Friday, May 2, 2008


Looking for a Valiant 40? Come to Lake Texoma, my friend.

The Valiant 40 was among the most influential race boats of its day, albeit born as the first of a new breed, the "performance cruiser." Bob Perry's plastic classic double-ender achieved a legendary status on both sides of the aisle.

As a racer, short-handed long-distance was the Valiant specialty. To this day the boat is a sleeper, as she sits in the water. "The boat" meaning all 200 built plus the new crop of Valiant 42s that share the same hull but add a bowsprit.

The first Valiant 40 was launched in 1973, with all the man-against-the-sea visual cues to compete for hearts and minds against true believers in crabcrusher technology—tiny ports, a canoe stern, a trunk cabin that a Tahiti Ketch could love. Only out of the water did the alter ego emerge, the fin keel and skeg-hung rudder hinting at surprising numbers, including sail area/displacement and displacement/length ratios not far from those of a Cal 40. Those numbers in 2008 are not at all radical, but you can be pretty sure that if you're ever unlucky enough to crush a crab, you'll squash that sucker with the bow, not the stern.

What set me off on this was a recent foray into sailing grounds that a lot of my friends have missed. It's called, North Texas.

The game began on Lake Texoma, which hosted the first of three weekends—three lakes in three weeks—of the latest Leukemia Cup circuit. The last of the three lakes is up this weekend, and that would be Lewisville Lake in Oak Point, Texas (think Dallas; Dallas is big enough to absorb most of the galaxy).

So, returning to our original theme: Bet most of you didn't know that Valiants, originally built in the Pacific Northwest and still identified with that region, have long been built on the Texas-Oklahoma border on one of the most popular sailing lakes you've probably never experienced. Sailing is big here, but football is religion . . .

And don't take the name on that billboard, "Munson Stadium," lightly.

Back in the 1900s, when phylloxera was decimating the vineyards of France, it was one T.V. Munson of Denison, Texas who identified a resistant rootstock in American vines and shipped the rootstock cuttings that, for practical purposes, rescued the European wine industry. Munson was awarded the Chevalier du Merite Agricole, and "Munson" to this day remains a big name in North Texas. Even the mailboxes look fast . . .

Valiant has been here for a couple of decades. Rich Warstell was a major Valiant dealer before he bought the company and at first tried to keep the production line where it was born.

Eventually Rich realized that his specialty line wanted a place where he could create an artisan community of semicustom boatbuilders.

A place where the price points would work.

A place where longhorns are not crowded out of the neighborhood, just for looking scary . . .

A place called Gordonville, Texas, where sailing north will take you across the border into Oklahoma in a lot less than an hour.

Yes, there are Valiants that ply the waters of Lake Texoma, a flood-control reservoir formed by damming the Red River (there are more Catalinas and Beneteaus than Valiants, to be honest). This is the big boat lake in a region that is mostly about sailing trailerables. Older Valiants return for factory refitting alongside boats under construction . . .

So let's just look around.

The man responsible for bringing Valiant to Texas, Rich Warstell, also has a background in aviation. If you really want to get him talking, that's the subject. What's behind the door . . . ?

A vintage Bonanza with original paint and upholstery . . .

And a "baby Beaver" built from a kit, right here . . .

If you've ever spent a sleepless night wondering what Cedar Mills Resort, Gordonville, Texas, looks like on a rainy day in the springtime, wonder no more. I realize this isn't much of a sales tool, but if you ever get the chance to sail here, don't pass it up. This is a big world.