Meeting Up With a Woody
by Granger B. Whitney

Late last summer, a friend of mine, Peter Gesell, invited me to spend a weekend in Bayfield, WI, rigging and sailing a 28' vintage design, recently built, wooden cutter that had come to his attention earlier that year. She was one-quarter scale version of a late 1800’s West Coast lumber hauler. A blunt entry at the bow, a rail well above her deck, hefty cabin sides, a spacious working deck, powered by a double headed gaff rig. Her fully deployed gaffed main was something to behold. She was simply gorgeous in a very muscular way, and our Sunday’s sail was entirely fulfilling. Other craft couldn’t stay away, complimenting us on the gull-like manner of her full sail set, her lines from a by-gone era, as well as the cockpit-bound helmsman…Peter’s black lab Wintonka. After trying her up and making her secure, I was feeling quite satisfied and looking forward to a cold beer and a generous hot bowl of stew at one of the local pubs. As we stepped along the back of the pier-way, a number of hulks decorated the usual bone yard one grows to admire in most marinas. There amongst that collection was a strange little lady.

Falling for Her

Initially, I noted her and moved on. But then, steps were retraced. I asked Peter if he knew anything about her. He answered in the affirmative with the astounding claim that the craft was his. My thirst and hunger left me as we peeled back her covers. There she was…all 20 feet of her (bowsprit included) at an absurd 7-1/2 feet at the beam. Custom built in 1940-41 from a mid-twenties design, she looked so winsome, perched up there on her cradle, caulk drooping out of her hull’s strip planking joints. She had suffered 3 seasons stone dry…and she had me from very first sight. Her spars, hardware, instruments, standing and running rig all indicated a builder who had outrageous desires to take her into blue water. Her teak topsides were still pristine thanks to a well fit cover. Her cockpit was extraordinarily deep with high comings, and her cabin was a thing of beauty, with all the features of an ocean-going vessel. She continues to persuade observers that she is another 5 feet larger than she is…if not more. In spite of her old-school dignity, she was fitted and shaped in such a way as to invite unexpected speed. I was lost to this little gem, in spite of an inclination for ocean sailing aboard 40 to 60 foot fully founded vessels that hold another special place in my sailor’s heart.

Photo of the boat on its cradle prior to restoration…

Restoration…Going Forward

In the late fall, last year, Peter agreed to commit the boat to a consortium ownership plan which would in turn undertake a very serious restoration project directed by the well established White Bear Boat Works crew. Hauling the boat from Bayfield to White Bear Lake had some interesting challenges, which in spite of them, landed the craft in good order at WBBW’s shop. Jason Brown, WBBW’s principal, and Eric Hegland, WBBW’s lead tradesman, equally have fallen hard for the little craft. These two invite your stopping by for a look-see. Even as a work in progress, our little “Guppy” captures imaginations and conversation. Detailed inspection of her revealed virtually no rot ( a wonderful surprise). Several damage zones appeared to be easily restored to a sound condition. We quickly drafted a scope of work, a division of labor, a few feature modifications, and a potential expanded sail plan…and set to work. I ran all about her, taking measure of everything, and so have produced an architectural line drawing of the boat which serves well in our planning as well as appreciating the genius of her design. We are all pumped about getting her splashed in the early coming season where she will be berthed at WBBW’s Marina.

Getting Intimate with Her

A great example of the work had to do with the tedium of stripping, scrapping, sanding the hull, and then facing the nasty business of going after the even more tedious work of caulk removal. Plank strips had a bevel joint on the adjoining buried faces. The years had formed a wide variety of joint gaps. Replacement spotty caulking had every variable imaginable, some almost falling out, some just plain stubborn beyond words or reason. We messed around with about every tool that we could come with to make the job easier, but it gave way only to peck, pry, saw, pluck techniques accompanied by salty expressions. Some earlier additions to the ship’s ballast included steel tubes scabbed onto the keel which were not entirely conducive to a smooth and speedy ride. A new keel wrap in steel featuring a “wing” were employed given the advice of marine engineering. After a test season under genoa and main, we are expecting to add a baby stay with staysail, a topsail, a larger 165% genoa forward, and a spinnaker from the masthead. There are already “strings” all over the place for her running rig…so prudence will have to be employed.

The Ownership Consortium

Typically, a wooden craft’s restoration constitutes a labor of love and a measured awareness of costs is necessary, in that the craft ends up in a very unique market when resale is to be considered. Similar concerns are involved in insuring the boat. We are following all these related matters and have concluded that a composite, or consortium ownership plan will make the entire venture more feasible as well as developing some real “people skills” amongst the owner-crew participants while participating in a truly unique sailing experience. We intend to race the boat ( a three-man crew with spinnaker) under PHRF rules with the Black Bear Yacht Racing Association, and as stated above, keep her berthed at White Bear Boat Works. Sailors interested in participating in this venture should contact Granger Whitney 651-493-3859 (cell: 651-235-3668).

