Years The Preser­va­tion­ists


Sailing World - - Starting Line - By Elli­nor Wal­ters

drop away the far­ther you travel down May­bank High­way, which turns into dirt where an­cient oaks hang over­head. The road ends at the front door of Sea Is­land Yacht Club, an open build­ing with a wrap­around porch over­look­ing Bo­hicket Creek. Each cor­ner of this dance- hall- style build­ing has a piece of his­tory; wood planks from fa­mous hulls hang along­side ar­ti­cles cut out from the lo­cal A soli­tary dock juts out over the marsh, and teth­ered to it are a few of the club’s name­sakes, the flat-bot­tomed wooden-hulled Sea Is­land One De­signs.

At 20.5 feet LOA (with a 7-foot-4-inch beam), these flat, wooden ves­sels look more like the box that the Y-flyer is shipped in rather than the high­light­ing ves­sel of one of Charleston’s sum­mer- cir­cuit re­gat­tas. The class, which hasn’t caught on any­where else in the coun­try, has one of the most loyal fol­low­ings of any fleet. In Rockville, the land grudg­ingly gives way to the sea — wind­ing creeks wash up on oys­ter beds and into the marsh, cre­at­ing a rare land­scape and the habi­tat for the rare species of boat that ex­ists only here in the Sea Is­lands.

The club, which lauds it­self on its time­less­ness and tra­di­tion, is a unique place for sail­ing. You would be hard-pressed to find any­thing new or re­motely con­sid­ered high per­for­mance on the prop­erty. The lit­tle hid­den club has no de­sire to evolve, and there’s not a wasp or a viper to be found within 20 miles of the prop­erty. The sailors who com­pete here are not here for in­tense com­pe­ti­tion or any big tro­phy; they are here be­cause they love the tra­di­tion of the boats and the scenery of the low coun­try.

On this par­tic­u­lar Fri­day night at Sea Is­land YC, vol­un­teers are busy in the club’s sparse kitchen boil­ing shrimp pulled from the creek and bak­ing corn bread for the crowd. In the heat and hu­mid­ity, com­peti­tors and friends fill the club’s porch and front lawn. Among those gath­ered is Grayson Carter, the man re­spon­si­ble for pre­vent­ing the Sea Is­lands’ prob­a­ble ex­tinc­tion.

Carter’s Geechee in­flec­tion is per­fect Charlesto­nian, a rare and re­fresh­ing sign of a true lo­cal. He’s easy­go­ing de­spite his rep­u­ta­tion as “fleet com­man­der.” Carter com­mis­sioned two Sea Is­land One De­signs: one in 1947 and another in 1952. To­day, he owns

and Is­land Spirit, but he hasn’t raced them in years. “I don’t have any skin in the game; it’s all about pro­vid­ing the young peo­ple and good friends the op­por­tu­nity to be a part of the his­tory and tra­di­tion of the Sea Is­land One De­sign class.”in­stead, to up­hold the com­pet­i­tive tra­di­tions of Sea Is­land One De­sign rac­ing, he pre­serves them and lends them to able crews.

“Our goal is to keep and pre­serve the in­tegrity of the class. I want to pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for the younger gen­er­a­tion that wants to be a part of the his­tory.”

Carter raced in his younger days, but his hum­ble na­ture keeps him from speak­ing to his own abil­i­ties in the boat. In­stead he re­minds sailors that he’s on-site to help in case any­one has an is­sue or a cap­size. Of all the sum­mer re­gat­tas in Charleston, Rockville boasts the big­gest and wildest party. The creek turns into a gi­ant raftup be­fore the first gun goes off. Be­cause of this, the creek is also heav­ily reg­u­lated and pa­trolled by DNR dur­ing the rac­ing.

With the ex­cep­tion of the mark boats, Carter is the only ex­cep­tion to the strict rules that keep mo­tor­boats out of the race­course. He trails the fleet in his T- top on the race­course with the at­ten­tion usu­ally re­served for pro­fes­sional coaches to their sailors. If the Sea Is­land Yacht Club is the church of low-coun­try sail­ing, then Carter stands in the pul­pit and this is his min­istry.

