Saving a Folkboat for Us Folks
In which a Folksong hits a new note
By Terri Watson Posted April 28, 2014
The ad said, “One repair and she is ready to race. $5000 firm.”
The slide began when I asked, “So what is that one repair?”
My mother taught me better, the woman who counseled me to never, ever go to the SPCA just to visit the animals. The owner said, “Go take a look for yourself.”
I met Folkboat US95 tied to the dock at what was then Nelson’s boatyard in Alameda, where she had been taken for a checkup by Fred Andersen, the San Francisco Bay Folkboat fleet’s resident wooden boat doc. A winter storm was blowing in, and Folksong tugged fretfully at her dock lines as I stepped aboard. The chop slapping the hull immediately inspired me to envision this boat beating smartly up the cityfront, come spring.
Water slapping the hull.
Water running through the cockpit.
The big car battery in the cabin, tethered to a bilge pump discharging over the side, hinted rather strongly that all was not well.
A quick inspection confirmed what I suspected. This once-proud, race-winning woodie chosen in 1975 to make the mold for Svend Svendsen’s locally-produced fiberglass Folkboats—that is to say, the boat that ensured the survival of Nordic Folkboats as a class on San Francisco Bay—had once been tied to a dock for years, going nowhere. The current owner, over a couple of years, had put money into upgrading racing hardware, but there were issues with the hull that had needed attention long before he bought her.
How bad could it be?
Not bad enough to stop us, apparently, or to leave us with any regrets.
Even in the dusk, I could see a golfball-sized opening where Folksong’s transom met the top of the stern post. The slapping waves were pouring in water at an alarming rate. The bilge pump was busy. A stream from the bow, and sodden planks, highlighted a chronic leak somewhere around the waterline. The mast collar on the deck was lifted up out of the wood, and the wet decking below indicated that a long-term freshwater leak had taken its toll. The rest looked easy enough to fix – some scrapes, a cracked tiller, broken and loose floor boards and planks on the interior. A quick check with Fred the next day confirmed that structural repairs alone would exceed “$5000 firm.” Time to walk away. And then . . .
An idea formed. My partner, like myself an avid crewmember in the Folkboat fleet, had often bemoaned the fact that we really wanted our own boat. We were caught up in the world of enthusiasts who race these handsome, lapstraked 25-footers born in Sweden in the 1940s. But the fiberglass versions—Folksong’s very progeny—were out of range. A birthday was coming up. How cool would it be to give Kimi a Folkboat? Especially if I could get it for free, almost, and then have Fred do just basic structural pieces. We could do the rest. I heard the words, faintly: “Beware of a free boat. Especially a free wooden boat.”
As we finished the hull prep, the painting loomed large. In Fred’s world, painting is dead simple. He smiled and encouraged us so that we could carry on in our world, and gave us advice when asked, and checked in to see when we might want to schedule our launch. I said “two days from now.” He smiled. He and Kimi agreed on a date more than a week out. I worried we would hit the water and be on our way in a frenzy for the start of our first race, sandwiches and sailing instructions and sheets in hand. But I was surrounded by people who wanted to do the job right.
Painting the hull went surprisingly well. Fred and Kimi just said no when I proposed to buy porch paint, and we ended up with Pettit’s “Bikini Blue.” I think even Fred was surprised at how well it came out. As I’ve always maintained, there’s something to be said for using the best paint.
On the day of launch (exactly one month after I met Folksong at the dock), we christened her with a shot of Aquavit, Scandinavia’s traditional toasting drink, and shouts of “Skoal!” We were surprised to find we kind of liked Aquavit. There are rumors that the bottom of the bottle tastes even better.
We stepped the mast, re-assembled the rigging, and headed Folksong to her new berth just a few days before our first race. None of the running rigging had been worked on, and we sailed that race Cunningham-free with a set of lightly-used sails from Denmark that we had never seen in action—though we did change out the numbers the night before in the otherwise-elegant Chart Room of the St. Francis Yacht Club. After hours. Discretion, you know. We have since spent time replacing old lines and re-tooling old systems, and currently we have our sail controls all labeled with blue 3M varnishing tape. We walk around and look at other Folkboats, and get ideas, and make changes. We ask other fleet members for advice, and we get it by the truckload. We enter races on faith.
