Monday, September 24, 2007

The People's Boat

Quick, name a class where participation has doubled in the last five years, and no, it wasn't launched five years ago.

Meet the Folkboat, or more likely, renew your acquaintance. These little classics first came to the U.S. more than 50 years ago, and the fleet this year celebrated the 30th anniversary of its International Regatta.

An important component of the success is that, like a very few other types, the Folkboat—to avoid confusion I should properly name it as the Nordic Folkboat—has managed to mix wood and fiberglass hulls. And it is a classic. The boat's just plain lovable, and the Folkboat Association is a cult of its own. As always, it's about the people.

A member of the San Francisco Bay fleet, Svend Svendsen, built the first plastic boat, using number 95 as a plug, but you can find people who believe that the wood hulls are faster when the chop is up on SF Bay and the glass hulls start flexing in the punches.

As for just how the fleet has renewed itself, that's a hard thing to put a finger on. I sat down with a handful of my locals just before the International Regatta kicked off, and class president Chris Herrmann said, "Since I came into the fleet in 2000, there has been a big change. A lot of inactive boats were sold to people who fixed them up and put them back on the track."

For the record, the International Regatta was led by SF Bay locals David Wilson and Peter Jeal in first and second, with Germany's Christoph Nielsen third. I wasn't around for that. I've been upriver on the San Joaquin along with about 700 of my closest friends on an annual retreat. I didn't want it to end, but it did, and now I'm taking the long way home by poking my nose up the Napa River.

The tide is changing, and I have enough water now to get out of Vallejo Yacht Club's harbor, so I'm closing on the bottom line for today. Just a few more observations about the Folkboat. It's tough enough for anything, and perfectly good for cruising if you're the hardy, outdoors sort. To race, it carries three, so all three are engaged in the whole race (that's always a good thing) and the class is going cutting edge soon--aluminum masts are coming in.

Thanks to Peter Lyons for these views of the competition . . .

And I like this comment from the class website about Henrik Hellman, who came over to sail the Internationals (the local fleet limited US participation to ensure that all loaner boats were fully competitive): "Henrik wasn't too sure about this boat when he drew it. It is an ancient wooden Folkboat made in the early 60's, a genuine antique, and they were having to pump a lot of water out. The reason: it just came out of Fred Andersen's yard four days ago, and it is one of our prized Borresen boats from Denmark. The lap planks take some time to swell up and becomed water tight. Wood Folkboats have no caulking between the planks."

Here's what the San Francisco Bay Folkboat Association has to say about itself, which also tells us something about why this show works:

The SF Bay Folkboat Fleet has a program to assist new, current and even potential owners with questions about their Folkboat, racing and even finding a boat. If you own a Folkboat and want to start racing, here is what can help with:
• Finding experienced Folkboat crew
• Review your boat’s, running rigging, hardware and placement of such things as fairleads, etc. to help optimize ease of handling and performance
• Help tune your boat on the water
• Help you locate parts. We keep an inventory of used Folkboat parts (typically hardware, but also includes booms and even masts, when available).
Every year, the Folkboats typically have a one-design start at the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) mid-winter series. (The series races the first Saturday of November through March.) This has traditionally been a great series for a new skipper to get valuable on the water racing experience accompanied by experienced sailors from the fleet. The mid-winter conditions are typically much more benign than the 15+ knots we typically race in on San Francisco Bay.
We periodically run other “one off” regattas to also get new skippers out on the water.
Why do we do this? A fleet that has new members is a healthy fleet. A competitive fleet is a healthy fleet. A healthy fleet is a happy fleet. We’re a happy fleet and want to stay that way.

Time to cast off—Kimball