My Childhood Wood Pond Boat: Retired in Dry-dock After 72 Years!

For as long as I can remember, this proud little pond sailboat has been a part of my life. My parents bought it for me in Chicago, Illinois, before we moved to California in 1948. I would guess I must have been five or six when I received it.
After decades of lying around in some obscure corner of my den and early boyhood bedrooms gathering dust, my little boat now rests in a “display dry-dock” which I installed above my garage workbench. Now it is out of the way, protected, and easier to see and enjoy!
My earliest recollection of this little wood boat lingers, still, in my mind’s eye: My parents and I were at a public park in Chicago which contained a large, shallow lake/pond with a fountain in the middle. My sturdy little boat was well underway on its first trip across the pond that day, sails full of a fairly brisk breeze which blew across the water. Suddenly, my excitement turned to dismay as my little craft leaned heavily to the side and capsized. With her sails now wet, she had no chance of righting herself and drifted aimlessly on her side, quite some distance from where we launched her on the pond’s edge.

The situation called for a daring rescue plan! I removed my shoes and socks, stripped down to my underwear and waded into the knee-deep pond – all modesty abandoned and intent on rescuing my little craft – which I did. That episode ended my boat’s sailing adventures for a long time; clearly, she would again meet the same fate if the breeze were sufficient to capsize her.

In 1948, my father was transferred by United Air Lines to San Francisco, California, and we settled near San Francisco Airport in nearby Millbrae. Soon afterward, my father – who possessed a superb mechanical engineering mentality in addition to being, by far, the finest craftsman I have ever encountered – must have begun thinking about my little boat and its obvious sailing limitations.

The July, 1950 issue of Popular Science magazine contained my father’s article titled, Make That Toy Really Sail, which documented nifty modifications which he made to my boat to deliver the sailing performance promised in the article’s title. In the magazine layout for his brief article, my father used my younger sister Karen’s boat (originally identical to mine) to illustrate the modifications required. Although hers was purchased a few years later than mine, it was from the same manufacturer. The accompanying picture shows Karen at Stow Lake in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park launching her modified craft for a brisk, straight sail to the other side of the pond. She and I would launch our boats and run around the short-side lake perimeter to be there in time to greet our arriving sailboats.

After Dad’s ingenious fixes, our boats no longer could capsize because of the lead fishing weight hammered onto the keel. The end of the rear sail boom was now attached with string to the limited-range rudder tiller which counteracted the tendency for the boat to align with the wind and stall-out. In simplified terms: The rudder now could assume one of two “fixed” positions, determined by which side of the sail was receiving wind. The wind force on the main sail and its rigging acting alone generated a torque which tended to turn the boat, aligning it with the plane of the wind at which point the sail would ineffectively flap back and forth, stalling the boat. The action and slight angle of the rudder steered the boat in the counter-acting direction to the torque from the sail. Now, our little boats steered quite steadily across the pond in the direction of launch with no danger of capsizing…a great improvement!

I presented my sister with the original article and magazine cover which we found in my father’s papers after he died in 1992. Typical of his other early contributions to Popular Science, he likely received around $40 for his article – a fair sum in 1950 and a welcome assist to our young family’s strained budget in those days!
I feel a real kinship with this little boat of mine: We have been together, now, for almost seventy years; although a little worse-for-wear, my sturdy ship is still intact although not as seaworthy as she once was. I cannot help but appreciate how aptly these circumstances apply to her owner, as well! I also love my little boat as a constant reminder of the close family ties my sister and I have long enjoyed. And finally, my little boat reflects the industry, ingenuity, and craftsmanship that were among the hallmarks of my father, Alfred C. Kubitz – a most uncommon man.