It's always a thrill for me to turn left on highway 24 and head west toward Cedar Key on the first weekend in May. Old friends were already there, and new friends I had yet to meet. This year Bob Wood, my old camping and sailing buddy, was traveling with me. We tried to remember the first year that we came to the Small Boat Meet, and decided it was probably 1992, with his Mud Hen 17. Back then we both still had larger boats, and the idea of sailing in "skinny water" was quite a novelty to both of us. That same year when summer came around we packed up the Mud Hen and trailered it behind Bob's Chevy S10 with a truck camper on top. We spent about a month on the back roads of the eastern seaboard, camping along the way, and sailing in lakes and bays. We visited Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and most of the states between New England and Florida. We were on the front line of boats viewing the return of the Tall Ships to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage of discovery.
Along the way we talked about starting a club of like minded people who would like to combine camping and sailing small boats. We hashed it out over late night campfires and morning coffee. It took us six more years of sailing our larger boats before it came true, but in 1998 we started the West Coast Trailer Sailing Squadron . Now, eleven years later, we have a club with almost one hundred family memberships. About fifty of those families regularly attend the Small Boat Meet in Cedar Key. We were going to have a reunion of sorts.
Coming into town the road ends right at the Island Place, and gray wooden structure of small condos that are for rent by the day, week or month. They surround the pool and spa, and overlook the small beach which serves the needs of the guests who stay there, and at the Gulfside Motel next door. The beach was filling up on Friday this year. Boat put out a stern or bow anchor and another anchor on the beach to secure their boats. It is a somewhat tenuous deal, especially in the SW wind that we had most of the time we were there. To make matters more interesting, there is a channel which leads under a bridge to the inner harbor running right in front of the beach. This makes for an interesting study in marine courtesy. Some have it, some don't. Some of our members decided that their boats were better off on their trailers in the evening, when they were asleep, and took their boats out every evening. That seemed like a lot of extra work, but I might try it next year, since I didn't get much sleep on Sunday night with the wind howling, and getting up every hour to check on our anchors.
Other folks have abandoned the Island Place beach strategy to stay on the other side of town down by the Faraway Inn. I've never stayed there, but they seem to have quiet and undisturbed down to a science. The boats that anchor off of there can frequently be found sitting on a mud flat at extreme low tides, which we never really had this year due to the southwest winds, most likely. Bill Fite stayed there with his lovely wife Sheila and their pooch. Faraway Inn is very pet friendly.
The winds of Friday were great, about 10 - 12 knots and there were a good number of boats out sailing when Bob and I finally got Whisper launched and off the beach. Dale Niemann launched his beautifully crafted Core Sound 17 cat ketch, and headed out in the sweet afternoon sea breeze. Dale was sharing the condo with Bob and I, and is a great friend and stawart of the Squadron. Mark Stewart from Atlanta was out sailing Shark Bait, his highly modified Chesapeake Light Craft kayak with trimaran rig. Paul Waggoner and Dodie were sailing their SeaPearl Tri - Wing-It, James Fleming was out with a restored Clark Mills Suncat, Pat Ball had his new brightly finished Hugh Horton Buffelhead sailing canoe. Of course Hugh was there as well with Ron Shell, Bill Ling, Jim Renouf, and Jim Brown (of trimaran fame). Ron Eike, with his Hobie Adventure Island was out sailing around. Noel and Christi Davis of FurledSails.com had Noel's new Woboto boat designed by Michalak out there as well. Noel had a borrowed (smaller) rig, but she was still moving nicely. We mostly stayed between Way Key, where the Island Place is located and Atsena Otie Key where there is a nice beach for meeting old friends and stretching your legs.
A writer named Bill Jacobs was there looking for me as a contact and to show him around. He has articles in several of the national sailing publications, and wanted a chance to photograph the boats and get some inside information. He also wanted to meet some of the luminaries who were in attendance. So I pointed him to the Friday night gathering at Bob and Geri Treat's house over on 7th street. The Treat's put on an open house every year, and this year was no different. Jim Brown was probably the most famous designer there, but there were people who were famous for other reasons as well, like Steven Ladd, adventurer and author of "Three Years in a 12 Foot Boat." Steven and companion Ginny are converting a SeaPearl 21 for a two or three year voyage into the Caribbean.
Saturday morning we usually meet early at Cook's Cafe. This year, the cook must have been on strike, as the food was under cooked and just terrible. But we did get together with more folks we hadn't seen for a year or so, including Frank Wentzel who owns a Roy Graham Egret with leeboards. Bob Wood was around Roy's boat shop back in the '70s when that boat was launched and presented Frank with some photos of her from an old album.
Back out on the water, Saturday is the "big day" where everyone launches and heads to the Atsena Otie beach to see and be seen. Wes White, Robb White's son was there with his Pacific shunting Proa, and was seen sailing very quickly. The wind was very light in the morning, but as the sea breeze picked up the afternoon winds were great! Ed and Becky Combs tried out their new mizzen staysail aboard their Sea Pearl Trimaran. There were two Bay Hens owned by Steve Wood and Steve Tonnesen. Steve Wood had his yuloh working very well behind his Bay Hen. SeaPearls were everywhere! Kent and Barbara Bleakley, Ron Hess, Jeff and Diana Lackey, Harvey Brillat, Eric Paul, Bill Fite, Tosh, Paul Waggoner, Larry Whited, Steve Ladd, John and Colette Johns, Richard Anderson, Dave Thomasson, Terry Poling and myself all had our SeaPearls out there sailing. I may have missed one or two, but they are always there in the greatest numbers, since they are still being built by Marine Concepts, and they are just perfect for the shallow waters of the west coast of Florida! Jim Leet, president of Marine-Concepts Sailboats even brought a new pearl to the event, and parked it on the trailer in front of the Gulfside Motel, where everyone could check it out. He told me later that it warmed his heart to see so many of the boats his company had build out there sailing together.