This area of Charleston, South Carolina, is known for its rich tra­di­tion and lore, and the Sea Is­land fits right into the story. Be­fore

Post and Courier. Grey Ghost, Dog­house

plan­ta­tions were able to ship their har­vests to Charleston, they loaded goods like cot­ton and pota­toes onto wide, flat barges with a sail. Barge cap­tains staged an an­nual race to see who could trans­port crops the fastest. Ac­cord­ing to the lore of the fleet, the first doc­u­mented com­pe­ti­tion hap­pened in 1890.

The barges were even­tu­ally built to the win­ning de­sign of the day, and the com­pe­ti­tion soon be­came one of skill rather than craft. In 1947, Oliver Seabrook — with the help of naval ar­chi­tect Henry Scheel of Mys­tic, Con­necti­cut — stream­lined the de­sign and coined it the Sea Is­land. Since the first com­pe­ti­tion, the fleet has grown slowly but steadily, and not one of the boats built has been re­tired.

The rit­ual is car­ried out ev­ery year with the Rockville Re­gatta at the Sea Is­land YC, and the fleet now stands at nine, with the ad­di­tion of Floun­der in 2011, skip­pered by Michael Miller. Miller is a world- class racer and past Olympic 470 sailor who could oth­er­wise be rac­ing foil­ing cata­ma­rans or some other hot new one-de­sign class, but the Sea Is­land’s ap­peal is its his­tory, and the chal­lenge of fig­ur­ing out the fastest way to sail it. With the help of his crew, he makes sail­ing the Sea Is­land One De­sign look easy. Floun­der was com­mis­sioned for Miller by a close friend, Hank Hof­ford. Hof­ford’s de­ci­sion to un­der­take the project was in­spired by the longevity of the Sea Is­land One De­sign, which is the old­est stand­ing fleet in the Charleston area.

“As a kid I watched the Sea Is­land One De­signs sail in the Rockville Re­gatta. I al­ways wanted to sail on one. When the re­ces­sion hit, I re­al­ized that I wouldn’t be able to play around on big boats, so we built a lit­tle boat. Michael Miller was a friend, and I asked him to help de­sign it and build it. Frank Mid­dle­ton built it in se­cret in his garage just around the cor­ner.”

Floun­der was built to be a per­fectly fair mem­ber of the class. Mid­dle­ton mea­sured and weighed each and ev­ery boat in the fleet, mak­ing Floun­der a per­fect me­dian of all the other com­peti­tors. Once fin­ished, the team ad­mired the boat, won­der­ing what to name it.

“My wife was stand­ing in the garage with me and Mike, and we were talk­ing about what might be a good name,” says Hof­ford of the boat’s unique name. “The hull was up­side down, and she says, ‘Well it looks like a floun­der to me!’ So we named the boat Floun­der.”

week­end with­out Laroche. He’s been rac­ing Sea Is­lands since he was 10, tak­ing af­ter his fa­ther, who also sailed them his en­tire life; even when he was in the ser­vice, he found a way back each year to sail.

While Miller has an ex­ten­sive back­ground in rac­ing, Laroche knows Bo­hicket Creek bet­ter than any­body. The two of them reg­u­larly share in­for­ma­tion to chal­lenge each other to sail the boat ever faster. While the Sea Is­land hasn’t evolved much, the tech­nique of sail­ing it has; the boats now sport a trapeze, used up­wind as well as down­wind to heel the boat to lee­ward in light air. When Miller joined the fleet, he put the heat back on.

“Ev­ery­one had been in a re­laxed mood for a few years. And it’s in­spired a lot of the other boats to step up their game and com­pete se­ri­ously,” says Hof­ford. “We have a very com­pet­i­tive fleet now.”

The fleet, he adds, is treated with a rare rev­er­ence not of­ten given to pieces of wood, fiber­glass, and metal by sailors and spec­ta­tors alike. They aren’t very fast, and they def­i­nitely aren’t high tech, but surely the pil­grim­age to Sea Is­land Yacht Club will con­tinue for years to come. There is even a ru­mor that some­where on the is­land there’s another Sea Is­land in pro­duc­tion, hid­den away, half-built, in some­one’s garage. Q

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