by Ralph Hausrath
SMALL BOAT JOURNAL #32 September 1983
The Narrasketuck, a one-design sloop whose longevity as a class now nears the half-century mark, is still one of the most popular competitors on Long Island’s Great South Bay.
The success of the 20-foot centerboarder, so easily recognized by the Indian-head insignia on her sail, did not surprise her sponsors. For the Narrasketuck was designed especially for these shallow waters by an experienced bayman who was also a self-taught boatbuilder. He built the first boats, then went on to race with the class until he was eighty-four.
The first ‘Tucks appeared on the bay in 1935 and the fleet grew rapidly. For more than thirty-five years now, they have usually been the best represented in the Great South Bay Yacht Racing Association’s GSBYRA) annual race week. Exceptions came one year when there was a big spurt in Blue Jay building and more recently, with the very numerous Sunfish. Though tile first ‘Tucks were cedar over oak, the newest are fiberglass with aluminum spars. And building continues.
David Faber, one of the builders of fiberglass boats, says there are some thirty-four boats actively racing in the class. He estimates that there are another hundred, or so, spread around thethirty-mile bay used as daysailers.
The Narrasketuck has always been regarded as one of the Bay’s liveliest performers. ‘Tuck sailors say they like plenty of wind, and they often get it as the fresh sea breezes frequently whip across the entire length of the Bay’s eastwest axis. “Get the wind right and she’ll plane the length of the bay,” claims Glenn Schmidt of the Long Island Yacht Club, an associate of Faber’s in building glass boats of the class. “That boat never needed a spinnaker,” he adds. The new boats are quicker than the old, but older wooden ‘Tucks still nose out glass models at the finish line, he admits.
An old wooden mixing bowl, the thin water of the Bay’s west end, and the limited financial resources of some neophyte yachtsmen blended to produce the area’s foremost racing boat. In the 1 930s, a group of sailing enthusiasts formed a new yacht club based in Amityville, a village on the Bay’s west end. Although the Bay is shallow throughout, it’s even more so off Amityville, where the greatest natural depth is a mere five feet, and a racing course would run through spots of only three feet at low water.
Most of the racing at the time was in handicap classes. The new club wanted to engender more competitive racing and sought a new boat that was suited especially to the shoal waters and was within financial reach of its members. They asked Wilbur F. Ketchain, a local builder, to submit a design. His half model, submitted in 1934, spawned 150 boats by 1965. The new boats were cited for “economy, ease of construction and maintenance, seaworthiness and safety, comfort, ruggedness, and maneuverability.” What more could you ask?