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Sailing Short Stories

Sweet 16

A long time ago when I was buying a new Cape Dory 27, I saw a little sailboat on a trailer across a creek at another dealerís yard. I stopped what I was doing and drove around the creek to see that boat. It was a new Com-Pac 16 and I though it was as pretty as my new Cape Dory. The lines of that little boat were traditional and the construction was excellent. I really like traditional sailboats and I wondered to myself if the dealer with the Com-Pac might consider an even trade for my new Cape Dory. The trade idea came and went in a few moments, but that pretty little boat was locked in my memory forever.

After sailing my Cape Dory for 4 years, I knew that ballast was what made sailboats sails. I had owned several light displacement sailboats on my journey to becoming a sailor and they were hard to sail well. Light displacement sailboats have discouraged more novice sailors from becoming sailors than anything I know. Driving a boat forward with sail power requires that a sailboat stay upright. Heeling caused by the sails is counterbalanced by a boatís displacement or the weight of the keel and if you have enough ballast, you go faster. The 40% ballast to displacement ratio of the Cape Dory is wonderful and that boat proved to be an excellent tool for getting good at sailing.

Later when I decided to sell sailboats, I remembered that pretty little 16 at the Oriental Boat Yard. Clark Mills designed the 16 and the Optimist Pram. The Optimist was and maybe still is the most popular sailboat ever built. Clark and the Hutchins family (Owners of Com-Pac) were golfing friends in Clearwater, FL. and thatís how the 16 was created. We ended up selling about 400 new Com-Pac 16s and most of those boats were sold again and again as used boats through the years. We found that everyone that purchased a 16 became a sailor. No one could turn them over in big winds and we only had 2 people fall out of their boats and that wasnít the boatís fault.

Early management at Com-Pac was Gerry Hutchins and Buck Thomas. Buck retired some time ago, but still owns and sails a 16 on a South Carolina lake. We talk on the phone now and then. Gerry is currently the CEO and runs the show at Com-Pac. The other person in the picture is Bob Johnson, the owner of Island Packet Yachts. Buck is on the boat looking at Gerry and Bob in the picture. Bob designed the Com-Pac 19 and 27, both great boats. You might think that the workmanship on an Island Packet looks a lot like the workmanship on a Com-Pac. I always thought that Com-Pac provided lots of training for all the boat builders in FL as workers go from builder to builder as times change. A Com-Pac fingerprint in other boats is the seat hatch cutout. If they used a router to cut the hole, they picked up that technique from Com-Pac. .

I thought the 16 had a great future in recreational sailing. It was kind of like the Model A Ford in this countryís automobile history. It had great looks, traditional design, quality construction and the most important feature, 450 pounds of ballast. Com-Pac had been selling the 16 while I was serving my country as a Marine. I needed to catch up with the boat and put some hours in the cockpit as aviators say. A great boat like the 16 deserves a good sailor at the helm and I knew that an experienced sailor could sail a 16 well. Learning how to sail in light winds takes time and patience. I though light wind sailing would come with time and I let that go for the time being. Big wind sailing could be done quickly on a nice 20-knot afternoon and I needed to get the feel of the boat in that environment. My first test was a static test with the jib and main flat, tensioned halyards and the boat perpendicular to the wind. I was by myself and I was on the high side of the cockpit. I put her beam to the wind and stopped the boat. On the first roll or dip, a little water made it over the combing and into the seat on the low side. The momentum of the first roll put the water in the seat and after that, the boat stayed rail down dragging its keels sideways with no more water in the seat. I though this was pretty cool and a very safe attitude. I was in no danger of sinking or drowning and the only problem I saw was that I was going to get my feet wet when I popped the mainsail sheet. The boat was going to setup and the water in the seat was going to run into the cockpit floor with my feet. I decided to put my feet on the edge of the seat and pop the sheet and maybe my feet would stay dry.

