks, but there is little doubt they contribute mightily to a sailboat’s lines and can freeze traditionalists in breathtakingly long pauses of admiration.
I immediately understood the passionate embrace of Roger A. Colaizzi when he first laid eyes on a 22 Square Meter built in Germany in 1927. After being lured by photographs, he was hooked upon first meeting the gracious vessel last year after it had been donated to the Chesapeake BayMaritimeMuseum in St. Michaels, Md., when no buyer was to be found.
After making boatyard rounds, it eventually turned up in Annapolis late last year to be rehabbed, modernized and preserved in a cold-molded procedure at Bill Donahue’s rehab hospital, Annapolis Classic Watercraft. The sleek 32-foot sloop is expected to be sailing this summer out of St. Leonard Creek off the PatuxentRiver near Solomons.
When I began following this project last winter, the hull had been stripped to expose tight-seamed mahogany and German craftsmanship in all its glory. It was difficult to keep from imagining the hull finished with varnish. However, the owner’s decision was to paint it a deep royal blue — so much for that fantasy. I sensed his torment and suggested in jest that he consider building a boathouse to protect the brightwork from the sun’s destructive UV rays, which are especially hard on varnish. He laughed because he, too, had thought about it, but was forced to paint because the unfinished mahogany veneer could only be stabilized, not removed.
I was in that position in the late 1960s when I fell in love with the long overhangs of a varnished mahogany sloop. Designed by Bjarne Aas and built in 1948 in Norway, it was called a Viking and had the sweet lines of an International One Design.
Stored on land for a long period, seams of my 32-footer had opened up to allow peeking shafts of daylight to seep through, which hinted at problems ahead. I bought it anyway and began working on it, caulking seams with BoatLife before sanding and applying two coats of varnish. A trusted nautical adviser assured me the hull would swell up and tighten after it was reintroduced to water. Of course, it never did and remained a leaker, especially in heavy weather, even after he and I sistered 24 freshly steamed frames of green oak.
At the time, I was a journalist at the now-defunct Washington (D.C.) Star. In the spring of 1970, I recruited three colleagues to help sail my first boat named Erewhon from Washington to Annapolis. Immediately after leaving the slip under power, the Kermath Sea Pup inboard sputtered to a stop, and the boat remained engineless during my few remaining years of ownership.
The 105-mile beat down the Potomac River in a brisk breeze was a bit of a hell trip during which Davey Braaten was permanently assigned to man a temporary portable pump below until relieved when we popped the spinnaker and sailed north toward Annapolis. He actually pumped with his eyes closed while sleeping, an amazing performance. At our first stop, in Oxford, he jumped ship that night for a room at the RobertMorrisInn.
We each wrote our own perceived version of the voyage for a story in the Star in much the same fashion as the four witnesses searching for the truth in the classic 1950 Japanese crime drama “Rashomon.” In my piece, I was forced by ethics to confess to the embarrassment of being stricken by mal de mer nearing the mouth of the Potomac in high winds at midnight off Ragged Point.
But that’s another story — back to the 22 Square Meter. Colaizzi, a lawyer with Venable LLP in Washington, purchased her without seeing the survey. “I used to dream about a sailboat like this,” he says, “wondering if I would ever own one.”
Surveyor Bill Reynolds called it a “diamond in the rough.” As with most old, wooden boats, it came with a caveat: “needs work.” That’s how it wound up as a museum donation in search of someone who would bring her back to life before she was broken up. Then along came Colaizzi, smitten and in love with a demanding, inanimate object that guaranteed much pleasure.
“I tried to sail her last summer from St. Michaels to Annapolis in 20-knot winds on the nose,” he recalls. “It was wet going, with green water over the deck. We popped an upper shroud in a gust, dropped sails and had to be towed back to the museum. A 1-inch screw at the top of the shroud pulled out.” (The mast was undamaged and is being rebuilt and refastened.)
When he learned it would cost $1,000 to trailer the 3,900-pound boat across the bay, he decided to contract for a custom, four-wheel aluminum trailer. By early April the vessel was resting comfortably on that trailer as preparation for preservative surgery began.
Donahue and Colaizzi knew the hull had been fiberglassed (one layer above the waterline and two below), but they did not know that underneath was an uncompleted overlay of mahogany veneer.
Once in the shop, workers began investigating after observing many cracks in the glass, which fortunately peeled off in large sheets and revealed the veneer, now stabilized. “After much sanding and fairing a structurally sound hull, we applied diagonal layers of biaxial cloth and a 4-ounce layer of finishing cloth in much the same fashion as a cold-molded boat project,” says Donahue, who isn’t particularly keen on glassing over wood.
“But this was an exception,” he says. “Seams were tight with no caulking, and the frames were sound. The veneer was put on well, but it needed diagonal layers and two diagonal layers of glass. This is not a restoration, but a rejuvenation that should preserve the boat for another 20 years or so.” The project, including the custom trailer, will cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Built by the famed German builders Abeking and Rasmussen and finished bright for a family member of the shipbuilding firm, the 22 Square Meter was shipped to San Francisco for serious racing. When it was placed in Donahue’s hands, he realized he had brought the cockpit back to its original deep configuration. It had been raised to create a self-bailing cockpit.
By mid- to late-June, the sloop should be ready for her new life as a daysailer in southern Maryland waters. Colaizzi, who is in his late 40s, is uncertain about carrying an auxiliary electric outboard, but he knows he would stow it and not install a mount off the boat’s delicate transom, ruining her distinctive lines.
He and a partner own a Beneteau 43 kept in Deale, Md., for cruising. The 22 will join a small fleet in St. Leonard Creek that includes kayaks, a daysailer, dinghy and a 15-foot Whaler.
Colaizzi and his wife, Allyson, have been sailing a long time, and their first sailboat was a Dufour 24 owned by Allyson’s parents, who turned it over to them after they married. They also have sailed a Tartan 34 and chartered in the Chesapeake and the Caribbean. They have three children who have grown up sailing: Griffin, 12; Tristan, 10; and Mia, 4. The name on the boat’s transom will read Mama Mia.
The Square Meters have a distinguished history, and their centennial is being celebrated this year in Sweden. The Square Meter’s figure refers not to the hull dimensions, but to a complicated formula of the maximum measured sail area. A&R built eight 22s, of which this vessel (No. 2253) is the seventh. Other Square Meters include the 15, 30, 40, 55, 75, 95, 120 and a 150. Early innovations of the design have included a full-battened main, Bermuda rig, whip-topped bendy mast, roller reefing, genoa jib and two-speed winches.
Colaizzi’s will be a wet-sailing boat, no doubt, because of its narrow beam (less than 7 feet). She draws 4-1/2 feet with a full keel. The teak deck is glued, not screw-fastened, and there are no toe rails. In the cabin are two sitting berths but no headroom and no head.
At some point in her life, the tiller was broken and a hardware store ax handle was substituted in an emergency. “I kind of like the look of that sturdy, varnished oak ax handle, which is embellished by rope work and serves the purpose,” says Colaizzi.
Mama Mia will certainly dress up an already beautiful St. Leonard Creek and also will add a touch of class to the Patuxent River.
Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.