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  • Bonnie Hawk Barney

Part 11: What blew the A's away

Few lakes outside the state of Wisconsin have been privileged to sport a racing fleet of A Scows. Fewer still maintain a single A today. What happened to the Keuka A fleet? A combination of events drew the lifeblood of the KYC fleet, a fleet which had twice flourished, in the first and third decades of this century. Two young skippers died: Robert Young of Keuka, and Charles Garrett of Bluff Point, to whom the Little Chapel on the Mount was dedicated in 1930. The resignation of Commodore Wagener, who for three decades promoted and organized the sailing activities, was accepted with regret. The small boat fleets were growing, but a tragic multiple drowning accident during squalls in 1933 was an event which shook the KYC racers deeply.


It was July 23, 1933, at Gibson’s Landing. From the newspaper account: "After a day’s racing with comparatively light wind, many of the boats had either given up and come in or had seen the storm approaching and had dropped sail to be towed in to the landing. Few were out on the lake at the time that the storm struck. Several of the boats towed in had been tied in line ready for the usual tow back to Hammondsport. Among those in the line were Greyton Taylor’s Caprice, Robert Howell’s Privateer, Champlin Howell’s Tippy Up, Arthur Conley’s Lark, C. W. Maltby’s Martini, and a boat owned by Jack Olsen of Bath. Among those still on the lake were Robert Cole and Lawrence Woodside in the Chanticleer, and Jack Hassett, Elmira, in a Star class boat.


Boats Capsize


Charles Mummert, 18, son of Harvey Mummert, aviator, of Hammondsport, was piloting the small motorboat used to tow the fleet. The group had hardly left the anchorage in front of Charles Herman’s cottage when the storm lashed up the lake with terrifying velocity. The fleet of boats with sails down were caught broadside by the twister and virtually lifted out of the lake and flopped over on their sides. Connelly and Gleason were on the Privateer, William Fry, Hammondsport, was on the Caprice, and Floyd Pilgrim, Hammondsport, was in the Martini. All were thrown into the water. Pilgrim and Fry managed to reach their boats and hung on during the blow. Dr. Gleason and Connelly were lost overboard and were not seen again.


In the meantime Robert Cole and "Larry" Woodside were having trouble in the Chanticleer. The boat was blown over and both were thrown into the water. The craft sank within a few minutes. Jack Hassett in a Star boat was having a hard time of it right at the finish buoy at the dock and the mast of his boat finally snapped before the main sheet could be dropped.


Look for Woodside


Attention was centered upon the fate of Cole and Woodside who had just rounded the last buoy and were boating in to the finish for a sure victory. They were five or six hundred yards from the dock but only a short distance from Bluff Point. Charles Mummert, with the tow boat, immediately cast off and started out to aid Cole and Woodside. He found Cole in an exhausted condition, too weak to pull himself into the boat, and managed to drag him in. He undoubtedly would have sunk to the bottom but for Mummert’s timely rescue. The lake was dangeropusly rough. Cole was suffering from submersion. Woodside was nowhere to be seen. The Wagener-owned Renegaw and Mrs. W. D. Fox’s Galeata, a cruiser and large motor boat, put out to search for Woodside, but to no avail.


When the rain squall struck following the wind, the large crowd on the dock lost sight of all boats. Visibility was very poor at best. The entire fleet of boats in the tow, tipped over by the first blast, drifted past just off the end of the dock unseen. The towline had broken leaving the boats at the mercy of the wind. William Fry and Floyd Pilgrim after being blown off their boats managed to return and clung on as the upturned fleet drifted rapidly north on the lake.


The capsized fleet was caught at a cove north of Gibson and returned to the anchorage. It was probably 30 minutes after the tragedy before Gleason and Connelly were found missing.


Paul Henstridge was the last skipper to come in and he barely made it before the storm broke. His dinghy was tied to the boat lift at the dock and when the squall struck the boat was lifted out of the lake to straighten out like a flag some distance up from the water.


The rain and wind beat with such fierceness that good swimmers were helpless. Hail accompanied the rain. In the short space of time events happened too fast for human beings to perceive. Heroic acts were committed before the eyes of the horrified crowd on the dock and probably many heroic incidents took place unseen by the group. Part of the story will never be told.


As to the A boats’ demise...the first to go were those refurbished in the 20’s after long neglect: the Y-Y, belonging to the Young brothers, broke loose in a storm July 28, 1929, and was battered beyond repair. The Skidoo was declared out of commission and put up for sale by the Champlins in 1928. Flapdoodle, (you remember she had received her name from her habit of flapping loose her floorboards when tacking, allowing the lake to enter), was sailed only in 1926. Greyton Taylor had attempted to keep Dutch Slipper from sinking in 1927 by upholstering her hull with canvas, so it’s no surprise that she was not of competitive calibre when he sold her to Sackett and Canfield the next year. The Whitfield brothers of Penn Yan converted their Juno to marconi rig in 1927, but found their chances of winning were greater when skippering the Garretts’ Vagabond for Paul Garrett after his son’s death. Four others remained: Spink Taylor’s Caprice, the Penn Yan syndicate’s Mystery, the Champlin brothers’ Deltox, and Bob Howell’s trophy-laden Privateer.


An abbreviated racing schedule continued for some years, but the emphasis shifted. Fleets of smaller boats were no longer considered "junior" sailors, but they became the core of competitive racing. In 1941 the Vagabond was temporarily out of commission after a wreck near Branchport. Its ultimate fate was sinking in the channel to Penn Yan harbor. Deltox was sold, last seen in a barn at Waneta Lake.Mystery’s final owners were several optimists who each kicked in $15 on the hopes of floating her. The hopes were ill-founded, and she instead received last rites in a blazing funeral pyre, her remains sinking off the Bluff. The Caprice, alone among Keuka’s A’s as a pointed end hull, now the conventional design, was planted with flowers at Kenyon’s store on the west side of the Penn Yan branch. Her boom hung for years in Rose’s Restaurant at Keuka. Last to sail under the Keuka burgee was Privateer, skippered by Art Wilder and Bob Snyder until the mid-sixties. Sold to Dr. Thomas Gray of Alfred, she awaited repairs for many years until a new roadbed bisected her barn, and both she and the barn fell to bulldozers.


The small boat fleets came into their own. In 1939 there were 14 Star boats, five boats sailed in the National One Design class, which grew as members built them from plans published in a 1937 Rudder Magazine. Fifteen other boats, sloops, dinghys, knockabouts, Comets, Snipes, Larks, etc., raced in a handicapped fleet. Racing had for many years centered off Keuka Hotel, compliments of Bessie Young, and Alley’s Inn, welcomed by Frank and Maude Alley. In the late thirties the Inn was sold into strangers’ hands, who no longer


welcomed the sailors as of old. Racing then was run from the boat house at Gibson’s Landing, leased by the club, with occasional visits to Keuka Hotel, Switzerland Inn, and Penn Yan. In 1941 the club leased the Helvetia House from Karl Schmoker at Keuka, and despite limited space and launching facilities, hosted the Central New York Yacht Racing Association’s 123 boat regatta.

A match race between Privateer (8) and Deltox (40)

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