The 16 appeared to be a perfect boat to sail from point to point without a motor. Motors cost money and they didnít work half the time back in the old days. The next opportunity to get my experience with the 16 was to do some sailing without a motor. For about a year, I tried sailing without a motor. I liked the idea of leaving the motor at home and I knew my sailing skills would improve. All that happened and Iím glad I tried the experiment. The experience I gained came in handy many times during the last 30 years. Sailing from point to point doesnít work when there isnít any wind. We developed a sculling method for the 16 after being caught several times without wind. If you raise the rudder blade on a 16 and the rudder is in the middle of the boat, the blade will be at a 90-degree angle to the rudderstock. The bottom edge of the blade will be in the water. Turn the tiller to one side or the other and the bottom edge of the blade will gain altitude and it will clear the water on either side. The rudder is bolted to the transom and the transom is angled in at the bottom and this causes the blade angle to change. A sculling oar uses a similar movement for power. I put the rudder blade at a 45-degree angle or half up and scull when I have no motor and no wind. Itís not fast, but in no wind and flat water I have sculled several miles.

One of my no-motor sails required me to sail into a slip that was close to shore. I had one crew this time with plenty of wind, maybe too much wind to sail into a dead-end slip. My plan was to sail downwind with the shore on the port side and the docks on the starboard side. I could escape in this channel by doing a fast 180-degree jibe and sailing back out. A 16 and could do that. The next decision point was a turn to starboard between the docks and the shore. I could still escape by tacking between the docks and the shore and sailing back out. The last decision point was a starboard turn into the slip. There would be no escape after that turn. The boat was going to be head to the wind and it should have coasted to a stop. That was my plan. My error occurred on the beam reach before the turn into the slip. The little 16 was going too fast on that leg and I didnít escape when I should have. It looked like we were going to crash into the dock on that last leg, but we didnít because my crew saved the day by throwing his body between the boat and dock. What I learned after that episode was to practice youíre docking technique on a buoy close by and measure your success before you try doing the real thing. Thatís not always possible, but very desirable most of the time. During my teaching days, I had my students practice on a buoy before sailing to the dock and sailing to the dock every time they could to gain experience.

At some point in the early days, I felt very comfortable sailing the 16 just about anywhere. The standard headsail for 16 in the summer time is a 155 genoa. The sail bends around the shrouds and the boat points a little higher. An outing at Jordan Lake was going to be a race around the buoys. We had about 5 or 6 boats and they were all using their genoas in the light wind on the lake. I was sailing a customer that had just purchased a used 16 and his boat didnít have a genoa. The race started into the wind and maybe we were the last boat off the start line. The wind died down to nothing on the first leg. My 16 was in teaching mode and I was showing the new owner how to get as much as possible from a 16. We found the wind direction by letting the jib luff and dividing it in half. After marking the wind direction on the land on the other side of the lake, we positioned our boat 45 degrees to that mark. We pulled the jib inside the shrouds and caught what little wind there was even through we couldnít see it on the sails or on the water. A small slot between the jib and main powered the main to a point where we sailed through the other boats that were basically standing still. We waved as we passed them. The genoa on the other boats had too much surface drag in those no-wind conditions to make their boats go. The wind came up just a little on the second leg and genoa boats caught and passed us because we really needed a genoa with the additional wind. Racing other boats is the best learning tool you can get. Where else can you compare boats of the same size and type? Sailors that race become good sailors quickly.

A group of club 16s were racing on a lake outside Asheboro, North Carolina and we were all looking good in the light wind. We were on the final leg of the race when we saw a person go up the mast on his 16. He climbed the mast and was working on the masthead. The main was down, the jib was up and the boat was sailing. Iím guessing he weighed about 150 pounds or maybe a little more and he had 3 other people in the cockpit. I didnít know that could be done and Iím sure it wouldnít have worked in heavy air.

We were racing between New Bern and Oriental in 35 knots of wind with the wind on the nose and it was very exciting. I was the lead 16 flying a genoa and a full main. My rear end was on the combing with my feet on the edge of the lower seat. My posterior was starting to hurt and I really had too much sail for those wind conditions. I decided to replace the genoa with the jib and I started the process. The genoa was luffing when I heard a noise from behind me. It was another 16 with his hull hitting the waves and the noise was getting closer. I forgot the sail change, tensioned my genoa and away I went maintaining my lead. After changing directions at Minnesott Beach, I was on a broad reach all the way to Oriental. I could use the extra sail power on that tack and I could move my rear end to the cockpit seat.

On a similar race going the same way with larger waves and less wind, I had to retire to a marina and call for a car. The waves were on the nose and 3 feet or more and my sails couldnít drive the boat through the waves. Even hitting the waves at an angle didnít help that much. Had the waves been smaller or had the wind been stronger, I think sailing would have worked. As it was, I started the engine and motored down a trough between the waves into a marina. The larger boats in the race didnít have a problem with the waves and they made it to Oriental in time for dinner.

