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Thread: Snowbird racing catboats

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
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    Default Snowbird racing catboats

    Hey folks,

    Longtime lurker figuring it was time to say hello. We've got a small stable of boats, including a 60's-era wooden Hampton One Design sloop (probably homebuilt from plans), a 1960 Thompson (Cortland) Sea Lancer 17' runabout, a skin-on-frame canvas kayak, and a couple of early Alcort Super Sailfish Mk2s. This post though, is about Snowbird catboats, specifically our freshly-restored 1952 'bird, hull number 344 and named LULLY. Seems I like plywood boats, maybe because they're pretty cheap. Anyway, the wiki page on Snowbirds provides the briefest of histories of these little 12-foot boats, designed in 1921, but I'm wondering if anyone here has personal stories and/or photographs to add to this post. There's not much info on the east coast, though I read there used to be quite a few of them in the northeast around Connecticut.

    About LULLY: I picked up the boat out of Delaware, after answering a Craigslist ad that I somehow found when searching for a rowboat for my wife and 6-month old son. Having never heard of a Snowbird, a little internet digging showed it to be an interesting boat that had its heyday in the 1950's, where they were pretty well-known through the "Flight of the Snowbirds" regatta in Newport Bay, CA. According to the documentation I received with the boat, it was built by Dorrance McClure Boatbuilding which apparently was located somewhere near Newport. It's believed we are the third owners. The gentleman I got it from had freshened things up overall, and I continued this trend with lots of cleaning, some additional varnish, and a new coat of deck paint (George Kirby Green Tint #3, which I think is a pretty good match for the original Snowbird color). LULLY had remnants of of this teal visible under a beige deck, so I rolled a couple of coats on over a long weekend. The rest of the boat is pretty original, save for an updated traveler bar, a pair of oarlocks, a new sail, and a new blocks.

    There's a photo (below), and what I believe to be accompanying video of #344 rounding a marker at :34 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qU9XZmT2Ofc via youtube). Pretty cool stuff I think. It's also pretty interesting that this was the monotype dinghy for the 1932 LA Summer Olympic Games, and in 1933 Popular Science published plans for the "Olympic," which is a Snowbird variant. I'll add some additional images from that article.

    Our home-waters are the weed-infested shallow coves around Washington DC, along the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. The boat handles very well, and I can see why it would have been good as a trainer for 5 year-olds(!) in light wind. Must seem like a yacht to such tiny hands, though. It's a pretty heavy boat, about 800 pounds I believe, so it doesn't feel that light on its feet and tacks fairly predictably (based on my limited experience). A few days ago my wife and I sailed together in steady 10-12 mph winds and the boat was a dream, heeling slowly enough to catch your breath and correct if need be. This was, in fact my wife's first sailing trip, and she handled the tiller and main like it was second nature. That said, it's a bit cramped for two full-size adults, but is great for a single adult or 2 kids. We love this little thing and hope to sail and show it throughout the Chesapeake Bay region this coming year.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
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    Default Re: Snowbird racing catboats

    I am glad you posted this as I have tried several times to post private mail answers to your query to me. Apparently my private mail is out of whack as it checks out ok but no mail is being sent or received.
    You probably know this, but here is a comment or two on the Snowbird cat boats.
    They were first used as a single handed boat in the Olympics during the 1930's and were known as the "Olympiad Class" Boats. My own boat was #1 and is currently on display at the Newport Harbor Marine Museum. My parents gave me the boat when I was five years of age to maintain, sail on adventures and race in inter -club regattas. My father sailed it in the Flight of the Snowbirds in the mid 1940's. He also took a friend of my mother for a sail and capsized the boat, causing all manner of up roar, because she couldn't swim! Fortunately she was wearing a life jacket but did not appreciate the dunk in the bay! Dorance McClure, who had a modest back yard shop, at his home in Costa Mesa built quite a few of the boats. We had nearlly three hundred in the bay at one time! Dorance was a Kindly man who gave me sound advice for working on my boat because he said the I was, "handy with tools." Indeed it was because of Dorance that I learned how to caulk and put on a proper coat of paint as well as sand and varnish!

