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You've got a friend if you're looking for a new Ensign

Zeke Durica counts James Taylor among those he has built the daysailer for

Zeke Durica counts James Taylor among those he has built the daysailer for

Welcome to Boatyard Bingo. Your first challenge today: Whose voice, among the following individuals, can be heard most often on the radio, call-holding recordings and in supermarket aisles?

A. Mike Holt

B. Take Tsutsumi

C. James Taylor

D. Zeke Durica

E. all of the above

If your answer was C, James Taylor, you may move on to the next question.

Who, among the aforementioned individuals, sails an Ensign, the 22-foot daysailer introduced in 1960 by Pearson Yachts? If you answered E, all of the above, you qualify for the final round. Now, for the grand prize.

Which of these guys did not buy his first Ensign in the Internet age? And the answer is … Zeke Durica. “I’ve been sailing the Ensigns for 41 years now,” says Durica, who happens to have built Holt’s, Tsutsumi’s and Taylor’s boats near his home in Dunedin, Fla. “I just really liked the boat.”

Durica is an accidental boatbuilder (more on that later). He has much more in common with Holt, Tsutsumi and his celebrity customer, Taylor, than he does with other shipwrights. The thread that connects these men is a passion for a Carl Arlberg design that had to be modified before it won widespread adoration.

“I guess it was back in ’59, ’60,” says Everett Pearson who, with his cousin Clint Pearson, was building the first hugely successful fiberglass sailboat, the Triton. Alberg had designed the Electra for the Pearsons, a full-keel pocket cruiser, but it wasn’t selling well. “It was too small,” says Pearson. “I said, ‘Why don’t we take this boat and make a daysailer out of the hull?’ ”

The Pearsons hired designer Ed Montesi from Chris-Craft, and they turned the project over to him. He gave the boat a smaller cabin and larger cockpit, and when the Pearsons rushed the first boat to the next boat show, the orders flowed in. By the end of the Ensign’s run, the Pearsons had produced 1,776 of the boats, with fleets racing in every corner of the nation.

Durica and his wife, Elizabeth Brinklow, were racing two Ensigns in front of their marina in 1992 when there was an accident. “My wife was sailing my boat, and I was sailing somebody else’s boat, and she clipped one of the range markers,” Durica says. The mast broke, but when Durica looked at the replacement masts other Ensign owners were using, he discovered they were nothing like the originals. There was a company selling Pearson masts, but they wanted $1,200 — three times what he thought they should charge.

With some research, Durica found the company that had made masts for Pearson. Having secured an agreement with the Ensign Class Association that made him the sole distributor, he bought 30 masts, which he sold rigged or unrigged. Later, when not on his job with an airline, he began restoring Ensigns, designing replacement parts as needed.

The class association owned the original Ensign molds, so in 1999 Durica proposed a deal. “I said, ‘We’ve got the parts. All we need is the hull and the deck. Make us your licensed builder.’ ”

Durica’s company, Ensign Spars, had orders for three boats when they started building in 2000. Durica retired in 2003 to devote himself to building his favorite boat, and the company has the hull and deck made for its 28th boat. The original Ensign sold for $2,700. The Ensign Spars boat, complete, sells for $35,000 ( ).

The new Ensign benefits from nearly 50 years of experience. The balsa coring in the deck, which frequently rotted, has been replaced with closed-cell foam. A fiberglass insert was substituted for the old plywood interior. And more flotation has been added, making the boat unsinkable when swamped.

Mike Holt, a sailor from Haddon Heights, N.J., had decided it was time to step down from his cruising boat to a daysailer when he saw Durica built a boat for James Taylor. He went to Florida to investigate.

“All these boats out there, they all look similar to me now,” says Holt, a longtime sailor. “I can spot an Ensign a mile away. They’re just a pretty boat.”

Holt had kept his Beneteau 31 on Chesapeake Bay for six years, and he says using it required him to set aside a weekend. But with daughters ages 10 and 11, weekends were occupied, and he was paying for a slip but was unable to use his boat. He took delivery of his Ensign, Banshee, in April and moored it at a yacht club on the Delaware River near Philadelphia.

“I wanted to buy a boat that I could sail single-handed,” says Holt. “I bought it to be local. I figured I could just drive over on a Saturday morning [and go sailing].” And the Ensign’s full keel makes her stable, he notes. “I have young kids. If we do get caught in a little bit of wind, we’re not panicking.”

Take Tsutsumi hadn’t sailed for 25 years, but approaching retirement, he wanted to pick up where he had left off in his youth. “I wish to have family boat, plus daysailing,” says Tsutsumi, of Kamakura, Japan. “The purpose is not long cruising. I wish to have full-keel-type old-fashioned boat. … I hit the Ensign in the Internet. I do not know the Ensign at all.”

After an e-mail discussion with Durica, Tsutsumi bought his new Ensign in 2005, complete with the name Dawn, selected by Brinklow. He says he got a “fantastic boat.”

Tsutsumi added a CD player and autopilot and now sails Dawn on a bay south of Yokohama. “People around me always ask, ‘Oh, this boat, why did you buy it?’ I’m very happy to own it. Conventional FRP and a lot of wood. People like a lot of wood inside the boat.”

The most celebrated delivery of one of Durica’s Ensigns was the product of an e-mail he opened late one night. “I got this communication that said, ‘I’m interested in your lovely boat. I’d like to get more information.’ He gave me his e-mail information and signed it James Taylor. In parentheses, he said, ‘Yes, the James Taylor,’ ” Durica recalls.

Taylor took delivery of his Ensign in June 2007. “The boat sails like a dream. I was truly impressed that even in a diet of light air she moves beautifully,” Taylor says. “The boat is stable and forgiving for any level of experience, but when the wind starts to build you really start to admire the full keel sensation and how the boat tracks upwind.”

Taylor had been looking for a daysailer when he happened upon Durica’s Ensigns. “He told me his father had a boat that he learned to sail on. It was called a Sailmaster,” Durica says. “He couldn’t find anything on the Internet on Sailmaster, but every time he put in some stuff, our Web site kept coming up. He wanted a family daysailer. Hereally liked the lines of the boat.”

Taylor’s boat, Caroline, named for his wife, was delivered to him in Lennox, Mass., where he was making an appearance on the “A Prairie Home Companion” show, Durica says. Caroline, sitting on a trailer, was christened in the parking lot.