Friday, September 19, 2014

Hogfish and Alert

 Jim Melcher was a good freind and a great sailor. I first met him by being asked to help carry his main mast for the Alert from the shed he had been repairing it in to the Alert to be raised in its own tabernacle. This mast weighed more than the hollow mainmast of the gaff rigged ketch that I had grown up on and had sailed from California on. This was in Key largo in the early 80s.
He invited me to go for a sail in a couple of days. The Alert is a Phil Bolger Manatee design that Jim had built and slightly modified by raising the main cabin height to give headroom. At the time I was living aboard my own slightly modified Prudence sloop built by my ex Lawanda and I. The Prudence is a 23' sloop. Jim was a very thin wiry guy with tons of energy. He was anchored in 3' of water on a lee shore with barly enough room to get away on a clean tack. Jim hoisted the huge single leg o mutton or sprit boom mainsail and let it luff. The mizzen was sheeted in flat. I stood in the bow well and pulled in the anchor road as we slowly made way up on the anchor road. The leeboards of this design were lowered to just even with the bottom of the hull, about 20". When the anchor started to break loose I said to Jim we were on the wrong tack as we fell off to the lee shore. Jim just said no worrys. As we made a boat length to the impending shore Jim sheeted in the mizzen let out the main sheet and pushed the tiller over hard to port. The boat headed up into the wind, the hull 2" above the bottom and as we came into the wind he let go the mizzen completely and we fell off on the next tack heading offshore. Once underway the lee leeboard was lowered ,the mizzen sheeted in a bit to draw and away we went. I fell in love with real shallow draft boats then and there. The Alert was a very radical design to me at the time as I had just built an old school Herrshoff Prudence sloop with all the right bronze hardware. This boat had a mizzen mast off center and a very weird hull shape, but sailed in shallow water well. Jim had sailed it down from New England. We became fast friends. Jim went on to sail this boat by my guess about 40,000 offshore miles with two Atlantic crossings by him. A fantastic seaman.
Here we are In the Bahamas chasing each other around just after I launched the Hogfish in her original state. 

Jim has hoisted a small jib on his anchor roller to try and get more speed to keep up with Hogfish.
We are sailing through his lee here.

Hogfish here dropping off friends on the beach

Hogfish sailing out of Cruise Bay in St. John's Virgin Islands with a 68' mast to carry to St Croix for a friends boat project. 

No comments: