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Jobson returns to his sailing roots

The sailor/author is writing a book about the A Cats he raced on Barnegat Bay in his youth

The sailor/author is writing a book about the A Cats he raced on Barnegat Bay in his youth

In his next book, sailing legend Gary Jobson steps back from the world stage to focus on the home waters of his youth, Barnegat Bay, N.J., and on a pretty wooden boat, the A Cat. Over the last few years the 28-foot sailboat has not only returned from the brink of extinction but is sailing in numbers far greater than during what Jobson once thought of as the golden age.

Jobson has written or co-authored 14 books, with titles ranging from “Gary Jobson’s Championship Sailing” to “The Winner’s Guide to Optimist Sailing.”

Now Jobson, who has battled non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is steering a new literary course. And after the A Cat book — he has no title yet but expects it to reach bookstores in November — he says he will write his memoir. He says he wants it to be like the autobiographies of other famous sailors, “all feisty and outspoken about the issues of their day.”

“It inspires me to be outspoken,” he says.

The A Cat book will be more of a love letter, it would seem. Jobson remembers that as a fanatic sailing kid back in Toms River, N.J., he occasionally got to sail on A Cats. Small because he was an 8-year-old, he would get the job of pumping the bilge with a hand pump, standing on the low side. It wasn’t a position he liked at that age, but it was an experience he remembers vividly.

“To an 8-year-old used to crewing on a 10-foot Toms River pram, the mighty A Cats looked gigantic,” Jobson recalls. “The usual southeasterly was blowing at least 18 knots. I can still see the bow waves foaming while the crews all sat well aft. When they got close, I could see the intensity on the faces of the crews. The main trimmers worked hard as two boats started a luffing match. The stakes were high. The winner would claim the coveted rooster flag for the next week.”

Jobson says he was attending a banquet of the Barnegat Bay Yacht Racing Association in December 2003 when he was approached by Peter Kellogg, a billionaire credited with bringing the fleet of A Cats back to life by personally restoring four of the $250,000 single-sail boats to Bristol condition.

“Peter Kellogg came up to me and said, ‘Why don’t you write a book about A Cats?’ ” Jobson says. “Two weeks later, he called up and said, ‘How’s the book coming?’ His motive is for sure not money.”

Kellogg is listed by Forbes Magazine as the 239th wealthiest American, worth $2.3 billion. His other nautical philanthropies have included restoration of a fleet of sandbagger sailboats by the Workshop on the Water at Philadelphia’s Independence Seaport Museum, revival of the Barnegat Bay duck boat sailing fleet, and a pledge to pay for rigging on the restored George Lawley yacht, Elf (see June Soundings).

“There’s a book on the Concordias,” Kellogg says. “I just thought our [A Cat] fleet is so unusual to be around so long continuously racing since the 1920s and racing for the oldest trophy in the nation, and they’re so pretty. … I thought it would be a great thing [to have an A Cat book].”

The A Cat is a treat to sail. Perhaps it lacks the sophistication of an America’s Cup challenger, but with its single overpowering 605-square-foot sail and its light 3,000-pound displacement, the boat delivers disproportionate thrills. The first A Cat was built in 1922 to compete for the Toms River Challenge Cup, then an open race that started in 1871. That boat, named Mary Ann and based on a traditional Barnegat Bay workboat, astonished the race fleet. With a boom 6 inches longer than the boat’s 28-foot length and a mast climbing 46 feet above the water, Mary Ann won easily and spawned a fleet of similar boats. Today, the Toms River Challenge Cup is contested by A Cats alone.

A race among A Cats is both pretty and peculiar. The low freeboard and Marconi sails create some very ballet-like moments on the water. But the long boom sweeps the top of the cuddy cabin so closely that when the boat is tacked, the only way for a crew of six to 10 to change sides is to stand in military precision and march forward around the mast to reach the windward side.

Now there is purpose to the boats. Jobson and Kellogg began the book project to raise money for Ocean County College in Toms River. Jobson spent a year dealing with his illness before he felt well enough to begin the project. He has interviewed most of the owners of a dozen new and restored A Cats. In the process, he says, he discovered that today is actually the golden age of A Cat racing. And except in scale, A Cat racing is no different than America’s Cup competition, he says.

“Everybody’s trying to get an edge,” he says. “I didn’t find anybody that’s getting paid to race, but a lot of people do move around [from boat to boat]. It’s kind of like a mini-America’s Cup.”