Jack Helms - Lightning Builder from Columbia, SC
By Clayton Gray
For those of us in the Southeast we remember Jack Helms, a Charlotte boy, who built fiberglass Lightnings in Columbia SC. Our 'local builder' built many of our Lightnings in the sixties before he moved on to building cruising boats 25-32 feet long in the seventies.
A giant of a man (6-4+) he was a skilled sailor. He was a pro-football player for the Detroit Lions in 1946.
I got to know him when visiting relatives in Columbia. I would drive out to Lake Murray and would crew for him in his E Scow, a class I still sail (1977 Johnson). He also built the Y Flyer, Snipe and Penguin.
Lightning Legend has it he "splashed" John McIntosh's Allen for his mold. Knowing both men I knew that could not be true. Class records shows Helms building a wooden Lightning #8475 in February 1963 for McIntosh, this had to be the plug for the Helms Lightnings. The boats were well built and competitive. Bob Seidelmann won the 1966 NAs at BCC in a Helms beating out Tom Allen. In 1968 Helms built 43 Lightnings, third to Allen @ 71 bts and Lippincott @ 68 bts. That year Newport built 28, N&H 13 and Muller 13.
When I dropped out of racing, selling #12776 in '80 I picked up a wrecked Helms #11027 for cruising and some fleet racing. The boat had literally been run over by a power boat here on High Rock lake. The power boat jumped the the Lightning's transom, took out the mast and dropped off the port side. Fortunately, the kids in the Lightning jumped out just in time. The transom was obliterated and the port side deck at the chainplates was gone. Remarkably, the rest of the boat was still in good shape. Still quite a project. Damned tough boat. The chain plates were the u shaped one piece tang bolted through the hull deck joint like most Lightnings in the sixties. They were pulled completely out of the boat.
They are good boats worth fixing up. Most Helms' ended up in a barn somewhere I still see them around down here.
My Helms #11027 visiting Wooden Boat in Maine, 1986.