    The Vallalee Boat Rental Company that was located near the ferry dock on Balboa Island had a small fleet of the boats that were quite popular because they were easy to sail. The hulls were varnished and had a big green V in place of the normal Snowbird S on the sail. In addition, they were a bit heavier in construction than the normal Snowbirds were. This was, presumably, to resist the abuse that those who rented them often subjected them to. It was not unusual to see several of the boats ending up fouled against the Balboa Island Bridge as it was a broad reach to the end of the island and then a down wind run in the North Bay Front of the Island that was blocked by the bridge. This resulted in having to do a rapid series of tacks to weather in in the other direction to escape from, what my father referred to as, "The Venus Fly Trap!" Some times I would swim out to a boat that was in real trouble, climb aboard and give the frustrated skipper a crash course on sailing up wind. The only boat that I have had as much fun with, as the Snow Bird is the "Kite" which is essentially the same size as the Snowbird but several light years beyond it in performance!
    Jay
    Last edited by Jay Greer; 10-10-2017 at 04:22 PM.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Snowbird racing catboats

    I don't see how they could get a 12' boat up to 800 lb., half that would be very heavy. The later ones weighed about 130 lb.

    http://sailboatdata.com/viewrecord.asp?class_id=5873

    D.N. Goodchild used to sell plans, if memory serves, but they seem to have disappeared.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Snowbird racing catboats

    Quote Originally Posted by johnw View Post
    I don't see how they could get a 12' boat up to 800 lb., half that would be very heavy. The later ones weighed about 130 lb.

    http://sailboatdata.com/viewrecord.asp?class_id=5873

    D.N. Goodchild used to sell plans, if memory serves, but they seem to have disappeared.
    Thanks, I stand corrected. It is a very heavy boat though, seemingly as much as my 18 foot Hampton, also of ply on frame.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Snowbird racing catboats

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greer View Post
    I am glad you posted this as I have tried several times to post private mail answers to your query to me. Apparently my private mail is out of whack as it checks out ok but no mail is being sent or received.
    You probably know this, but here is a comment or two on the Snowbird cat boats.
    They were first used as a single handed boat in the Olympics during the 1930's and were known as the "Olympiad Class" Boats. My own boat was #1 and is currently on display at the Newport Harbor Marine Museum. My parents gave me the boat when I was five years of age to maintain, sail on adventures and race in inter -club regattas. My father sailed it in the Flight of the Snowbirds in the mid 1940's. He also took a friend of my mother for a sail and capsized the boat, causing all manner of up roar, because she couldn't swim! Fortunately she was wearing a life jacket but did not appreciate the dunk in the bay! Dorance McClure, who had a modest back yard shop, at his home in Costa Mesa built quite a few of the boats. We had nearlly three hundred in the bay at one time! Dorance was a Kindly man who gave me sound advice for working on my boat because he said the I was, "handy with tools." Indeed it was because of Dorance that I learned how to caulk and put on a proper coat of paint as well as sand and varnish!

    The Vallalee Boat Rental Company that was located near the ferry dock on Balboa Island had a small fleet of the boats that were quite popular because they were easy to sail. The hulls were varnished and had a big green V in place of the normal Snowbird S on the sail. In addition, they were a bit heavier in construction than the normal Snowbirds were. This was, presumably, to resist the abuse that those who rented them often subjected them to. It was not unusual to see several of the boats ending up fouled against the Balboa Island Bridge as it was a broad reach to the end of the island and then a down wind run in the North Bay Front of the Island that was blocked by the bridge. This resulted in having to do a rapid series of tacks to weather in in the other direction to escape from, what my father referred to as, "The Venus Fly Trap!" Some times I would swim out to a boat that was in real trouble, climb aboard and give the frustrated skipper a crash course on sailing up wind. The only boat that I have had as much fun with, as the Snow Bird is the "Kite" which is essentially the same size as the Snowbird but several light years beyond it in performance!
    Jay
    Thanks Jay! That's awesome information. Love to hear from folks that knew these things in their prime. Does #1 ever get out on the water anymore? Any idea whether my green is close to how they were originally painted? I could send you more photos to see how accurate I can make this thing. Also, is there any way to tell whether McClure actually built our boat? There's no identification plate that I can find.

    For kicks, here are some additional images. First and second are from Flights, third is the Olympiads. I wish someone was still building these.
    58eaeb4c26e057634501a68a3aa9f9eb.jpg
    3c3bc5975ac317414f6bc3b26325331d.jpg
    5d87758497cb589182c2ce0873b73fad.jpg
    92b7cdbb383b2ee4a6db22b2eb48a685.jpg

    I'd love to try a Kite one day.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Snowbird racing catboats

    The Snow Birds had no provision for reefing. This made sailing in winds beyond twelve knots a study in balance if only one kid was sailing the boat. My dad always insited I take a crew along to hike out when it got gusty. Once the boat was near to burying its rail the rudder was ineffective and capsize could come at any moment! Unlike the Kite, that was unsinkable due to its inner hull, the Snow Bird could fill with water and usually required a tow to shore to bail the boat out.

