Out of the past...

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Out of the past...

...probably 29-30 years ago based on the primary visual clue, the fully-secured yellow life vest worn by the vessel's Master in the foreground.

The scurvey crew of the "Shamrock"

The photograph was taken aboard MB #6, rechristened "Shamrock" when my friend and attorney Don Noonan acquired it from Walter Kidde around 1981.

It established for me the ideal "bromance" (as it is now called) since my Dad had owned MB#1 around the time I was born, and I'd occasionally crewed in MB #8 in the late '50s when skipper Lou Rice needed some extra bulk along side Dick Moller and whoever else she had tending the jib and main sheets.

For Don's part, he was an Oirish kid from Western Nassau who wasn't even a confident swimmer, but who lived on Exchange Point a tennis lob from Quantuck Bay, and had a hankering to sail.

In short order I became Captain, he remained Master, and one or more of our progeny...Donald Jr., Tara, Sean or Peggy... or his brother-in-law Richie would crew.

More often than not, if it was a light day, it would just be the two of us tacking back and forth across Quantuck Bay, talkin' politrix.

And somehow, Don became a moderately competent sailor... even though I could never teach him to tie a decent knot.

We sailed that 26'9" boat all over the bays of Quantuck and Aspatuck... which was fine with the smaller club jib which came with the craft... and when we had the time and some wind, we'd sail it through the bridges and out onto Moriches Bay.

(Except for the one Summer when Alan Overton had temporarily retired from tending Rogers Bridge and his replacement would get on his loud hailer and threaten to report our number to the Coast Guard if we tried to sail through the bridge without power1 or a tow.

Alan, bless his memory, had confidence in my ability at the helm, and also knew I would never do anything to endanger the MB.)

The West Bay (a/k/a "Swordfish") Bridge was without a span for two of those Summers, and when it reopened, was much less tricky to navigate.

I have great recollections of those times...

Labor Day 1982 or '83, out on Moriches Bay to watch the Westhampton Yacht Squadron race, and probably for the last time in history, there were three MBs on the water at the same time: ours, a fellow from Cedar Beach named McNamara in MB #8, and Brother Raynor in my Dad's old MB #1 which he sailed out of Seatuck Cove.

Considering that there were only six2 Moriches Bay One-designs ever built, and one of them was lost to the '38 Hurricane, that was a remarkable showing of the MB class.

Another terrific memory was spontaneously being invited to hook on with Teddy Conklin's tow of Quantuck Bay SSs out to the 1983 Southampton Town Regatta, and sailing with Don, Sean and my cousin Rick Clifton in the handicap division, finishing second to a Rhodes 19 skippered by Moriches Island's Chris Dalmasse.

(Even without a spinaker, we outsailed them downwind with the MB's great mainsail, but with only our little club jib, we were no match on the beats and reaches.)

And we had a genuine adventure in October '84 when Don, Sean Peggy and I tried to sail "Shamrock" from its berth in Exchange Cove to Robby Smith's yard on Moriches Island in a minor blow.

We got through the bridges without incident, and in the larger bay as we were exposed to a greater wind force; my plan was to stay as close to the protection of the shore as possible, all the way up into Seatuck Cove and down again.

We were a-sailin' as never before, and got a big wave and cheer from Dewey Taylor and his wife as we blew past their home.

Problem was, as soon as we rounded Speonk Point and saw that several line of fishing nets had been set a good way out into the bay, we had to make a mad reach across unprotected water to try for Hart Cove.

We flew... it was exhilarating sailing!

Just as we approached Hart Cove... literally eight-to-ten yards from safe water, there was a loud crack and we stopped almost as if we had run aground.

We'd dismasted... the mighty but ancient spar was no match for the wind force and the amount of mainsail we carried!

Without warning, it just gave out!

Sean, in probably one of his finest moments ever, sprang into action and instinctively knew what to do... and I can assure all, that we had never practiced a demasting drill!

We were fortunate, however, because Robbie Smith had been watching our progress through binoculars since we'd rounded Speonk Point, and we and his wife immediately turned to and came out to effect a rescue.

"Thought you had it there," he said as he tossed us a line. "Right up to that last moment."

MB #6 survived that event, and re-launched the following Summer with a brand new, hand-crafted mast.

Then it was lost that September during Hurricane Gloria... it is said that for want of a nail a kingdom was lost; for want of a knot, "Shamrock" was lost.

When I returned from Barbados that week and learned that it was gone, we looked all along the Western shore of Quantuck Bay, but it was nowhere to be found.

Then in December, the late Billy Harvey spotted it, barely afloat in the Quogue Canal from where it was retrieved and towed, deck awash, back to Exchange Cove.

Vic Levy brought first one, then a second pump over from South Shore Boats the following Sunday, but it soon became apparent that all we were doing was recirculating bay water, so badly was MB #6 holed beneath the waterline.

Not long after that, he and a friend towed it to a deeper location, and scuttled it for fair. To this day, I don't know its final resting place.

I hadn't thought of MB #6 for years 'til Donald Jr. found the accompanying photo, scanned it and sent it along.

It certainly refreshed a great many old memories.

  1. There was never any sort of motor on MB #6 on my watch!
  2. While Standish Medina's "History of the Westhampton Yacht Squadron: 1890-1965" asserts that there were originally seven MBs, only six have ever been authenticated: #1, #2, #4, #6, #8 and #11.


1. Crabby said...

Great tale, Speir. Isn't there an MB in the lobby of McArthur Airport?

Good Lord, NO! The last I looked, that's SS #8, a Moriches Island boat that I used to race against in 1956 when it belonged to the Dalmasse family.

The SS is the same design as the MB, only ten feet shorter.

2. Charlie Clifton said...

Dean, your story ignites a spark of memory about a story my brother Rick told me about a Teddy Conklin tow and an MB. It had something to do with a physics lesson involving mass, momentum and mahogany. Did that occur at the 1983 tow and do you have some specifics?

P.S. - SS #8 belonged to the Murrays. (Pat Hansen Murray, sister of Adele Hansen Dalmasse) but for some reason, I heard that it was actually SS #9 (Pele) at Islip with the old "8 Ball" mainsail.

Hmmmmn... I have no such recollection. Rick, wanna enlighten me?

I'm very clear on the boats in the SS Second Division when Gale, Lou Rice and I sailed your Dad's #93 that Summer of '56... SS #110 was Alec Nagle, #8 was Canute Dalmasse and #101 ("Cygnet") was my cousin David Royce. Now the hull of the boat in the rotunda of Islip Airport isn't blue, so it may only be wearing sails from "8 Ball."
– Dean

3. Charlie Clifton said...

I asked Rick to clarify the first part.

I guess you are right about the second part. I forgot you are of an antecedent generation. The Murrays would have gotten "8 Ball" after Perseides #153 was built and Sharon Murray was old enough to sail.

Point of personal privilege: you mean, I believe "an antecedent half generation." I'm only nine years your senior!

4. Rick Clifton said...

Picture Ted Conklin's old wooden power boat towing a 26' MB. Approaching the dock at Aspatuck, Captain Ted comes aft to shorten the tow, a very seamenlike act. At this moment, the old wooden power boat runs hard aground. That soggy 26' MB never hesitated and within seconds, closed the gap between itself and the launch's stern. I'll never forget the sound that stemhead made as it impaled the bright transom of poor Ted's beloved craft. The shock must have been too much, for Ted never uttered a sound. We still bless Ted for that gracious tow to Southampton.

Aye that! One of my best days on the water, ever!

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