Granger B. Whitney is currently a co-owner of a Holder 20 on White Bear Lake, Minnesota, while a steady bi-annual charterer in Lake Michigan.

The Little Boat Story
by Peter Gesell

This is a story of a little Boat that could. The boat, Shel-Lon, as she was known to her builder and creator, Lee Pastor and sole owner for over 60 years. My history with the boat is limited to the past few years. I found her at Hooper’s Yachts, Afton, MN. She was an anomaly in a number of ways. The first being the beauty and shape of her hull. When you see her you will understand what I mean, I believe. Although it was love at first sight, for me, I could not quite bring myself to the point where I felt that I could justify buying and owning a sailboat, let alone a wooden one. From the first time I saw her, and climbed aboard her beauty was apparent. In the interim, I continued to consult my copy of Details of Classic Boat Construction by Larry Pardey and the latest editions of Wooden Boat Magazine. I dreamed of building my own little wooden boat. However, a few more visits over the next year to the boat Yard; she captured my imagination. Following one of these visits; I was convinced; then I was pulling her out of the yard.

Architectural line drawing of the boat's elevation, intended sail plan

From Hooper’s I took her to the St. Louis River; Spirit Lake Marina, to be exact. I had hoped to move to Duluth, so I thought no better place to begin my adventure with this little boat. Besides I had had a wonderful conversation with the owner, Jim King. I say that because that fall Jim had a untimely death as a result of a boating accident. That fall, while most boaters were in the process of pulling their boats out of the water I was happily going in. The memory of seeing that boat being held in the slings of that seemingly very large Marine Travel Lift will not leave me soon. She seemed so small for such a large piece of machinery. Once in the water, she took on water, lots of it. But as she sat in the sling over the next few hours her planking swelling up, the inflow subsided to a trickle.

Once we got the mast up I took to acquainting myself with the boat. Of course my dog, Tonka, seemed as intrigued by her and was more then willing to come aboard and join the adventure. I can easily recall how fascinated I was with every corner I turned with her. From the wiring to the stereo to setting the sail to discover what a Gaff Rig truly meant. (I really was a newcomer to this whole idea). There was depth gauges with wind speed and direction indicators. Complete with a refrigerator, fresh water and a biffy. Well that first sail out into the river was a truly tremendous occasion. The Fall colors had come to that part of the world and the sun was shining. Although, the river is not the best place to sail a boat with a full keel. I continued to enjoy and discover the joy of sailing that fall. Believing that I was going to commence work on some of her issues I dry docked her at Spirit Lake that winter. I did end up moving to Duluth early the following year and eventually found an inside storage site at the Clyde Iron Works.

That second winter she looked quite lonely sitting in that huge empty space, but Alex, who was developing the site said he always loved going down to look at her as he moved through the development process. The project, of retrofitting the boat, slowed as I struggled to make this boat a priority. Unfortunately she went by the wayside as I began to look at larger and more complete vessels, of wood and sail. I came close to purchasing two different boats, but could never let the little one go. When I finally did find another boat, I hauled her over to Bayfield to sit in Ken Dobson’s “Boat-Yard”. That is where she and Granger were introduced. Because Shel-Lon has been in the area for such a long time, many people have come to know her.

The builder, Lee Pastor was connected with Ford Motor Co. We believe that he built the boat while he was living in the Chicago area and then brought it with him to St. Paul. When I recently caught up with Jim Johnson of Seven Seas, at the Minneapolis Boat Show, he was more then pleased to talk about his remembrances of the boat and it’s builder. The first piece was that Jim had sold Lee his flat bed trailer. The boat and cradle rests on the trailer, which were all very nicely done. Jim also recounted, remembered the very large outboard (an 18 hp. mercury), which he speculated was something Lee would use with some frequency, when the Boat was kept on Lake Pepin. In further questioning, Jim recounted how Lee would frequent his shop knowing exactly what it was he wanted, not consulting or asking Jim what his thoughts would be on the matter at hand. Apparently Lee knew exactly what it was he was after and did not much consider what others thought at that point in the process. By looking at the boat you can pretty much tell that he had done quite a bit of updating to the rig; there is a roller furling jib and a crank boom for reefing. It is the hull design which is of so much interest.

The symmetry of such a small craft lends itself to a time bygone. Many who see this “little” big boat suspect that it might be of a Herreshoff design. . A designer who for many was and is the greatest this country has seen. Herreshoff’s design and boats constructed where of a great notoriety. Our little boat is reminiscent of this by-gone era of sail. When perhaps the only means of propulsion was that harnessed by the wind. Granger, has said that he felt she might be of a design such as a harbor tender. Whatever its influences of design or actual plans from which it was built, the little boat continues to capture peoples imagination wherever she goes.

Peter Gesell of St. Paul, Minnesota, has been a “Hoofer” at Madison, Wisconsin. He’s always wanted to build his own sailboat.



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