Skip to main content

Flying Scot at 50: ‘never grow out of it’

If you live in Annapolis, Md., a town that bills itself as the nation’s sailing capital, and you are Joni Palmer and Ray Gauthier, two high-caliber sail racers, where do you look for a sailing vacation home?

If you live in Annapolis, Md., a town that bills itself as the nation’s sailing capital, and you are Joni Palmer and Ray Gauthier, two high-caliber sail racers, where do you look for a sailing vacation home?

Why, that other Maryland hotbed of competitive racing, of course: DeepCreekLake, out in the state’s landlocked, far western panhandle near Pittsburgh.

“We wanted to move to a place that was very friendly, [had] very competitive sailing, had a good boat to sail,” says Palmer, who started sailing as a child and says she has sailed every small boat from Lasers to J/24s. At DeepCreekLake, they loved the lake and the people — and they discovered the Flying Scot, a sailboat built near the lake for the last 49 years. Palmer couldn’t be more effusive about the boat if she owned a piece of the company.

What Palmer, who is manager of the U.S. Naval Academy’s sailing program, likes about the Flying Scot could be boiled down to its simplicity. “It’s not a high-performance boat, so anybody can get into the boat,” she says. “You can’t tweak everything. It’s hard to gain an edge. You have to concentrate on tactics and speed. It’s just a solid boat. But these boats do plane!”

Palmer recalls one race when the wind on Long Island Sound was blowing 20 to 25 knots and there were 6-foot seas. “Oh my goodness, it was just so exhilarating,” she says of that ride on a Flying Scot. “It was just super.”

The Flying Scot, now 50 years old, is 19 feet long, 6 feet, 9 inches wide, weighs 850 pounds and draws 4 feet with the centerboard down, 8 inches with it raised. It is sloop rigged, carries 191 square feet of sail plus a 200-square-foot spinnaker and has a cockpit that will accommodate as many passengers as a 1990 Chevy Caprice. If its appearance reminds one a bit of that family sedan, remember that the Caprice doubled as a hot cop car.

‘A boat people grow up in’

Gordon K. “Sandy” Douglass, who also designed the Thistle and Highlander, splashed the first Flying Scot in Vermilion, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie, in 1957. He moved the company to Oakland, near DeepCreekLake, in 1958 where, as 2007 drew to a close, employees were working on hulls No. 5818 and 5813.

Harry Carpenter — the current, and third, owner of the company and of the one mold on which the hulls are formed — says he builds 65 new Flying Scots in a good year. The boats cost $14,900 with sails and a trailer. A spinnaker costs extra.

According to a poll of 164 yacht clubs conducted by US Sailing, the national governing body of sail racing, Flying Scots are tied with Sunfish as fifth-most-active class of small sailboats in the country. There are active fleets at 21 percent of those clubs. Only Lasers (39 percent), Optimists (34 percent), 420s (29 percent) and J/24s (24 percent) are used at a greater proportion of the yacht clubs polled.

Carrie Carpenter, who crewed on Flying Scots for Palmer when she won two Adams Cup trophies — the top US Sailing honor for women — says the boats do two things very well: Race and daysail.

“It’s very stable, very roomy, very comfortable,” says the daughter of the owners and an employee of Flying Scot Inc. “[Scots are] very dry, very simple boats as well,” she says.

“It’s a boat people grow up in. You see a lot of families as a result of that. The boat grows with you. You never grow out of it.”

That’s the way it was for her father, Harry. His parents bought a summer home on DeepCreekLake in 1967 and acquired a Flying Scot in 1971, which Harry raced as crew for his older brother. In the mid-’70s the boatbuilder — then known as the Gordon Douglass Boat Co. — started a sailing school on the lake. He became one of the instructors while attending college.

“I left college in June of ’78 and started here one or two days later” as an assistant to the second owners, Eric and Mary Ammann, Harry Carpenter recalls. “I sailed in regattas, promoted the boat that way,” he says. Because most of the company’s employees were not sailors, he became the technical expert, as well.

Harry met his wife, Karen, the following year at a Flying Scot regatta at Virginia’s SmithMountainLake. Together, they became the third owners of the company in 1991 when the Ammanns retired.

The Carpenters find that frequently their customers are families, too. “You don’t see a whole lot of really young people sailing them,” says Carrie Carpenter. There seems to be a “surge in popularity” among aging sailors “coming out of boats that are more physically challenging to sail,” she says.

Stability and versatility

A typical customer might be Edward Summerfield, who bought his first Flying Scot in the 1980s. Summerfield, 63, was raised in New Jersey near the Delaware River. In his youth he spent time on the river in powerboats, but never had the opportunity to sail. When he saw sailboats, however, he thought they were interesting. “It was just one of those things where I looked at it and said: That looks like fun.”

Summerfield finally bought a Snipe sailboat in 1981 and learned to sail. He tried to recruit his wife, Kay, to crew, but “the boat was tender and my wife wasn’t thrilled with it,” he says.

Then Summerfield discovered the Flying Scot, with its weighted centerboard and stable hull design. He convinced his wife this boat wouldn’t capsize.

“I had told her the boat won’t go over,” Summerfield says. “Myself and another friend got on the boat, hung out over the side and the boat sits there.”

The couple sailed and raced their used Flying Scot together for a few years until, in one season, they saw three different boats capsize when their skippers ignored the approach of bad weather. Kay Summerfield hasn’t been back on Fast Eddie, their Flying Scot, since, although she has become editor of the owners’ association magazine, Scots n’ Water.

Still, it is the boat’s stability that, according to Carrie Carpenter, is one of its most attractive qualities. Summerfield agrees. “You don’t have to hike to sail the boat,” he says. “Hiking straps are illegal. In a Lightning [also a 19-foot daysailer], everyone hangs over the edge,” he says. “You don’t get many people who go out and daysail a 420 ... or an E-Scow. We can put four or five people on the boat and go and daysail.”

Fast Eddie can take company out for a picnic and swimming on Barnegat Bay, where Summerfield sails out of the Toms River Yacht Club. “The centerboard comes all the way up and the rudder kicks up,” he notes. “You can have this thing sit in 6 or 8 inches of water when you come up on the shore.”

Equally important for Summerfield is the opportunity to race his Flying Scot. Regattas are held all season long, ranging from the North American Championship in the summer to the Mid-Winters, usually sailed on the Gulf Coast. Indicative of the demographics of the fleet membership are the Wife-Husband Championship and the Masters Championships. Summerfield has sailed them all.

“The boats are competitive,” he says, “not like some boats that after 2 or 3 years are no longer competitive. If you have good sails, good rigging, the slowest thing is the person with the tiller.”

Joni Palmer, whose passion is promoting “grass-roots” sailing, says it’s difficult to find another sailboat design that draws in new sailors as well as the Flying Scot. “It’s just great. Parents sailing with kids. Grandparents sailing with kids. Three generations sailing in a boat.”

“This boat is here to stay,” Palmer says. “It’s just a solid boat.”