Monday, March 17, 2014

US 1009 - The Kirby VII "Summertime"

Mark Adams sends along two pictures of a rather forlorn Kirby VII tucked away in a corner of a boat yard in San Francisco. The Kirby VII was commissioned by Eric Arens and built by a young Steve Clark who would later go on to fame with his Patient Lady C-class catamaran team in the Little America's Cup as well as owning and running the U.S. Laser/Performance/Vanguard operation for many years (as well as fitting in an International Canoe World Championship as well). Mark continues the story:
"Funny we've been emailing about old 14s when I happen to come across Eric's old Kirby 7, wasting away at Treasure Island out west.  Crazy fast boat back in the day.  I think the board was more than a foot forward of anything else sailing back then  I borrowed it and got a 2nd at a Seattle Nat'ls.  One race we started at the pin and pinched off all 20 or so boats, tacked and lead start to finish.  In anything over 8 knots, it had such weather helm that it took all your strength to resist the tug on the helm.  God help you if you lost your grip, as the boat would auto tack and capsize on top of you.  Eric can tell you all about my love/hate relationship with Summertime...

The pictures. Looks like she could still be saved. (As always, click inside a picture to start a slide show.)

As far as I know this was the only Kirby VII built in North America - an odd fact considering Kirby made his name designing for the North American International 14 crowd. Builder Steve Clark adds his recollections about building Summertime:

"Summertime was a great project because Eric was such a good guy to work with. He let me have lots of freedom in the structural design and construction of the boat: far more than anyone else would and probably more than he should have. But it was OK because he fundamentally trusted me and I fundamentally wanted to build the best boat I could. The fact that I spent about twice as much building it as I charged him and wasn't suicidal about it is a testimony to how naive I was in 1981. It is also interesting that I found out some things that I later ignored and then came back to bite me.

"The construction was a bit unusual. Below the chines she was 2 plies of 3mm plywood at + 45. The centerline web was a box beam. The topsides were a single ply of 3mm plywood. Outside the hull had a laminate of 5 oz (200 g/m^2) Kevlar. The double bottom was 3mm aircraft ply over stringers and bulkheads. There was a ply of the same Kevlar laminated to the back side of the floor in the high traffic area. I was enamored of space frames, so there was aluminum welded frame with tension straps down to the mast step which was intended to take all the rigging loads. Eric liked having the ability to move his shrouds fore and aft, so these were on Harken travelers. For gunwales, I built hollow box beams instead of thick laminated spruce gunwales. These were stiffer and lighter than solid wood rails typical of the time. In all the boat ended up being massively stiff (you think?) with all that structure in the bottom, and with a very low VCG. This was so low that the boat wouldn't lay on its side with the rig in it, but kept rolling upright until we tied the masthead down to a picnic table.

"Other details were enormously simple: There was really no rig tension tackle. To get rig tension you tipped the boat on its side. You eased the shrouds travelers forward so that no matter how tight they were they couldn't hold the mast aft. You then pulled the mast tip forward toward the jib (inducing about 8” of bend in the spar) and pinned the jib in place. You then pulled the shrouds aft and voila! Rig tension up the wazoo!.

"Summertime also had very nice foils shaped by Tom Price; the dagger board gybed and was very fat. Eric felt this gave them the chance to tack on anyone’s lee bow and pinch them off or to hang in any lane or climb off any weather hip.

"I only sailed one race with Eric, a long distance race in Seattle. We were pretty quick but spent a bit too much time swimming. I was always happy that Eric really liked the boat and that she seemed to last. If she is still in one piece and sailing 30+ years later I think it is remarkable.

A photo of a young Steve Clark (on the left) about the same time as Summertime build. On the right (click on the picture to get the full width) is the renowned marine historian Ben Fuller (who, if I remember, at this juncture, was chief curator at Mystic Seaport).

And a picture of US-1009 Summertime, back in happier times, full bore, skippered by owner Eric Arens and crewed by Paul Weiss. (photo part of the Paul Weiss collection.)