Curious how just writing about the past brings up almost forgotten memories. While I was working at the Ozalid plant, I teamed up with a man whose name was Maurice Lee, “Morrie” for short, He was older than me by about 15 years or so and we got along well. He had worked his way up in an organization to being a tool and die maker so he really knew a lot about machine shop operations. I had only  one course at school called something like Industrial Manufacturing Processes and it had a lab with lathes, milling machines, etc. So he had hands-on skills and I had the engineering degree and we complemented each other.

Marge’s cousin, Bob Nelson had a canoe that somehow was rigged up  to use as a small sailboat. There was a small lake or reservoir at Whitney Point, NY about 20 miles from Vestal. sometimes our family and the Nelson’s would go up there for a get-together or picnic and Bob and I would sail around in his sailing canoe. it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it.

At the same time, several in the Manufacturing Engineering department at Ozalid were interested in sailing. Morrie had become interested and built a catamaran that was capable of holding at least 4 people, and a couple of times Marge and I joined Morrie and his family for a sail in his boat.

I became quite enthusiastic about fresh water sailing and wanted a boat of my own. I started to get sailing magazine and even took a course once at a Community College on the fundamentals of sailing. Morrie wanted to build a boat for his son who was about 12 then. I said that well maybe we could get together on this some time. I shared my interest with Marge and showed her an ad or little article in a sailing magazine featuring a kit built sailing dinghy. Marge decided to get me one of the kits for a Christmas present in 1965. Of course this was her secret. To her dismay, Christmas came and the kit had not been delivered. She was in tears about this and told me how she wanted to surprise me but her gift had not arrived. I did my best to console her, it was a wonderful thought and I was sure it would come soon. Actually UPS or whoever did show up late Christmas afternoon and delivered the boat kit. So that cheered up everyone.

I told Morrie about the boat kit and he thought that would make a nice boat for his boy so he decided to buy one as well. At that time he was living in the upper half of a duplex in Binghamton that his father owned and did not have much building space. I offered the use of our basement in Vestal for a construction site and we could build two of them together and he thought this a good idea.

In some ways, building the boats was more fun than using them. We built it in the basement and from time to time Marge would come down and offer coffee, soda or something like that if we wanted a break and we would usually do just that. We had some practical problems to solve and Morrie had some tools I did not. One problem we had was how to soften up the mahogany rails so we could curve them around the boat. Our solution was to take our masts, plug up one end with a potato, insert the rails and fill the mast with water and  plug up the opposite end with another potato. This really worked and we worked slowly and put wood clamps on as we went to hold the shape properly. Nothing broke and we congratulated ourselves on our field engineering.

The assembly took a while as we could get together about one evening a week and maybe a long Saturday. We built them pretty much in parallel so they would be done at about the same time. Finally, the moment of truth came. We had to get the boats out of the cellar. Our house was built in an era when the washing was done in the basement and there was a clothesline in the back yard as a dryers were not common. There was a door in the cellar with steps leading up to a small covered door that opened on to the yard so the clothes could be hung to dry. Of course when we owned it, clothes dryers were common so the door was usually kept locked on the outside. Before Morrie and I got started building we got the boat measurements of length, width and depth and it seemed a close but likely fit using that door. BUT when we tried this, a diagonal measurement came into play and the boat got stuck in the door way. Fortunately we could pry the door jambs off and this gave enough clearance to free the boats. All we would have needed was to have not one but two complete boats build but stuck in the cellar. We never would hear the end of THAT.

In those days,it was common for cars to have a trim piece over the door(s) and windows that would drain rain off the roof. My 1967 Mustang has one. Auto parts sales outlets sold various roof mounted carriers for large items, extra luggage, that could be installed using this trim piece as an anchor. I did not thing I would need a trailer for my boat as it was maybe only 8′ long. So I put a roof top rack on the Ford to hold the boat. I could get the boat up on it and anchored firmly, but it was more work than I had estimated. Likewise getting it down, then stepping the mast, putting the sail in, etc. The you could launch the boat but when done, the process had to be reversed. So using the boat proved more of a hassle than I had anticipated.

Of course, next I had to launch the boat and I chose the next Saturday coming up to do this. I got the boat on the car and drove to Whitney point with Marge and the girls in the car. It was very windy that day, I should never have gone, but I  determined to get the boat in the water. I did get it in and launched and sailed about 40′ or so then the wind changed quickly and I capsized. This upset the children but Marge quickly found an attendant, guard or someone like that and he came out in a powered boat and rescued me. Sort of embarrassing, but at least the boat did sail, even if the captain was too much an amateur.

New York has many ponds, lakes and large rivers and I did get to use it from time to time, but only when we were able to plan a long enough outing to make the work worth the effort. Pennsylvania was different. PA had plenty of rivers, but not many of the little ponds and lakes as did NY. So, though we moved the boat to PA when we moved in 1969, it was never used. Just sat upside down on some 2X4s in the back yard. Even when I had moved to Las Vegas in 1980 and Marge stayed behind until the school year ended the boat still remained. She was able to sell it, as well as an old Evinrude one cylinder motor that I had. My Dad bought this after WWII but had given up fishing by the time we moved to Vestal and he gave it to me. I did use it once or twice.
So that is the family history of building and using a small sailboat. It was fun, though as I said earlier, I think that building the two boats with Morrie was the most enjoyable part.


About R. F.

I am a retired Professional Engineer who spent my working life in the electric utility industry. I am now a volunteer instructor at the University Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
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3 Responses to Sailing

  1. ingridmg2014 says:

    I remember the little sail boat and I even vaguely recall the part about you ending up “in the drink,” so to speak. Oh well. Live and learn. Mostly what I remember about the boat was playing underneath it when you had it turned upside down over a couple sawhorses. It made a great hideout! From that vantage point the slats that formed the seats when the boat was upright made perfect “shelves.” Once I remember stashing some jelly beans there! I forgot about them for a while and when I thought to look for them again I found, to my dismay, that the New York humidity had caused them to partially melt, reducing them to a colorful but sticky (and inedible) glob.

  2. I remember the sailboat only from it being upside down in the back yard in Pennsylvania, as I was too little to remember any of the other places we lived before that. It was fun to play under it with the seats as “shelves” over our heads. But I also recall you had to be on the lookout for spiders and other creepy crawlies, which I was not too fond of.

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