Friday, December 18, 2015

Penguin 7072. One last backward glance.

Back in the fall Bill Walton flew up from Texas, rented a U-Haul van and picked up a Penguin class dinghy which I'd owned for the better part of forty years.  This wasn't just any Penguin dinghy but one of six which his father build in 1963 and the only known survivor of that cluster of boats.

Actually, my involvement with this boat began during the winter of 1963 when I helped Bill's father John while he built these boats.  During the winter of 1962/63 a bunch of island kids, including your diarist, would hang out in John's shop.  He'd put us to work doing small tasks while the boats were under construction.  One of my jobs was to take a stick of wood with sandpaper glued on and ream the squeezed out glue slag from the interior of the centerboard trunks until the pivoting centerboard worked smoothly.  I got five out of the six trunks satisfactorily sanded but try as I might, I just couldn't quite get the trunk of the orange boat to work properly.  School and other activities interrupted my time at the boathouse and somehow communicating the status of the orange boat's trunk slipped through the cracks.  In spring, the boats were picked up by their respective buyers.  I think only one or two found owners at Brigantine YC.

Later that summer I attended a multi-class regatta in my Moth down at Corinthian YC in Cape May.  The club, as was normal practice in those days, used a rolling start which initially separated the various classes by five minutes; i.e. the first class's starting signal was the 5 minute warning for the second class and that in turn was the 10 minute warning for the third class and so on.  Moths and Penguins were at the tail end of the start sequence pecking order and so I had a bit of time on my hands.  I noticed an orange Penguin not far away and I sailed over, hailed them and said "That's a Walton Penguin!"  The boat's crew, her husband and wife owners, confirmed that indeed it was and asked how I knew.  I said "I worked on those boats while they were being built."  They asked what part of the boat I'd worked on and I replied "The centerboard trunk."  The wife looked at me stonily across the intervening water and said "That's the part that doesn't work!"  I quickly sailed away...

Twelve years later, being both boat-less and recently discharged from the Coast Guard (oh, and without much money) I decided to drive down the  coast from Brigantine, revisiting the various clubs where I used to race to see if there were any boats for sale within my slim price range.  After stopping at various clubs without success, I found myself at Corinthian YC.  At the very end of the boat storage yard, right at the edge of the water was an Orange Penguin with a white bottom.  She was resting upside down but I knew at once that this was that boat.  Sure enough, after flipping her over I saw John Walton's builder's tag.

I happened to know the girl working the club bar (we both were students at the University of Delaware) and so I asked her to see if she could learn which club member owned that boat.  The owner turned out to be a lawyer from Philadelphia who proved only too pleased to untangle himself from the seldom used Penguin.  The boom had been trapped under the hull but the wooden mast had floated off, probably with the first high tide.  Luckily, he had the rudder, sail and other small gear for the boat in a storage locker.  The hull was sound except for the rub rails which had been in direct contact with the damp sand.  I offered him a hundred dollars and he quickly accepted.  I borrowed a trailer and brought the boat back to her birthplace.  I had a local boatyard replace the rotted rub rails but I reserved the task of sorting out the centerboard trunk to myself.  Providence had given me a second chance to  right this wrong and I did.  When finished, the blade pivoted effortlessly.  I repainted the little boat white and sanded and revarnished her interior.  Jack Wright, a well known Penguin builder in Germantown, PA supplied a used mast for $25 dollars.  After putting the hardware back on, I sailed the Penguin for several years before getting hip deep with Moth Boats again.  Once I started racing Moths, the Penguin sat in the garage.  From time to time I'd look at the boat and tell myself I should pull her out and sail her again, but I never got around to doing that.

I needed to clear out my garage and decided that I didn't want this bit of Brigantine history to just disappear so I spoke with other long standing members of the BYC until I learned Bill's contact information.  I emailed Bill and offered him the boat for a very small price.  He immediately emailed back saying that he wanted the boat as a tangible connection for his son to his paternal grandfather and to the island.

Over the years I've bought and sold many boats.  I've yet to regret the selling of a plastic boat.  The boats I do miss have all been wood.  Why is there a slob sentimentality connection between me and wood boats?  Why can I sell off a glass boat with flinty-eyed resolve?  Perhaps it's due to woodies being constructed from once living things. Or perhaps the act of selling a particular bit of wood marks the severance from people and places that where once a large part of an early and formative era of my existence.  I don't know, but the tug is genuine. 

Brigantine, spring of 1963.  Penguin hulls and spars resting outside the Walton family boathouse. One of my boyhood pals, Paul Rosell, lived in the grey house (with the skinny white tv tower) directly across the alley from the Walton's.

The orange hull with the dark boot stripe and white bottom is Nr 7072.  John Walton's Lightning Starlight, Nr 1726 can be seen in the background. These two period photos are courtesy of Bill Walton.  Moths, Penguins and Lightnings comprised the three classes which were raced at BYC in those days.

The sailmaker's patch on the original sail for the boat.

Outdoors, waiting for pickup.  Of course it rained.  First time wet in many years!

Hull number carved into the keel.

John Walton's builder tag on the inside of the transom.

Basically sound.  Just needs a lick of varnish and new exterior paint.

The eleven foot 6 inch hull just fit inside the twelve foot van.  John took the boat to Chestertown, MD for storage in a friend's shop until he can return in the spring for the long ride back to Texas where he lives.  I'm storing the mast and other small bits to save him a little on the storage space until then.  Bill Walton is seen here wearing the green jacket.  Tweezerman, closer to the camera, graciously came over to help with the lifting since I was, at that point, still recovering from a TBI which resulted in me having to have a craniotomy.

I hate to see her go but returning her to the builder's family is good and happy ending to my Penguin ownership.  I know she'll be well looked after.  Smooth Sailing, John!


  1. Good job, George! Great story and happy to see the boat come full circle, and I had to laugh at the woman's response to the centerboard trunk. Brilliant

    1. Thanks Baydog. I might repost this to the Penguin FB group. What do you think? Would they be interested?

  2. What a good, good story George and how great that the boat goes back where it next best belongs - it must have been a bit of a wrench for you, but she is now in the best hands possible.

    1. Thanks Alden. Sooner or later all of our boats will be passed on to new care takers--at least the lucky boats.