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From the Desk of the Lightning Class Historian

A letter from our founder's son
By Clayton Gray
Posted: 2018-04-21T12:50:00Z

I received an email from John Barnes the son of the owner of the Skaneateles Boat Co. that developed the Lightning. 'Mick' is a retired school teacher living near Skaneateles. He has been working with the Skaneateles Historical Society on the history of his dad's company. He needed the dates for major changes to the Lightning over the years.


Craig Thayer took this photo of Mick (R) and your historian (L) with Lightning #1 in Skaneateles when we were looking for the original Lightning building mold.

Let me share with you what I dug up:

1.   The bridle we use today has always been legal to a degree.  The evolution of the rig happened in the 1980's, first was using the vang to control twist and then the string bridal we use today. Wire bridles were used occasionally. The earliest photo of one that I have is 1946. The "Crosby rig" has proven to be Lightning Legend. Crosby himself noted the cleverness of the rig in his review of the Lightning (Rudder Dec. '38, Jan '39).

Note how the spinnaker sheet is rigged.

2. The stainless board was allowed in 1961


3. The fiberglass Lightning sort of evolved. At Devils Lake Bud Nelson and Bill Girkins cast a mold off an uncompleted hull, #1029 , and built a glass boat. The Class issued the #XFG 1 for the experiment that ran '58- '59. In 1960 Jim Carson measured the boat in. The early glass builders were given wide latitude. Initially the Class just required them to measure in. In 1968 the rules were firmed up.

4. + 5.  Aluminum V strut mast and the oval mast. The metal mast story is pretty much nuts. Proctor Spars offered the Class samples of oval masts in the mid sixties. Some old timers (The Order of the Vee Strut) were having none of that. If its aluminum it must look like the wooden spar, boom too. Two Class members were asked to look into alternatives to wood, John Muller for Aluminum and Jon Ruhlman for fiberglass. I have a tiny photo of the fiberglass boom. Johann Tanzer in Canada was contracted to do the aluminum spars. What we got was a spar that was  too thin walled and looked pretty darned steam-punk. Easy to break when out of column. The thing was expensive. To save cost masts and booms were allowed made from just the extrusion with no taper or tee shape. We had hit rock bottom. Bob Smither stepped up and put an end to this foolishness and lead the development of the fine spar we have today.

Here is what an oval mast cost when they were first allowed.

6. I belive Bob Clark in Seattle demonstrated the first self rescue boats in 1960. Harry Sindle would work tanks into the early Mobjacks and then the Newports. The Class ruled against seat tanks and many boats had their tanks cut open to comply. A Class can change too slowly. Finally  a proper rule requiring self rescue was passed. Most builders went for transverse tank bow and stern then seat tanks reappeared. A rule was used that gave a boat a DSQ if the mast top touched the water. This prevented continuing to race after capsize, something the older glass boats and woodies could not do. This was later repealed. The foam bottom builders were allowed to go to a 5 inch bottom getting the floor above the waterline. 

7. Here are two:

In boxes of Lightning Class materials Karen Johnson sent to us were loose sheets of paper that I have organized. Below are two sheets from a copy of a letter to Bob Smith at One Design & Offshore magazine (Sailing World) in the seventies. He was doing a write up on the Lightning in his 'Boat is a Boat' column (anyone have a copy?)  The first page is missing but there is some good stuff here:

The plywood Lightning is of special interest to me.  Plywood makes planking much easier for the home builder. In 1967 Dad and I ordered the plans for #10630. I learned woodworking as his helper making it possible for me to have a career doing so. Dad died before we could finish the boat. At 16 years old I was in a tough spot. The ILCA came to my rescue with local fleet members (#415) helping me to finish the boat. At the Class level Rob Ruhlman's Dad was Chief Measurer and patiently directed me through the finishing. He suggested  a rigging plan to make sure I was Legal. Later when the boat was found to be overweight ( we had framed her in mahogany, not cedar) he allowed me to remove half the framing to get her down. I am a beneficiary of the ILCA's commitment to young sailors.

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