Thursday, April 14, 2011

More Moth Boat history

The other day I received an email from a former Moth sailor living up in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts named Clayton Fuller: 

I am glad to see some of the classic Moths on the Internet. I am ninety-four years old now and I sailed and built Moths when I was in my late teens. We lived in Miami then and went to many regattas in east coast and central Florida. My brother Charles Fuller was a boat builder who taught me the skills of laying out and building sailboats. He and Harry Cates were good friends.

In Miami, our home was on the Miami River where the river is crossed by the south-west second-street bridge. Charlie built his first Moth in 1932, I believe. It was a scow design of his own. He liked to compete in the races that were held in Biscayne Bay, north of the two existing causeways. He had no way at that time to carry or trailer his Moth to Buena Vista, so he built his boat with a bamboo mast that could be lowered to go under the bridges. He named his Moth Bambaroo.The bridge tenders sometimes were a grumpy sort and paid no attention to his signal on the brass bugle. Charlie used to sail down the river and across the bay all the way to the races site. Talk about determination. I do not remember his ever winning a race with the rig that he had then.

Later, when he had become a member of the Moth Class Association, and when the had built other Moths of different designs and materials, he used to carry his new Moths on his car roof. We sailed then both in the upper bay and at Coconut Grove.

I built my own Moth, a bull nosed scow design with a spruce mast. Next was my own design with very narrow beam. It had hollow wood mast. Very hard to sail because of the beam but it was fast. It was named Blue Banana. Of course it was painted blue.

The dominant Moth champ in our area then was a fellow who used to scull with his rudder during very light wind conditions. I do not think that was an acceptable practice but he got away with it.

I still have Super 8mm footage of some of the boats that were at the races, and of the last beautiful Moth that Charlie built before he went into the army in 1941.

Charlie was sent to New Guinea in 1944. While there he built a sailable boat out of shipping crates and other scrap material. His sail was made from a striped mattress ticking. The only carpenter’s tool he carried was a shingle hatchet.
He had his Kodak 116 camera throughout the war. I have dozens of photos from many places. He came home from Hokodate, Japan in 1945 and built another Moth.

I may have an old sail from that time but I am not certain.  I shall follow the International Moth Class on the Internet, both classic and fin. Keep up the good work.
Clayton Fuller

Clayton sent along a few period photos of his brother's last Moth Boat.  The first photograph shows the boat under construction in Harry Cates' backyard.  Harry Cates, of course, was a well know Moth Boat builder in his own right.

This boat looks very much like Bill Lee's "Banana Boat" design.  Bill build a few of his design and then loaned the molds and building jig to Harry Cates.  Cates built one called TOP BANANA.  Perhaps this boat is the final one built to those lines before Bill Lee got his molds back from Harry.

This photo dating to about the mid-1950s shows the finished boat on top of Charlie's 1948 Dodge sedan.  Charlie, much to the later dismay of used car dealers, cut out the headliner of this car in order to install cleats on the roof to mount the boat's cradle for transport to regattas.

Clayton found this old Kodachrome slide of Moths being launched in Miami and took a photo of its image after he projected it on a wall.  I have access to the old Moth Class registration records which makes old photos like this a little more interesting. Sail number 1400 belongs to T. W. McGlamry's Challenger design Moth called SIESTA. Nr 1320 is Don Lap's LIL' RASCAL. Nr 1320 looks like a Harry Cates version of the Dorr Willey design. Cates' boats were always lighter than Dorr Willey's boats (Dorr persisted building his Moths "plank on frame" out of Atlantic White cedar while Cates learned that lighter was better and started building his boats from thin plywood.  The dark colored Moth in the water may be Charlie's boat.  I've found a boat in the old records registered to Charlie in the early 1950s (Nr 1296) but the Banana Boat design is later than that. Clayton has an old sail with number 1581.  I'm tempted to think that Charlie's last Moth had the later number as seen on the old sail.


  1. The last photo, "Clayton found this old Kodachrome slide..." appears to have been taken at the Cocoanut Grove Sailing Club.

  2. Thanks for identifying the venue Carolyn. Sadly Clayton passed away about a year ago and so is no longer available to answer questions which old photos tend to elicit.

  3. I found a Miami News report of a very small regatta in January 1936, showing Clayton Fuller "winning" the Moth class with Bambaroo. I put that in quotes because he was the only Moth. Fellow Moth sailor Don Lapp won the Snipe class in a fleet of at least 6 boats.

  4. Here's a photo of the brothers sailing Bambaroo, so named dur to her bamboo mast: I'd love to see that article if you can post it.

    Some days just showing up and participating deserves an award!

  5. Clayton mentions that Bambaroo wasn't competitive with that rig, and I've found another half dozen articles from 1934-1936 that seem to confirm that. Bambaroo was almost always at the back of the fleet.

    The Fullers were definitely prolific boatbuilders though. After Bambaroo, they're shown with Eight Ball, Cannon Ball, Whistling Whale, and Baby Whale. All before 1940.

    I was going to send you a couple of the articles via the Classic Moth group, but Facebook has been locking up a lot for me lately.

    1. Doug: Perhaps in your research you can find some mention of the boat which I've just picked up. I can't remember if Clayton mentioned her name but somehow the name "Presto" (which I think was also the name of your sister Gail's Moth) sticks in my mind. Charlie Fuller's last Moth was probably built in early 1954.

  6. This might be why "Presto" sticks in your mind.

  7. I haven't been able to find any more racing results for the Fullers after 1940. I'll let you know if I ever do.

  8. I didn't remember that Gail's boat even had a name, but I asked her & here's her reply:
    "Presto it was, both for (I imagined) its ability to appear out of nowhere on downwind legs, and for the musical connection: pretty much the fastest tempo marking. Guess I could have added modifiers and made it Prestissimo."
    About the musical connection, I should explain that Gail is an accomplished violinist, and was even then.

  9. I am so happy to find these pictures as Harry Cates was my Dad's Uncle. My Dad actually had an unfinished hull of one of the moth's and the plans to finish it. But when he and my Mom moved to Georgia in the 1980's he ended up giving everything to someone in Miami to finish. Great history to put in our family archives.

  10. Shelia: Thanks for stopping by the blogspot. It's not every day that a relative of one of the Moth Boat founders leaves me a comment! I'm glad that you enjoyed this post and you might like this one as well: That post starts off with a regatta report but finishes with me picking up a Harry Cates-built Moth from her long time owner. Feel free to email me at Hopefully you can share some of your family photos, etc. Finally, depending on where you live you may want to stop by one of our regattas. We race each February at Gulfport, FL (low rent distinct of St. Pete). Another regatta with a good turn out is at Elizabeth City, NC the third weekend of September. Finally, the Classic Moth Boat Association has a group page on Face Book.