Led by Lake George’s John Kelly and Reuben Smith of Hall’s Boat Corp., the Mystic Seaport maritime museum in Mystic, Connecticut, is documenting a once-famous class of sail boat that has slipped into obscurity.
The boats, Sound Interclubs, were sailed on Lake George from the 1930s through the 1950s, when the Lake George Club replaced its racing fleet with Stars and Rainbows.
Two of the surviving sail boats have been acquired by John Kelly, the Assembly Point resident whose 1936 Lake George Gar Wood was restored by Reuben Smith and the crew at Hall’s earlier this year. Hall’s is now restoring Kelly’s Sound Interclubs.
Of Kelly’s two boats, one was in relatively good condition, but even that one had been disfigured by the force of the 42 foot mast and the weight of the lead keel, said Smith. So before he could begin the work of restoring the boats, he needed an accurate set of plans.
Smith said he called Mystic Seaport in search of plans, photos and any additional information that might be in the museum’s extensive archives, and while dozens of classic photos had been taken of the boats racing in Long Island Sound in the 1920s and 30s, no plans survived.
That inquiry led Mystic Seaport’s staff to start researching the Sound Interclub, said Luisa Watrous, the museum’s Intellectual Property Manager.
“Mystic Seaport is delighted that Reuben Smith and John Kelly are doing this work, because the museum maintains a representative collection of American sailboats, and there’s too little information about the Sound Interclubs,” said Watrous. “The Museum doesn’t have a boat of this type in the collection, and the restoration at Hall’s offers us an opportunity to clarify and update the photographic and vessel records.”
In the absence of the designer’s original plans (believed to have been lost in a fire), Smith is drafting a new set of plans as he restores Kelly’s first Sound Interclub; his plans, notes and photos of the restoration will guide the restoration of the other four Sound Interclubs.
Mystic Seaport will be one of the beneficiaries of Smith’s work, says Luisa Watrous,
Watrous, however, is not merely collecting the information gathered by Smith and Kelly; she’s heavily involved in co-ordinating research on the boats, enlisting the aid of people like Rik Alexanderson, whose grandfather, E.F. Alexanderson, was among those who brought one-design racing to Lake George.
Alexanderson is conducting oral interviews about the boats’ history on Lake George, said Watrous. Others, like David Warren, have contributed photos of the boats being sailed on Lake George. “I tend to feel that stories preserve themselves; they’re waiting to be told and will be told when the time is right,” said Watrous. The oral histories and photos are not only valuable additions to Mystic Seaport’s archives, but can assist Reuben Smith and John Kelly in their work, he said.
For Watrous, researching the Sound Interclubs is not merely a professional obligation; it’s a way for her to rediscover her links to the lake. “I have personal ties to the lake through my family, and I even sailed on Sound Interclubs in the 1970s,” he said. “After the Lake George Club switched to racing Stars and Rainbows, two Sound Interclubs were sold to Canoe Island Lodge, where I worked as a college student in the 1970s.”
John Kelly says he hopes to take his first sail in his Sound Interclub sometime this fall. “I became interested in the boats when I was researching the history of my Gar Wood, which was owned by a Lake George summer resident, Dan Winchester. A member of his family showed me an album that included some photos of a sailboat I’d never seen before. I showed them to Reuben, who immediately identified them as Sound Interclubs,” he said.
Designed by Charles Mower in 1926, the boats were famous in the 1930s as the fastest boats in the Westchester and Connecticut waters of Long Island Sound. “The whole idea behind one-design racing is that it’s a test of skills; it has nothing to do with who has the most money or the best technology,” said Reuben Smith.
By 1935, however, the boats began to feel dated to the Long Island skippers, many of whom were America’s Cup yachtsmen, and they replaced the boats with International One Designs, said Michael Kelly. Once the boats were no longer used for racing in Long Island Sound, they were brought to Lake George.
Reuben Smith says he knows of at least three other Sound Interclubs: one on Lake George, another in Texas and one on City Island in New York. He hopes they’ll be brought to Hall’s or to another Lake George boat shop and restored.
As does John Kelly. At the very least, he’ll get some competition. What’s the fun of owning a fast sail boat if there’s no one to compete with?
Photos: Above, Sound Interclubs racing on Lake George from the files of Lake George Mirror. Below, Sound Interclubs racing off Long Island. Photo by Morris Rosenfeld, courtesy of Mystic Seaport.
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