A Smoothness That Is Like Nothing Else

Published on July 31st, 2013

The 36th annual McNish Classic Yacht Race at Channel Islands Harbor (CA), this year held on July 27, is essentially a 16.5 mile parade of history. Kate Sheahan, who is touring the west coast this summer on behalf of US Sailing, provides this report

“If I spent $15 on plans, I better build a boat,” chuckles McNish Classic champion, Walter Russakoff aboard his 43’ Sloop called Vignette II. Seven years later he completed a William Atkin design from 1936.

“Below the waterline it is original design, while above the waterline the design was altered slightly, as well as the rudder.”

The McNish Classic rules are simple: any kind of sailboat is allowed, any size, any shape, as long as it is wooden and built before 1952, the year, Dick McNish explains, fiberglass boats became popular.

Walter attributes luck to his success in racing over the years, shrugging off a suggestion that his good driving and design optimization may have an effect. The team races with six, eight on a crowded day. What he feels is special about the event is the reunion with friends every year.

The crew of Circe simply explained the regatta as, “really big wooden boats, flying shoots, and just hauling…” and went on to note that there is no bigger diversity within a fleet than here at the McNish Classic. It is pure racing. There is no changing the rig. No micro adjustments. It is just sailing.

Competitor’s warned, “you have to really want a wooden boat. It is an investment in your time and costs a fortune. However, it is about love.” Others went on to elaborate that it is about beauty. The crew of Charity reminded me that everything comes from the forest. Mass production is incapable of crafting race yachts like these. It takes human hands.

Dick McNish worries that an era of honoring the craft of wooden boat making may be overlooked by younger generations seduced by carbon fiber and contemporary engineering, however one young and enthusiastic sailor said that all it took was for him to just get on a wooden boat. He explained that it was the sheer weight and power of the boat, he felt on his first sail, a smoothness that is like nothing else. – Read on

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