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Lightning Class Association

#444 — Triple 4s was a 'Good" Learning Experience

Memories of sailing as a child with my Father on Lake Massabesic in Auburn, NH in a 15' Meteor on Sunday afternoons prompted me to pick up this hobby again. Being a reader of Wooden Boat magazine and a fan of Norm Abrams what other choice could there be than a Wooden Boat? The meteor having long since disappeared off the scene which class to choose? Searching the net one day I came across the ILCA website. Looked like a pretty good organization and the Lightning looked like the larger cousin to the Meteor. Off to the want ads.

Plenty of Lightning's for sale seeing it was early spring. Sticker shock! Prices ranging from $3,000 to over $10k and I didn't see one wooden hull around. Well they say patience is a virtue so just keep looking. $1500 for a woody but its all the way in Connecticut, hmm that is a long drive and just after making a trek to western Mass following an ad of a wooden Lightning sloop with new aluminum mast and having it turn out to be a backyard plywood project about as close to a lightning as a pigeon to an eagle. Nah, pass on the Connecticut one. Wait a minute, found one for $600 just over the Maine border and freshly rigged with sails redone about 10 years ago. No mention of a stainless center board but I am sure the old is just fine and luckily I saved the trailer from the Meteor so I can go pick it up. Tally Ho!

A brisk spring day cruising the farm laden back roads of Maine with the family in tow we were finally 'going to get Daddy a boat' was the chant from the back seat. Smile on my face we pulled into the driveway after wandering around the neighborhood for a few minutes. Met a nice guy who helped me for the 2 hours it took to lever her off her berth of stumps and cement blocks onto my trailer designed for a 15' footer. Pile the boat full of sails, spars and various items I would have to figure out the use for. Oh yeah and the 2.5 gas powered outboard that was used to ferry her back and forth to the docks in Portsmouth Harbor. Hand over the cash with a handshake and take her home.

After a slow careful ride home she was nestled in her own spot in the driveway. Ah, could probably use a quick coat of paint before she goes in the water this weekend. Better get a closer look and see what else may need to be done. That centerboard looks kinda rusty and looks like it hasn't been lowered in some time, nothing WD-40 cant fix. Looks like she could use a new coat of paint inside as well. I wish that battery wasn't in here and that bilge pump has got to go. Seats a little loose probably a few screws will take care of that. Wait a minute is that sunlight on the ground I can see through the hull? A quick dive underneath and yep pretty blue sky viewable between the Keel and the first plank. A little Marine Sealant can take care of that but I wonder why its so open? Is this big board supposed to be pulling away from the ribs? Looks like someone used a steel fastener and the thing let go. Well looks like I got a few projects to do before she goes in. Good thing the warm weather is finally here and I've got all weekend to get her ready for next Saturday. And so it goes kids, work, house...till 6 weeks later I just want to sail the damn thing! I can see the other Lightning's out there on Sunday racing around spinnakers aloft. Patience is a virtue right?

Seal up the hull with Marine caulking, secure the keelson fore and aft with stainless bolts. Screw down the seat and caulk it in a few places inside as well. I wont be needing this bilge pump any longer toss that thing in the trash. Center board may need a little coaxing when I get her in the water but that will wait. Throw on a quick coat of paint just so she's pretty and I'm off to the fair.

Bring her down to the boat launch and I am wondering, she's registered in Maine so she should be legal so no need to register again, right? Mast goes in the mast hole and secure the 5 mast stays. Wait take it back down and run the Halyard ropes. How do these work anyway, good thing he gave me a rigging manual. Hope this rope is long enough. Wish it would stop raining! Good thing it's now June. Hook up the boom and hope Lightning doesn't hit the water. Maybe I wont sail her in the rain after all. I can wait till tomorrow after all patience is a virtue, right?

Throw up the jib anyway and crank up the trolling motor and buzz her over to the mooring. Man this is living! Dump out the hammer, vise grips, WD-40 and various other tools used to set her up and throw on the rain cover. Maybe that will stop the water from collecting in the bottom of the boat. I didn't realize rain could collect so fast. Tie her up and slog back to shore really hoping Lightning doesn't hit the water now. Waders aren't much protection from Lightning as I note the irony. Take a moment and smell the roses, admire her drifting there in the water, culmination of 6 months searching for and fixing up my new/old wooden boat. Ahhhhh...

Rush back the next day take off the rain cover and boy I should have screwed down those floorboards. Look at the way they are floating there. More rain must have gotten in. I wish I had kept that bilge pump I could've pumped it out instead of bailing. Bail...Bail...Bail........

Turns out she had a little leak but it was a slow one. Ill fix that in the fall. I just want to go sailing. Now how does this mainsail work anyway? Ah put it in the track, hook up the halyard and run it up. Should've set it up on the boom first ah well remember that next time. Main stops like an auto accident halfway up. What is the problem? Well just yank harder. With a snap the first clip gets by and then a little more gumption and now the second. Practically hanging from the halyard gets the main about 95% of the way up. Good enough! Jib flies up shockingly smooth in comparison. Wind is really picking up should be a good day.

My brother manning the forward crew with his sailing experience on the Meteor and me manning the tiller we should be all set. After all I remember my Father just sitting back there and steering. I can do that! Were off!

Cruising right along wind at our backs, bright sun shining. Lets try a tack, see I even remember the lingo. A little wobbly but were good. Wait were did the wind go? And why wont this ting go were I steer it? Oh well lets head over for Battery Point with the choppy water and the white caps, I bet well get some good wind over there. We are moving! Wait let the main out a little as the boats getting a little tippy. Water is getting rough! Heavy wind now, boat is heeling over! What to do? I know try and steer away from the wind. Hard to port and Oh Oh! Not supposed to go this far over. Main stuck in cleat and cant get it out. Let go of tiller and yank that main rope as hard as I can as boat is rolling. Pop! Main is free let it go. Boom flies and boat drops flat.

Breathe, just breathe! That could've gone better. How can I slowly sail this back and get on dry land? Maybe I should read a book or something or take some sailing lessons. Nah just come back when its not so windy. Good plan! Legs stop shaking, its not dignified.

Thus ends my first sailing experience as skipper. Needless to say things got better as the summer progressed. Working as forward crew during the Richmond cup helped. Learned I shouldn't have bought a woody especially one with blown sails, steel centerboard and no updates. Alas, my love of wooden boats is still firmly entrenched maybe even more so. Fiberglass is nice if you just want to spend all your time sailing but who doesn't like picking up the tools and tackling a project even though it may not turn out the way you envisioned. That is the gravy, the gusto. The reason we get out of bed in the morning. So if you are masicistic like me and want to venture forth through the adventure of the wooden Lightning, I say raise your hammer and pledge:

"I will spend my Saturdays & Sundays scraping, painting, varnishing, drilling, screwing, oops fill that hole its too big, purchasing from obscure websites, researching nautical terms and trying to figure out what this doo-hickey is and how it helps sail my boat!"

I would like to update this Lightning out of stubborn pride and a love of wood and take you along for the ride as I consult with the experts on how to get the most knots out of my woody!

I would like to replace the entire centerboard trunk along with a new Stainless Steel centerboard including the existing block & tackle system to raise and lower it.  This will address the problems of leakage, dry rot & a sticky centerboard.

Granted she will never take the honors in the National's but I would like to pull up the rear & stay with the Lightning pack on Lake Massabesic on Sunday afternoons.

Jeremy Dobe
Lightning #444

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