    Those Egyptian cotton sails sure looked beautiful but blew out in only one season of racing. I did odd jobs on boats and collected a lot of pop bottles for their deposit value to buy my new sail. I believe the sail maker, who made them, was "Omar the Tent Maker". He had his loft just behind Seasport Landing. This was near the Crab Cooker Restaurant that is still there. Later, my friend Skip Elliott bought the loft and built sails for the Kite and Snipe Fleets. You owe it to yourself to take a Kite out for a sail on a windy say as it wil go like hell, plane and throw a rooster tail four feet high! The Kite is the training boat for the International Fin and is a very high performance little sea dart. It can be surfed in open ocean when the swells are up.
    Jay
    Last edited by Jay Greer; 10-11-2017 at 02:21 PM.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Snowbird racing catboats

    Quote Originally Posted by johnw View Post
    I don't see how they could get a 12' boat up to 800 lb., half that would be very heavy. The later ones weighed about 130 lb.

    http://sailboatdata.com/viewrecord.asp?class_id=5873

    D.N. Goodchild used to sell plans, if memory serves, but they seem to have disappeared.
    The class specs for the Snow Bird list it a 130lbs, 59kg. Disp.
    Jay
    Last edited by Jay Greer; 10-11-2017 at 07:00 PM.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Snowbird racing catboats

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greer View Post
    The Snow Birds had no provision for reefing. This made sailing in winds beyond twelve knots a study in balance if only one kid was sailing the boat. My dad always insited I take a crew along to hike out when it got gusty. Once the boat was near to burying its rail the rudder was ineffective and capsize could come at any moment! Unlike the Kite, that was unsinkable due to its inner hull, the Snow Bird could fill with water and usually required a tow to shore to bail the boat out.

    Those Egyptian cotton sails sure looked beautiful but blew out in only one season of racing. I did odd jobs on boats and collected a lot of pop bottles for their deposit value to buy my new sail. I believe the sail maker, who made them, was "Omar the Tent Maker". He had his loft just behind Seasport Landing. This was near the Crab Cooker Restaurant that is still there. Later, my friend Skip Elliott bought the loft and built sails for the Kite and Snipe Fleets. You owe it to yourself to take a Kite out for a sail on a windy say as it wil go like hell, plane and throw a rooster tail four feet high! The Kite is the training boat for the International Fin and is a very high performance little sea dart. It can be surfed in open ocean when the swells are up.
    Jay
    Is there anything I can/should do to make it safer in windier conditions? I imagine any good loft could make replica cotton sails (Oceanus?) with reefpoints. I do carry a bailing scoop and a kayak bilge pump (only 8 gallons per minute, but it's better than nothing). Fortunately, most of our home waters are very, very shallow - like 2 feet in many places.

    I've tried to find a Kite but they are also virtually nonexistent these days. Very pretty for fiberglass, in my opinion.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Snowbird racing catboats

    The floor boards in the Snowbird make getting that last half gallon of water a pain to remove! I should think that bilge pump you have and a sponge are A plus
    for that. As to who built your boat, there was usually a builders plaque on the stbd. side of the inner face of the transom. Seaching the archives of local yacht clubs in Newport Beach CA might help. Try the Balboa Island YC first. Sea and Pacific Motor Boat Magazine used to publish an annual yacht registry of Southern California Yachts, Clubs and registered class sailboats plus a list of owners and boats by name. If you can find one you might be able to gain the information you seek.
    Jay
    Last edited by Jay Greer; 10-13-2017 at 12:24 PM.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Snowbird racing catboats

    Quote Originally Posted by virginian View Post
    Is there anything I can/should do to make it safer in windier conditions? I imagine any good loft could make replica cotton sails (Oceanus?) with reefpoints. I do carry a bailing scoop and a kayak bilge pump (only 8 gallons per minute, but it's better than nothing). Fortunately, most of our home waters are very, very shallow - like 2 feet in many places.

    I've tried to find a Kite but they are also virtually nonexistent these days. Very pretty for fiberglass, in my opinion.
    You might add flotation bags.

    http://www.apsltd.com/sailboat-marin...ancy-bags.html

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Snowbird racing catboats

    I the hull has enough positive buoyancy to float and allow the hull to be righted. But, once right side up it can be a bit unstable and difficult to bail. It think that air bags might be a good idea. I would not consider perminant air tanks though.
    Jay

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