Friday, May 13, 2011

MINT, Nr 1335

Next weekend Rock Hall Yacht Club will host the Wooden Boat Magazine's "Wood Regatta".  This regatta is open to just about any small sailing dinghy, provided the boat is constructed from wood.  Team Albaugh will be taking our wood Europe design Moth (GYPSY) and also a Moth named MINT.  MINT was designed and built by Bill Lee down in Miami, Florida over the winter of 1953.  Bill had started building Moths in the late 1940s after getting out of the service at the end of the war.  His Moth designs became ever faster with each successive boat but he couldn't quite break through to the winner's circle.  By 1952 he was on the verge of getting out of Moth racing.  He changed his mind when he read in the newspaper that fellow Miami Moth sailor Lewis Twitchell had won the World Moth Boat Championship in 1953 up at Norfolk Yacht and Country Club.  Bill realized that Twitchell's win would move the next World Championship regatta to Miami YC, Twitchell's home club.  With that in mind Bill decided to make one more attempt at designing a winner.  He didn't have a shop to build his boat in so he build MINT in the bedroom of the small house he then owned.  He later allowed as how that probably contributed to his divorce but, never the less, the boat was completed in time for the 1954 World Championship.  Although Bill didn't win the Worlds in 1954, MINT, with Bill at the helm, did place in the top five.  Bill raced MINT for a couple more years and then sold the boat to an up and coming new sailor named Ken Klare.  With Ken in the hot seat MINT finally showed her potential and won the World Champion in 1958 and again in 1959.  In 1960 the Worlds were held in France and Ken couldn't afford to ship MINT overseas.  Instead he raced the boat at the Nationals and won against stiff local competition.  Ken then sold the boat in order to raise money to attend college.  MINT malingered in the hands of mediocre racers for a few seasons and was next bought by Mac Allen.  Mac was a hot Comet class racer and remembered from previous regattas that MINT was a fast Moth.  It happened that Mac Allen's club, the Little Egg Yacht Club in Beach Haven, NJ was going to host the 1964 North American Moth Championship.  Mac put aside his Comet and entered MINT in his first and only Moth Regatta and won.  Afterwards, Mac put the Moth into storage and went back to racing Comets.  MINT disappeared and it took me an age to track Mac Allen down.  He was living in Florida in the winter and in Vermont during the summer.  MINT was stored in a barn on his farm in Vermont.  In 1992 Mac gave me the boat.  At that point MINT, although in an unmolested time capsule state, needed a deck-off restoration.  Not being a particularly good craftsman I enlisted the  help of Merv Wescoat and Don La Rosee to redeck MINT during the following winter while I repaired cracks in the hull and refinished the boat.  In the meantime I managed to track down Bill Lee who had retired from working at the Challenger Marine Corporation and moved from Miami to Key Largo.  About that time we had just started holding a Mid-Winter Classic Moth Regatta at St. Petersburg, Florida and I loaned MINT back to Bill Lee in the hopes that he would come race with us.  Although he did sail the boat occasionally, after a couple years Bill told me that he was too old to race anymore and to come get the boat.  While MINT was back in his shop Bill replaced the transom and built a new boom.  There's nothing quite like having the original designer/artist/builder be a part of the restoration of a beautiful boat!  I visited Bill several more times after retrieving MINT from his shop.  Before he passed away Bill gave me the scale half model that he'd carved while designing the boat back in '53 and also his fifth place trophy from the 1954 World Championship Regatta. Since completion of her restoration MINT has been in resting, like fine wine, in my boat house waiting for an appropriate event to enter.  I've decided that the Wood Regatta is that event.

MINT under going test rigging in the backyard.  The sail is one of Erik's and hence has the wrong number.  I'll eventually order a new sail for the boat.

This view shows the easy sweep of the shear line.  Back in the 1950s Bill Lee's boats were called "Banana Boats" due to this feature.  Bill built four boats to this design.  The well known boat builder, Harry Cates built one more named TOP BANANA, and I think Charlie Fuller built one while Harry had the building molds on loan from Bill (see my earlier entry about Charlie Fuller's boat posted on 14 April 2011).

A bow shot. showing the elegant lines.  A true thoroughbred.  Time and newer designs have passed MINT by and she will not be the faster Moth at Rock Hall next weekend.  However she will be one of the prettiest. 

Old timey bronze hardware.  No delrin plastic here!
The cockpit.  Early boats had a loop like this to stick a toe under as an aid in hiking out.  Newer Moths have hiking straps instead to help the skipper get his weight out to windward to counter a gust of wind.  I need to put some non-skid tape on those slippery looking floorboards.


  1. I am Bill Lees son Bill Lee Jr. I realy enjoyed reading this article.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the post. Did you also sail Moths back in the 1950s/1960s?

  3. I am Bill Lees daughter, Laura. I have sailed that boat and in fact my father tried to get me to race it in St. Petersburg in his stead. At that time I had not even sailed a boat for 10 yrs. or more. Thank you for keeping his boat, he loved them so much and memory alive.

  4. Hi Laura, Nice to hear from you again. Bill's Moth is much admired by all who see the boat. Two replicas will be built up in Maine this coming year.


  5. I'm wondering if the cracks in the hull that you had to repair might have been the ones that knocked Ken out of contention in the Nationals that we held in St. Pete in 1964. He and I were both in good shape after the 1st day of racing, only to have our chances ruined by a windy 2nd day.

    The local newspaper coverage sort of exaggerated the breakdowns, one headline reading "Tampa Bay Disaster Area For Moths - Halsey Victim", and the other mentioning that Ken was out before he started because he "had his hull split".

    Since Ken's damage was not quickly repairable, and I only needed a mast, he offered to loan me his for the final day of races. I was ready to sail, but it was too windy again and the final races were cancelled.

    I don't remember what the damage to Mint looked like, but I know Ken was back racing less than 2 months later at the annual Labor Day regatta.

    Maybe his repair job wasn't meant to last 55 years!

    1. Doug: By the time of the '64 Nats at St Pete, (won by Lewis Twitchell over Bill Schill after racing was canceled the second day due to high winds), Ken Klare was sailing a different boat. His father had picked up an old unfinished hull from Dorr Willey and Ken told me that Dorr would have been mortified to learn how much beautiful wood they cut out of the boat in the attempt to make her competitive! Ken said she never was. That boat was Nr 2335. By the year 1964, Mint was owned by Mac Allen up in New Jersey. When I got the boat from Mac, there were pieces of old duct tape covering the cracks in Mint's bow planks--Mac Allen's solution to getting the boat ready for the NA's which that year were held at Little Egg YC, up on Long Beach Island. How the cracks developed is unknown. Mac spotted the boat moldering away in a Beach Haven, NJ backyard and bought her on the spot. Duct tape was the easy way to get her back on the race course.

    2. My mistake! I didn't realize it was a newer boat.

      I'm sticking to my guns about the number of days of racing though. We had 2 light-air races on day #1, 2 heavy-air races on day#2, and no racing on day#3. (not that it matters).