The Com-Pac Club in Clearwater, FL invited our North Carolina Club to participate in a race in Clearwater. Com-Pac had just produced 2000 Com-Pac 16s and they made 10 boats that had a special tan color to celebrate the event. I decided to buy 3 of those boats and sail them in the FL race. We used Club racing as a teaching aid and social event in NC. The FL Club had more hard-core racers as members. They invited us, feed us, raced us and cheated us when and where they could. They assign one boat to cover me during the whole race. That boat wasnít trying to win the race. He was just making sure that I didnít win the race. The food was good after the race.

The FL 16 race winner was a very good 16 sailor. Iím sure he and his wife sailed the course that we raced many times before. The land breeze blowing towards the Gulf comes up at the same time during the summer months and thatís important to know if you are racing on the coast. You can sail well if you do it enough and I think the winner practiced a lot. He used his wife to balance the boat by keeping her in the cabin during the race. They were both small people.

You might think that the Com-Pac Club in North Carolina only raced their boats. We did lots of racing because we used racing for sail training and as a social activity all in one. We raced with the other clubs in North Carolina and they called us the nice people. We didnít yell or scream and we generally had good manors. The Club had many outstanding sailors and we measured their proficiency with our racing program. You could see them getting good over the years. Most of them got good sailing Com-Pac 16s.

The Club also cruised 16s to Cape Lookout, Ocracoke Island, Bath, NC (home of Blackbeard the Pirate) and many lakes throughout NC. Most outings meant eating dinner on land and sleeping on the boat. The little 16 sleeps pretty good.

I was picking up a 16 on Jordan Lake by myself. Trailers are kept in a storage area and the 16 trailer tires always need air or replacement. After getting the trailer ready for the road, I positioned the trailer on the ramp. I wanted to keep the trailer high on the ramp because I planned on stepping off the boat and on the trailer at the ramp. The ramp doesnít have a dock along side the ramp. The wind was blowing off the stern and 16s donít have brakes. I came into the ramp as slow as I could while still maintaining steerageway. As the boat got close to the trailer, I gave the engine a burst of speed in reverse and then floated into the trailer bunks. The wind was going to keep me pinned to the trailer and I was able to walk to the bow. I got off the bow and on the trailer while clicking the winch strap to the bow eye at the same time. I took some tension on the winch strap and then backed the trailer down the ramp a little more. The trailer went down some as the boat came up some and the boat jumped on the trailer. A following wind helped this time.

A ferry move from a ramp on a tributary of the Trent River to a dock on the Trent was about a 5-mile trip. The ramp was on the wrong side of a bridge so the 16 would have to go under a bridge and then I would have to raise the mast. Raising the mast on the water works real well in most cases. The motor ran for a while and then stopped. It stopped after going under the bridge. It was a gamble going forward with the boat at that location, but I had a light wind and I knew I could sail if I had wind. The wind pushed me along for about a mile and then it stopped dead. I still had 3 or 4 miles to go and I started sculling with the rudder. It was getting hot in that 16 without any wind and in the afternoon heat. I put the bimini up to help with my heat and sun problems. Lucky for me, a powerboat came along and offered a tow. The breeze generated by that outboard motor was wonderful. My error here was the weather. It was mid summer and it was way too hot for that much physical work in the afternoon heat. I gambled on the wind and lost. I did consider going for a swim.

Most of the following secrets of the 16 apply to both the 16 and the Legacy. The 16s are small boats and putting people in the cockpit angles the bow up and stern down. Not by much, but enough to change sail balance and proficiency. We move the top of the mast forward by adjusting the forestay in and letting the shrouds out. We check this balance with the tiller in wind conditions of 8 knots or when the surface of water is dark. By dark I mean, not slick, not patchy and not white caps. If the balance is correct, the weather helm on the tiller will be very light. If you have helm in these conditions, move your rear end forward on the seat and see if the pressure on the tiller changes. Moving forward on the seat brings the bow down the stern up changing the boatís attitude. Make sure the sails are correctly adjusted for the 8-knot conditions. The maximum draft of the mainsail should be at the 50% point. Stretch the mainsail luff to move the maximum draft forward. The maximum draft for the jib should be at the 33% point. Do the same with the jib halyard to correctly position the draft. If you still have to move forward on the seat to get sail balance, keep playing with the sails for your best performance. If your sail are old or in bad condition you may not be able to achieve the best results. I had a new set of sail made for one of my 16s. A Boston Sail Shop was located in New Bern and the owner was a distinguished sail maker. With the boat physically at his location, he was able to craft me an exceptional set of sails. These are all kinds of things that sail makers can do if they can put their hands on your boat. The little green boat in the picture has a full batten main and some great tell-tales on the jib.

