Harken Derm

Carl Eichenlaub is not an urban legend

Published on December 3rd, 2013

What Carl Eichenlaub did during his turn in life touched many people and amazed most. Simply saying he was a champion sailor, boat builder and musician does not do justice to the talent and compassion he carried. He could easily become an urban legend.

Since Carl’s passing on Nov. 29, Olympian Mark Reynolds, has launched a website in hopes of preserving the stories. This selection by Ted Livingston (Oct. 13, 2000) speaks of how Carl got started, and provides a stark contrast to how junior sailing is today…

Carl Eichenlaub and I first met in the summer of ’46 at Mission Bay Yacht Club in San Diego.

I had returned from World War II in February, and resumed my studies at San Diego State University that very morning! I assured family and friends that I would take the summer off to sail and body-surf – to “readjust to civilian life”. When that word got around the club, I soon found myself lined up as the volunteer Junior Sailing Instructor.

Carl Eichenlaub was first to sign up for the class and first to arrive every morning. Like me – six years earlier – he was fifteen years old, came from a supportive but non-sailing family, had built his own boat, and broke upon the sailing scene pretty much on his own.

In those days, everyone in the Junior Program was expected to buy, borrow, or build his or her own boat. There were no two boats alike in the Junior Fleet that summer, but Carl’s boat was different from all the rest: it had a tiny cabin! When he opened the double doors, it became immediately apparent why he had named her “Inner Sanctum”. The creaking of the hinges sounded exactly like the lead-in for the radio series “Inner Sanctum Mysteries.”

“Inner Sanctum” was a 16 foot plywood sloop that Carl built from plans for “Petrel”, which appeared in the same library book I had grown up with: “How to Build Twenty Boats.” She was definitely more of a “cruiser” than a “racer” but perfect for Carl’s first summer of salt-water sailing.

The widely divergent boats were gathered into a very informal Arbitrary Handicap Fleet. Based on past performance, the handicaps had to be tweaked a little each night so as neither to discourage slow learners nor encourage budding sea-lawyers.

At summer’s end, I was disturbed that, while Carl had taken to racing like a duck to water, he had not won a single race. I felt obliged to do something special for the season finale – something that would be absolutely fair, but would give Carl an additional opportunity to “show his stuff”

For that last race, I announced a short course of two beats with a run in between.

“Is that all,” came the complaint.

“Yes”, I replied, “but on the run, before you round the leeward mark, you must catch a fish. And the prize for the winner will be a complimentary fish dinner for two, courtesy of “The Frog in the Pond Restaurant.”

Carl’s victory next day – his first win as skipper – was akin to that of the schooner-yacht “America” at Cowes in 1851: there was no second!

Carl invited me to be his guest at dinner, and he’s been “showing his stuff’ ever since!

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