Meanwhile, I was on the beach and taking photos of all the boats to document the event as best I could. There is no organization to the event, it just happens. So trying to get a handle on what's going on is like herding cats. As sure as you leave an area, a very interesting boat shows up! Butch had his Shell Boats Crab Claw Cat there with a for sale sign on her. I think he wants to go larger. One of the more interesting and well crafted boats in attendance was Kathy and Rex Payne's new Birdwatcher II. It was barely finished in time, and had no rig, so it was used as a power launch. Easily the best finished birdwatcher I've ever seen, but to be expected from such competent craftsmen. Love to see it sailing next year!
The Hen boat people were really expecting a crowd. There was some talk on the Hen's Nest yahoo site about a Peep Parade on Saturday. But it didn't really come about. They were pretty well represented however. I think there were four Peep Hens, a couple of Marsh Hens, including Mike Burwell's, and two Bay Hens. Another fast and interesting boat was Bob and Glenda's Bolger Light Schooner, Scoona. They trailered her down from the Chesapeake to be there, and were going along really great until the dagger board would hit the bottom. Then they would just stop in their tracks. I wonder if leeboards would work on her?
Jay and Sue Ludwig were back after a year's absence and had a very pretty and interesting boat of his own design. It was cat rigged and had the centerboard way up forward in a compartment, leaving the center part of the boat open. The rudder, complete with end plate, balanced out the lateral resistance bit, and she seemed to go like a scalded cat. At 15 feet long and 250 pounds it was a great little beach cruiser. When I spoke to Jay about it, I discovered that he built a plug, then a mold, and is ready to produce them if a demand arises. On Friday with 12 knots of wind he had her going 5.9 MPH, which is pretty good for such a short hull. Jay's friend, Gene, who actually did the lay-up in the mold had a large surf dory rigged with one of Jay's old sprit rigs. It was also freshly out of the mold, and was still being developed. They both live on the east coast of Florida near Daytona. Nice to know that there are still fiberglass innovators out there trying new things.
Another very interesting boat at CK for the first time was Ray Aldridge's Slider Catamaran. Ray offers plans for this interesting beach cruiser through Duckworks on line small boat magazine. Ray's boat was also featured in the latest issue of Small Craft Advisor magazine. It consists of two hulls which are made for sitting in rather than on. In between the hulls is a rather large deck for standing, working the rig, and camping with a tent, if desired. It looked simple, light, and easy to build, which according to Ray, it is!
Ron Thweatt and Stacey Smith were back this year. Stacey had a new small dory with light tan lug rigged sail. Ron brought his wife with him. She told me Saturday night that this was the most fun she'd ever had at a lifetime of different sailing events. The people, the small boats and the interesting setting made it special for her.
Drascombe boats were in evidence this year as well. Paul Rossman from Charleston had a lovely restored Lugger 18, Kurt Bowman had his little Becky Thatcher, Alan Hall brought back his Coaster, and there was also a Longboat 21, but I didn't catch the owner's name.
We didn't put on a cookout on Saturday night this year. Since my brother couldn't get off to do the cooking in his big smoker, I thought the Squadron members could use a year or two off of cookout duty to just enjoy the sailing and the people at the event. We had an after dinner social gathering instead, and it worked out pretty well. There were LOTS of people there, most people brought their own drinks and a snack to share. I played my guitar for a few mostly appreciative folks, and we passed out our old copies of Messing About in Boats, and Sea Kayaker magazines. It went on from seven until about 10:30, when some of us retreated to the hot tub to relax with a cool beverage. It's a rough life. What can I say?
Sunday is always my favorite day. I guess because the crowd is thinned out, and the sailing seems to be the best. Dale headed out to Seahorse Key with Lively, his Core Sound 17. Bob and I started sailing Whisper out to Snake Key, but the winds were calling us to go out to North Key, a bit farther, but a reach instead of a beat. Jose' Rodriguez was pacing us in his WW Potter 15, getting the most you can get out of the little boat. Jose' and his family have ordered a new Sanibel 18 which will be here next month. They are very excited! We spotted Paul and Dodie aboard their SeaPearl Tri. They were returning from North Key, but when they saw us heading there, they turned around and came along. Larry Whited with Ginny and Steve, Frank Wentzel and daughter Hillery in their sail canoe trimaran, Mark Stewart with Shark Bait, and Eric Devoe and wife in their CLC Skerry, Moxie, all headed toward the pure white sand of the east side of North Key. This year there were no biting flies, perhaps due to the fresh breeze blowing along the beach. We beached Whisper and anchored along the shore in about 8 inches of water before setting up a folding beach chair. Out came an ice cold Corona and a sandwich. Like I said, it's a tough life.
We stayed long enough to relax, until the fresh breeze began to call our names . Then, one at a time, the boats peeled off the beach like leaves from an old oak in the fall, and floated back toward Atsena Otie Key skipping along on the waves in the afternoon sea breeze. We'll be back. We've heard the sea breeze call our names.