Become a Sailor in One Weekend

Become a Sailor in One Weekend

A retrospective by Rick Franke

“As I walked up the sidewalk to the Sailing School office on Sixth Street in Eastport one sunny spring morning in 1968 I had no idea that I was beginning an association that that would last for almost 40 years.

I was answering an ad I had seen in the local paper for sailing instructors. I walked into the building and was met by an affable, balding gentleman who introduced himself as Jerry Wood. Jerry’s first question was, “Do you think you can teach sailing?” I replied that I was in my second year as a fifth grade teacher at Eastport Elementary. I grew up on and around the water, learned to sail in a Penguin while I was still in elementary school, crewed on Hampton One Designs for the South River Sailing Association in high school and was the proud owner of Dragon number US-22. I didn’t think teaching would be a problem. Then he asked if I knew anything about photography. I replied that it was my hobby, my mother had been a professional in the field, and my wife and I had a darkroom in our utility room. That was when his eyes lit up.

Jerry handed me an outline for course 102. He shook my hand, told me to report that Saturday
and that my first weekend I’d be an observer, and audit the course with an experienced instructor
and I’d be a lecturing senior instructor at the salary of $10.00 per day. (I think. It might have
been less).

In those early days of my career, there were no class rooms at the marina, only a one room sail
shed. The existing building was not completed until the spring of 1980. The four class room
sessions for the weekend were taught in the rooms in the office building on Sixth Street. Then
everyone would pile in their cars and drive to Bembe Beach. When we arrived, the senior
instructor would gather the class together, count off and assign a junior instructor to each group,

take one group, and we’d all go sailing. After the final sailing session on Sunday afternoon, we’d
all drive back to Sixth Street for a graduation ceremony and a beer.

During my first season as an instructor I heard all the foundational legends of the school: That
Jerry and his family had moved to Annapolis in the late 40’s and established a toy company, The
Sandra Sue Doll company, in the building that now houses Weems and Plath; The company went
broke in the late 50’s and Jerry was stopped on the street by a tourist who asked where he could
rent a sailboat. Jerry rented him his and that was the beginning of Annapolis Boat Rentals in
1959; Jerry rented a small shack in Quass’s boat yard on Back Creek and had a few boats, but the
creek was so shallow the instructors had to push the centerboard boats into deeper water through
the mud; Most of the renters did not know how to sail so the development of a school seemed
inevitable; The move to Chink’s Point at Bembe beach made keelboats possible.

There weren’t any boats available that seemed suitable for the training role. Jerry was a New
Yorker, so when he wanted a boat designed he went to the prestigious New York firm of
Sparkman and Stevens. The result was the Rainbow. Designed in 1960 and ’61 the Rainbow
represented a lot of firsts. It was one of the first boats designed to be built in the new-fangled
material called fiberglass. Most early fiberglass boats were copies of existing wood designs. It
was the first boat to be designed specifically for rental and instructional use. The design was
innovative as well. A fin keel, spade rudder and masthead rig were just short of revolutionary for
a daysailer in the early sixties. The best part of this story is the design specification he gave S&S;
“I want a rental and instructional sailboat that will take four (the number varies depending on
who tells the story) drunks safely through a Chesapeake thunderstorm.” The existing Rainbow
fleet, still sailing after 60 plus years, speaks for itself.

Always the entrepreneur, as soon as the teething problems with the Rainbow were solved, Jerry
went into the boat building business. He purchased a defunct lumber yard in Southern Maryland
and set up Tidewater Boats, Inc. The Rainbow proved a popular design and soon boats were
flowing out of the Owings MD factory. The hull and rig worked so well that soon design variants

were introduced. First was the Rainbow Weekender which added an additional hump to the
cuddy cabin to accommodate overnighting. Then came the Annapolis 25 which had a completely
different deck with a trunk cabin and quarter berths to accommodate four overnighters. An extra
foot was added to the stern to provide a well for a small outboard motor. Another variant was a
completely open boat called a Rainbow Knockabout. There was a large fleet of the Knockabouts
built for the US Naval Academy to replace their aging fleet of pre-war wooden training boats for
midshipmen. There were a few less successful boats as well like the weighted centerboard 17
foot Mustang which never caught on. Nearing the end of the run there were a number of
Annapolis 26s, cruising inboard diesel powered sloops, produced. Tidewater ceased production
in 1973 due to a changing market and the gas crisis. It is conservatively estimated that the
Tidewater factory produced over one thousand boats.

During the 1970’s the school continued to grow, diversifying types of boats and adding courses
and locations. We’ll tell that story next month.”

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