Saturday, April 16, 2016
Header Photo: The El Toro dinghy
The previous header photo was of two El Toro dinghies racing. The El Toro is a 8' (2.438 meter) V-shaped, single chine, transom bowed dink, one of the many variations of the 1939 MacGregor Sabot design. Here is the entry for the El Toro in the annual class review issue of One-Design and Offshore Yachtsman magazine, circa mid 1960's.
I learned to sail in an El Toro. My family moved to Maryland in the early 1960's and we bought a house in a community with a beach and small boat launching. My Dad decided we should learn to sail and for some reason he decided our first boat was going to be the diminuative El Toro, a glass version built in California and sold by a local sailboat dealer. Initially it was my Dad, my brother and I taking it out on Sappington's Creek; learning by doing. My Dad eventually decided the El Toro was too small and bought a 16 foot Rebel sailboat for family sailing. My brother just wasn't into sailing as I was. Through attrition, the El Toro became my personal watercraft, the gateway to endless summer adventures on the Severn River. I have written about some of my experiences in my El Toro dink in this previous post and also this post.
One of my most vivid memories was the first time I capsized the El Toro. As we were learning to sail the El Toro out of Severndale Beach, many times we were also accompanied by two other small wooden sailboats sporting novice sailors; a Wee-Sort 11 footer with jib and an even smaller 6 foot dinghy sailed by a friend who was the same age as me. The 6 foot sailboat was built by the father who also ingeniously made a small trailer for the boat that could be towed behind a bicycle (our community beach was about 1/2 mile and across a busy road from the community).
The day I capsized, both the 6 footer and I, in my El Toro, were sailing just off the community beach. The wind was swirly and gusty and I was dumping the main and rather fearfully watching the gunwhale ship water. Suddenly the 6 footer capsized and there was much shouted instructions from the adults on the dock. Eventually a rowboat was commandeered to traverse the 30 yards to help my friend. I, my ego near bursting, was congratulating myself on handling conditions my friend obviously found too overwhelming, when, wham!, over I went as well. I remember the initial shock and surprise to find myself swimming alongside the sail but then my book-learning kicked in. Per my readings, I had to get on the daggerboard and lever the sailboat back upright. That I did, after some time since I was a scrawny kid, and the El Toro came up, mostly filled with water (this El Toro just had a small bow tank and a small stern tank for flotation). I slithered into the water-logged cockpit, was able to bail some water out and then creep toward shore. I can't remember if I took the mainsail down and paddled in or if I was able to sail in. Either way, I was back on the shore and the adults didn't have to come out to get me.
That was the green light. That capsize and successful self-rescue replaced fear with self-confidence. I was now set to go beyond the creek and to places far into the river.