Restoring a legendary speedster

Published on November 24th, 2019

The log canoe is the type of racing boat you’d see in the islands, born from a history of fishing and now used to embrace sport. Add hiking racks, and a mass of humanity riding them, these hollowed out tree trunks are members of the Chesapeake Bay log sailing canoe fleet in Maryland.

As an active racing group, the 2020 season has a lot to look forward to as Tracey F. Johns shares in this report:

Retired astronaut and the U.S. Naval Academy’s Distinguished Chair in Space Science CAPT Kenneth Reightler, Jr. has been named skipper of the historic sailing log canoe Flying Cloud, now under major restoration funded solely through donations.

Reightler currently serves as a volunteer coach for the U.S. Naval Academy’s Varsity Offshore Sailing Team, and is an instructor-skipper and Officer in Tactical Command for the Offshore Sail Training Squadron.

His log canoe experience started at an early age, serving as “bail boy” and progressing through boardsman, trimmer, tactician, and helmsman. For the past fifteen seasons, he has been a regular crewman on the log canoe Island Bird.

A new non-profit, Flying Cloud Log Canoe Preservation Trust, is organizing and financing the critical work required to return the historic log canoe to competitive sailing form for the 2020 racing circuit. Recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, Flying Cloud is the second largest racing log canoe in existence today, requiring as many as 18 crew to campaign her.

“Having Ken at the helm of Flying Cloud makes this restoration project all the more important,” commented Flying Cloud Log Canoe Preservation Trust President Ned Hennighausen. “With the donations we need in hand, we can complete this project in time for Ken to sail Cloud in next year’s races.”

Kenneth Reightler, Jr.

The Prager family has generously pledged to donate $75,000 towards Flying Cloud’s renovation, once the Trust has raised $75,000 from others. Hennighausen says the Trust has raised $45,000 to date, and is now seeking to raise the remaining $30,000 to fully fund the project. Work on Flying Cloud is currently underway at Campbell’s Boatyards in Oxford, Md.

A Chesapeake Bay native, Reightler was born in Patuxent River, MD, but has deep family roots on Tilghman Island. He has lived and worked in many places around the world before moving to Annapolis, where he currently resides.

He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from U.S. Naval Academy, and Master of Science degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, and in Systems Management from University of Southern California. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and has logged more than 5,000 hours flying time in more than 60 different types of aircraft.

Selected as an astronaut by NASA in June 1987, Reightler has logged more than 327 hours in space, including his first flight on Space Shuttle Discovery in 1991, making 81 orbits of the Earth. Reightler also served as pilot on the first joint U.S./Russian Space Shuttle Mission, experiencing another 130 orbits of the Earth.

After retiring from the U.S. Navy and leaving NASA, Reightler went on to work in the private sector, serving in numerous executive leadership positions. Today, he continues working as an aerospace and business consultant to government and commercial organizations, in addition to his teaching duties.

“Flying Cloud is a striking image on the water, and built to be one of the fastest and most beautiful log canoes in the fleet,” commented Reightler. “I’m honored to be a part of her history, and look forward to seeing the restoration fully funded while we gather the crew necessary to sail her as she was designed… fast.”

“Cloud’s restoration work requires removal and replacement of the center log and restoration of surrounding areas of the hull,” continued Hennighausen. “Suited to Cloud’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places, all work will be completed in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines for the Restoration of Historic Vessels.

“When we have the donations needed to complete the project, Flying Cloud will be as impressive as she was when launched in 1932.”

Flying Cloud was built on Tilghman Island, MD in 1932 by the legendary John B. Harrison, who also built Flying Cloud’s sister ship, Jay Dee, a year earlier. Skipper Ken Reightler also has an important family connection with Cloud—Harrison is his great-grandfather.

The last time Flying Cloud raced was in 2016. During that racing season, she experienced multiple failures of key components. Additionally—and as with all log canoes—time and the stresses of competition have deteriorated the logs of the hull, despite ongoing maintenance.

The Trust is actively seeking donors, former crew members, and other interested parties to help bring Flying Cloud back to her place on the water. Donations to the Flying Cloud Preservation Trust can be mailed to PO Box 130, Oxford, MD 21654.

For more information, follow the Flying Cloud Log Canoe on Facebook and Instagram, or contact Allan Noble at or Ned Hennighausen at

The Flying Cloud Log Canoe Preservation Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, with charitable donations tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

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