Small boats have always had a problem getting enough tension on their halyards. Halyards raise the sails, but they also stretch the luff of a sail changing sail shape. Thatís the way we move the draft and flatten a sail for big winds or increase the draft for light winds. Halyard tension is like a gearshift in your car. The Mark II 16 came with halyards aft and that gave us an easy way to tension both the jib and the main. You pull the sail up like always, then take the tail of one halyard at the cleat and loop it around the other halyard that goes between the block on the mast and the cleat on the deck. Pulling sideways on a line (barber hauling) puts more tension on a halyard than you can achieve with a straight pull. After looping and barber hauling, secure the tail back to its original cleat. That will put two lines on 1 cleat and thatís OK. You can change the maximum draft position on a sail using this technique and of course boat balance.

The bowsprits on the Mark II move the mast forward at the top and reduce weather helm. Most people think bowsprits are for anchors and good looks. Com-Pac designed them for a better mast position. The first boat to get a bowsprit was the 23. The early boats had weather helm and they added a bowsprit with the same rigging that fixed the problem. The 16 with the 7/8th rig works the same way. I really like a Mark II 16 with a genoa. If you get into really big winds flying a genoa, you simply change direction from pointing to some other point of sail to ease the angle of heel.

All 16s can sail by themselves. Some people say that a 16 might sail better without a person at the helm. New sailors are instructed to get the boat away from the dock and look for enough water to sail into the wind. Fixed the tiller in the middle of the boat and raise the mainsail as far as you can raise it from your position at the cabin entrance. If you can only raise the sail 3 or 4 feet, that will be enough to make the boat move in a circle towards the wind. As the boat get closer to the wind and the sail starts to luff, raise the sail all the way to the top of the mast. With the mainsail up, tiller fixed and the mainsheet adjusted where the boom is half way between the center of boat and the combing, the boat will sail in a loop and tack itself. After crossing the wind, the boat will pick a course on the other side where it will do the same thing again. This is with the helmsperson doing nothing. Of course the helmsperson can raise the jib and prepare the boat to sail during this free time.

Most mast flies on sailboats donít work very well. On the wind, they always point in the same direction. They can be helpful on a broad reach. The two little trailing pointers should be set for a broad reach. Most boats can broad reach 40 degrees off of dead downwind. You can glance up now and then to see how close you are to an accidental jibe. I prefer to use the surface of water for wind direction. Itís more accurate and it saves a sore neck.

If you are on the wind in light wind conditions, you can move your body to the low side seat and towards the stern. The induced heel plus the stern down and the bow up points the keel windward by another 10 degrees. You can also see the sails better from this position. If the wind is really light, I pull the jib sheet inside the shroud and squeeze the air between the jib and the main. The increased wind velocity between the sails increases boat speed and you will point a higher. You hold the jib clew with your hand.

Another trick that might come in handy is a power tack. If you are in light air and itís time to tack, you can do a power tack and maintain your speed. A power tack keeps the same angle of heel from one tack to the other. You have read above about light wind sailing and setting on the low side. With a power tack, you use your body to change the boatís heel angle from side to side. If you are by yourself, you will be pulling jib sheets, steering with the tiller and moving your rear end from seat to seat all at the same time. All this has to be done smoothly without losing of boat speed.

The bottom line with this 16 is that it can sail just about anywhere at anytime and it may be the best sail training vessel ever built. Sailors can use a Com-Pac 16 when other small boats have to stay at home. You have to put lots of time in the cockpit if you are going to get good at sailing. A boat also has to be cost effective so young people can buy one and that's difficult today. Our used market makes this possible. A restored 16 can be a bargain and where else can you buy something today and get your money back tomorrow?