Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sandbagger Sailing

The same night I littered one of the streets of Annapolis with a Laser sail in a black bag, I received a voicemail from an old sailing friend, Susan Dierdorff Taylor, who it turns out, is now sailing director for the nascent National Sailing Hall of Fame. The National Sailing Hall of Fame is due to have a new building constructed on the City Dock sometime in the future but for now they have been the recipient of the largess of Peter Kellog's sandbagger program.

Peter Kellog, a successful stockbroker, funded the construction of two sandbagger replica's (named Bull and Bear after those familiar Wall Street terms for up or down markets) and now funds a traveling roadshow of these vintage sailboats to promote community and youth sailing. For the summer of 2010, Bull and Bear are based out of Annapolis and the National Sailing Hall of Fame. They make regular forays out into the harbor carrying a diverse assemblage of sailors and non-sailors. More detailed information on the Bull and Bear program can be found here

Sandbaggers were America's earliest racing sailboats; their heyday from about 1850 to 1890. Developed from workboats that carried oysters to market, racing sandbaggers acquired huge rigs; a gaff rigged main on an absurdly long boom and a jib on an absurdly long bowsprit. To counteract the sail plan, sandbags up to 50 pounds were stacked on the weather rail and the crewmen sat on top of them. Tacking saw the sandbags flung across the boat to the new weather side. This was wild and wooly racing with many races having large sums of money wagered on them. Professional watermen manned them.

The modern day Bull and Bear sandbaggers are scaled back somewhat from their forebearers, tweaked to be a little more sensible for modern times; a good thing given their purpose. They sport smaller rigs which still look enormous. They have a double bottom, their wooden blocks sport ball bearing, they have dacron sails, their masts are built with carbon rods, and the sandbags (really square water containers) are now an afterthought. Yet you still get a good feel of what it was like to race these beasts and acquire great respect for the grit and guts of these mid nineteenth century sailors.

Well, to get back to my story, Susan had an invite to sail on one of the sandbaggers, an offer I quickly jumped on. I was a little late to the dock, having discovered I was minus one Laser sail and made a hurried look see around the SSA club and streets of Eastport. However, I was able to make the push off time with my trusty Fuji camera.

Once we got our tow out of the harbor, skipper Susan Dierdorff Taylor gave a quick heads up on sailing these traditional craft. (Click on any of these pictures to get a higher resolution picture.)

Sailing master, Bryan Stout, seemed most concerned that we didn't capsize and imparted some of the idiosyncrasies on sailing these traditional craft; the primary one being the jib trimmer is key!

It turns out I was jib trimmer for the first half of the sail, which was on an upwind starboard tack. Since the center of effort of the jib is way, way forward, it will very quickly overpower the rudder and force the sandbagger down to leeward. The rule of thumb was when the leeward gunwhale was seeing water; ease the jib and ease it fast! So the jib trimmer is working very hard, easing and trimming to the angle of heel and not to the jib telltales.

A picture of the other sandbagger (I think we were on Bull so this might be Bear but again I may have it backwards).

And a quick movie from that sail...........

That evening, I climbed aboard pretty steamed about losing a Laser sail off my roof racks. After two hours on a sandbagger, it didn't seem that important anymore. What more could you ask for an evening sail?

Also onboard that night were three kingpins of community sailing programs; Nick Hayes from Milwaukee Community Sailing, Doug Silber from Downtown Sailing Center, Baltimore and Lorie Stout from the newly formed Annapolis Community Boating organization. I listened to their conversations and asked a few questions which will be in a future post.

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