It was "old home week," and it was the 100th anniversary of the launching of the very first SS class boat, the actual naming of which is shrouded in the gray mists of lower Great South Bay.
It was a celebration of a sailing tradition unique to the local bays of Moriches, Quantuck and Shinnecock, and of the 156 known SS boats built... the most recent one just two years ago by Beecher Halsey III... and Merry Murray (née Medina) who has skippered the Centennial project over the past two-plus years announced that 38 of the small sloops had registered for the three-race regatta sailed off Speonk Shore Point at Westhampton Yacht Squadron.
(My cousin Charlie Clifton's wife, the former Cindy Swan of Babylon who'd come up with her family from Sarasota for the event, independently confirmed my unofficial count of 34 sails on the bay for the first race starting horn¹. There were less for the final race, won by Charlie and his brother Rick in SS#47, a 28-year reclamation endeavor by Rick in his wooden boatyard in Brooklin, Maine.)
It was easily the most number of SS boats we'd ever seen sailing in one race, although Chris Dalmasse recalls that number would show up for the Fourth of July Association race in Quantuck during the '50s.
Most consider three dozen surviving craft to be something of a miracle, and former WYS Commodore and Westhampton Beach Trustee Alec Nagle expressed one of the more insightful comments of the afternoon:
"I don't want to think of the number of SS hulls which have ended up as planters for geraniums."
Mr. Nagle and former Westhampton Beach Mayor (also a past WYS Commodore) "Ham" Andon spent the afternoon on the clubhouse porch watching the races and reflecting on the fact that they had each enjoyed uninterrupted membership in the Squadron since 1934.
So many old friends and acquaintance and sailing rivals were there for the day-long Centennial celebration which included a pre-race sail-by of the "flotilla," photos of which may been seen here.
It also afforded both Ms. Murray and historian Don Michne an ideal opportunity to hawk their respective books² about the history of the SS and its place in local lore.
There was, understandably, a certain melancholy at who³ and what was not in attendance, such as most of the boats my sister and I sailed against over half-a-century ago: Alec Nagle III's #110 "Bounty," Bobby Rice's #57 "Pickle" or my cousin David Royce's #101 "Cygnet."
(The where-abouts of the blue-hulled boat from Moriches Island, #8 "eightball," is well-known to any who've flown in or out of Long Island/MacArthur over the past six years.)
Another I missed seeing was Jay Dudley's #117, "Curlew," one I crewed 'til I inexplicably capsized it at the Quantuck dock.
But Jay's younger brother Rob was very much in evidence at the regatta, winning the be-calmed first race sailing solo in #135, "Swallow," and placing third in the second race's freshening breeze.
(Overall winner of the day's series was Scott Apmann in #143, "Bubbles.")
The biggest thrill of the afternoon had to have been the start of the final race when, finally with enough wind in which to maneuver, the brothers Clifton "ported the fleet," snappily hitting the starting line with #47 on port tack just ahead of the others on the "safer" starboard tack. Just abaft in Danny Kammerer's #84, "Tuthill Point," was Charlie's son "Chip," also on port, and the daring strategy worked. The two old boats (1924 and 1930, respectfully) led the entire windward/leeward race.
The story of #47 is a good one. Once owned by Rick's wife's uncle Hank Cuthbert, it had been given to the young couple back in 1980. They took it up to their home on the coast of Maine, and started restoring it in the boatyard where Rick has worked since the late '70s.
The project was discontinued for one reason or another for 15 years, and then completed this past Winter. Rick trailered it to WYS for the regatta, where, following its impressive third race victory, it was raffled off during the evening's festivities.
It's unclear who actually purchased the winning ticket, Ted Conklin Jr. or Arma Andon Jr., but #47 is now headed to Sag Harbor.
Meredith Murray's Centennial Program.
Aaaaagggghhh! Dean! You have cut me to the quick! "HAWKING" my book, you say? With "avoidable errors?" You are too cruel. How will I ever be able to hold my head up again in this town? [sigh] You are heartless.
Yeah, some of the errors were avoidable, and I still have our pre-publication E-mail correspondence to substantiate that!
But I give you props for actually getting a book out.
What a special treat to sail the SS again in the company of so many sailor friends from days gone by.
Thanks to Dean, Meredith, my fraternal in-laws the Cuthberts, and everyone who worked so hard to make the event a great success.
Seeing Ham and Alec on the microphone together again was worth the trip alone.
Thanks for putting the SS photos on the Internet. My aunt and uncle had one when I was a child, and I loved it.
How can I get Don Michne's SS book?
Where can I see that bigger set of photos that are on the way?
- Contact Mr. Michne directly at his E-dress.
- That "bigger set of photos" were not only on their way, but arrived safely at their destination. Thanks for asking.
- Whatever you do, don't neglect to ask about Mrs. Murray's book as well... she'll be in a serious snit if you don't!