There’s something we were told the first day we crewed in a Folkboat (USA 116, Emma) for our friends Danielle Dignan and Dan Zuiches. They said, “When you pick the boat you decide you want to race, it isn’t about the fleet, it’s about the FLEET.”
They meant that it is all about the people.
Not only our San Francisco Bay fleet, but new friends in Europe—some that we know only by email, phone, and mutual acquaintance—have stepped in to share what they know, and provide what they can to help us in our efforts to keep US95 sailing.
It takes a village to race a Folkboat.
Our villagers at play . . .
From the Editor: It is possible, if not likely, that your mother told you, life is full of surprises. If she taught you well, it should be no shock to learn that Folksong has yet another owner as the Nordic Folkboat fleet comes this week to its first-of-the-season Wednesday Night Woodies race on the cityfront of San Francisco. Think of it as a happy-sad coda. You have a boat, and you’re treating her as well as you can, when along comes someone with superb credentials who offers a square deal, if only you will let him take the boat into his own hands and bless her to a fare the well. Surprise, your darling wins a scholarship to Harvard. Do you keep her down on the farm, or give her a kiss and wish her on her way?
With that, I return you to our author, Terri Watson
For our time with Folksong, our brief but special time, our thanks go out to many people. First, to Peter Lyons of Lyons Imaging for the photographs seen here.
And with the horrible fear of forgetting one, or many, I will nevertheless put this down
We owe thanks (in no set order} to:
Fred Andersen, US74 Filur, for high-quality work, great value, encouragement and wonderful teaching. And Hilary and Kate, for supporting Fred’s long hours on the project.
Vince Spohn and Cecily Jordan, Ex-US95, for generosity in making the transition possible.
Chris Herrman, US108, Thea, for encouragement, information, and references. That, and beer. And tequila. And introducing us to a great mixer.
Tom Reed, Jr. US111, for a great set of tuning tips and a chance to crew and learn.
Brock DeLappe, US121, Faith, for encouragement to pursue this, crew opps, and film.
Danielle Dignan and Dan Zuiches, Ex US-74 and Ex US-116, for the donation of a nearly new sail set and showing us the right attitude on the race course from the start. And a weekend of crewing and boat fixing (all at the same time!).
Peter Jeal, US113, for advice, donation of parts, and assistance pulling and setting a mast at the dock in a few hours to deal with a stuck halyard. Also for setting us up with some sails, giving up a Sunday to teach the use of the gin pole, and constant encouragement and availability. And handfuls of free, otherwise-expensive hardware. And always being there to help – whatever, whenever.
The Wilson’s US106, Windandsea, for getting this idea started last year and encouraging us to be willing to try it.
Mike Goebels, US109, Elsie, for focusing us on the actual costs of getting into the fleet, and working towards solutions.
Eric Kaiser, US122, Josephine, who has pressed us for years to jump into the fleet as owners, and for the loan of a whisker pole mid-Woodies, even though it was a prized antique that his dad had made, and it had tremendous value to him.
David and Evie, once a two-Folkboat family, provided pictorial evidence of US95’s repair efforts at the dock during the 2008 Internationals involving a cordless drill, deck screws, and most of the fleet standing on the stern to lift the suspect area out of the water.
Dieter Loibner, Author, “The Folkboat Story” for his encouragement, history, and great company on a day in Jack London Square.
Mickey Waldear, ex winning skipper with US95, for setting such high expectations for the boat and for a gracious welcome after a Saturday race.
Theis Palm, North Sails, Denmark, for advice on tuning to our new set, as well as ideas for future consideration..
Louise Harboe/Hans , Denmark, for a great deal on a set of good sails.
Ralf Morgan, KKMI, 19__ Season Champion, for talking a good hour about jumpers and sheaves, and for lots of great rigging advice.
Paul Kaplan, KKMI, S/V Santana, for convincing me that it was okay to be bitten by the wooden boat bug, even if it didn’t make any sense. And for providing concrete support in our malady when needed.
Chris Kaplan, City Yachts, for a wonderful shuttle on the morning of the sail home, as well as an unexpected bottle of champagne and a great set of photos of US95’s first sail with us.
The list goes on. T.W.