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  • Bonnie Hawk Barney

Part 8: Scows and squalls

From the number of rigging failures, upsets, and general breaking up of boats and races documented in newspaper accounts of the A Scow races of the late twenties, one would believe the storms blew more fiercely and frequently then. Old-timers tell me, "No", so we can conclude the skippers were then less the seamen than sail Keuka today, and the boats were marginally rigged with less efficient metals, attachments, and adjustments. The summer of 1927 had already seen three promising new Marconi rigged boats disabled when the July 4th races were sailed.

The Young Brothers and crew keep Y-Y's mast afloat as assistance arrives


"A stiff gale was blowing, but no one thought it necessary to take a reef in the mainsail. As they were nearing the south buoy, Spink Taylor’s Dutch Slipper put about and headed for the Keuka (Hotel) dock, nearly half full of water. She was followed almost immediately by Bob Howell’s Faith, who had broken a lee board. In a few minutes Bob Whitfield’s Juno was seen running for home for the purpose of taking a reef in the mainsail. In the meantime, Bob Young in the Y-Y had rounded the west buoy, near Gibson’s, and was racing before the wind. Hey had thrown out a spinnaker and all sails were full. A heavy gust caught them, twisted the mast around and snapped it off short, which finished the sloop race before the first lap had been completed."


A couple weeks later two heavy gales converged on the competitors. The race had started around an imaginary buoy. The real one having floated off. "The first blow coming out of the west, just as the four boats, closely grouped, were rounding the home buoy, struck at the end of the first lap. The Young brothers’Y-Y, handicapped by the use of a small jib as hers was torn clear across by a hard slant of wind five minutes before the start, gave the crowd a scare when it upset right in front of the dock. Bob Whitfield’s Juno snapped a peak hoist and caused the Penn Yan crew some difficulty before they could make her moorings. Bob Howell’s Faith, with the mainsail reefed and flying a storm jib, weathered the storm, but was unable to make the buoy. Spink Taylor’s Dutch Slipper heeled over on a hair-raising angle but soon righted herself. She came about and ran before the wind, trying to make the Keuka dock, but the velocity of the wind was so great that landing was out of the question. After noticing the Faithcontinuing on her course, the Slipper put out again after the lead boat. It was surprising to see the speed with which the Slipper closed the gap. Rounding the south buoy, in front of Marilena Point, the Faithwas leading by only a few yeard. Half way between the buoy and the Bluff, the second and heavier storm struck. Both sloops headed for Garretts’. With their masts creaking and groaning and the sails straining under the force of rough squalls. The last glimpse the spectators at Keuka had of the sloops was of both boats heeling heavily and literally flying for Penn Yan."


Evelyn Garrett’s Vagabond returned to competition with a new mast August 14th, but Evelyn didn’t skipper until a month later. Herself a novice, she carried a crew of less experienced relatives. The "spanking wind" at the start increased, as Bob Howell did the same to his lead. Taylor’s Slipper had tried hard to upset in an attempt to catch Faith, and the Garrett boat came so close to capsizing that three times Commodore Wagener had headed his cruiser her way to attempt a rescue. In a bad last position, buffeted by the winds, Miss Garrett appeared to abandon the race and head for home. As the lead boat rounded a mark ready for the home run, a strong easterly puff backed his mainsail and forced him to tack into the lake. Skidoo and Slipper found the same confused air and also began a long tack out into the lake, when the Garrett boat finally passed the mark and found the wind had switched back into the north and all the other boats were way off course. Resuming the competition, Vagabondointed herself for the finish line. Nip and tuck for five minutes, the boats out in the lake tried to catch her before making the line. All boats finished within a 12-second interval, Evelyn Garrett winning her first race!


A race held at the Penn Yan Country Club in 1929, with the South buoy at Alley's Inn (a public hotel then). Juno II is leading Deltox in a July calm.

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