She’s been my gal for 42 years

September 2010

By Dodge Morgan

My little schooner Eagle is not showing her age but is showing off her age. She is 84 years old and looks like new. Credit for her Bristol condition these years goes to Paul Bryant of Riverside Boat Yard in Newcastle, Maine. Credit to her showing off goes to John Alden in 1926, and then to Murray Peterson in the early 1960s. She is a visually commanding exhibit in whatever harbor she occupies, and recently has also become a harbinger of the past. I cannot help but be surprised by her apparent uniqueness because she has been the same gal to me for 42 years.

The sight of boats with four-sided sails and wood masts and mast hoops is becoming rare but is not yet gone. A boat with shrouds held by deadeyes and lanyards instead of turnbuckles is close to being gone: There is Eagle and a charter schooner or two, but the dude-boats’ lanyards are just decorations with turnbuckles hiding behind them to do the work.

The views of Eagle are a delight from any angle or distance. She is a “joy to row up to,” as Peterson said it. Her classic lines will mist the eyes of any boat lover, any appreciator of artistic beauty in whatever forms it is found. She was a John Alden Malabar Junior sloop when first launched, and then she became a Murray Peterson schooner in a redesign and rebuild after serious hurricane damage. She is 31 feet on deck with a six-foot bowsprit, and has a 10-foot beam and five-foot draft.

She offers standing headroom below for a person of four-foot height. Her main cabin holds two settee berths, a drop-leaf table hiding a cooler for ice, a small Shipmate coal stove, and a two-burner alcohol stove and nine-by-nine sink. She does have an engine, a three-cylinder diesel mounted in full, open view next to the toilet bowl in the tiny aft cabin. It is a fine set-up for a mechanic with diarrhea. She sets five sails on eight halyards.

I participated in a Chebeague Island Yacht Club race that had a running start; skippers get the start gun on the beach, row out to their vessels, raise sails, lift anchor and get underway to the course. This was not a procedure suited to Eagle. She takes considerable time to get just the working three of her sails up and considerable time to hand-haul her yachtsman’s anchor up and lash it to the whisker stays, so by the time I was under way, the fleet was well into conquering the course.

There are some eccentricities to sailing a two-masted gaff-header with the largest sail aft. She will point high enough if carefully tended to tack in 90 degrees of compass heading, but always with attention paid more to keeping way on than to sailing higher on the wind. She can be frozen stiff by cranking sheets in and booms down, and main, fore, and jib should each be trimmed a bit farther out. Dead downwind – a lousy schooner point of sail to begin with – is best done wing-and-wing with boom preventers on, leaving no breeze for the headsail. She is best sailed by slacking the peak halyards on a run and peaking them on a beat. The boat simply likes a reach – close in light airs and broad in heavy airs. Reefing is a major chore but the increased sail area from the gaff-headed rig is forgiving to heavy air because it is spread low.

As Paul Wolter, the 18-year captain of Tom Watson’s Palawan yachts and owner of the sloop Economy once told me: “A man should never sail higher on the wind in degrees than his age plus ten.” I welcome the age of broad reaches.

Former record-breaking solo circumnavigator Dodge Morgan lives on, and sails out of, Snow Island, Maine.