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Launching a Schooner into a Storm
at the Rend Lake Messabout


First thing’s first…

Summary and Photos of the Messabout

Rain. We got rained on. REALLY rained on. I’m still getting mud out of my camping gear. I even got caught out in a squall! More on that later.

But it was well worth the drive and the mud.

In spite of a lot of rain and a couple storms, there were more homebuilt boats there than I had ever seen in one place. Here’s a quick rundown:

Steve Heger brought a modified CLC sharpie and a kayak with sponsons and sail rig. He also brought a very nice “John’s Sharpie” cat schooner so someone could show him how to sail it. Unfortunately, Steve could only be there Friday afternoon.

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Dave Seaberg from Rockford, IL brought a D4 pram. Dave's D4 is a veteran of several Midwest Messabouts, and it sports new features each year. This year Dave had the boat fitted with modified gunnels adding a bit of freeboard, and also with roller furling for the jib, homebuilt from the guts of a fishing reel. (We want to see an article on that one, Dave!)

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Chris Feller brought a very well-built AF3 with taped seams in place of chine logs, and a lug rig.

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Phillip Reed brought a very slick-looking Bolger Cartopper.

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Paul Ellifrit brought a "coffee-table" quality Oughtred-designed lapstrake Acorn skiff. You really should see this boat in person. This photo doesn’t show the beautifully varnished interior.

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Steve Lewis from Iowa brought 3 boats of his own design; Fisher 10, Scout Canoe, and Poor Boy. His website is:


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Mike Zenker, who has become a regular at this messabout, brought his Campanoe from Chicagoland. While not homebuilt, the Campanoe is the last of only 25 such boats built. (And all the while they were being built right under my nose in my home town of Mazomanie, WI!) It’s a very slick catamaran-like arrangement that folds up for very compact trailering.

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Kilburn Adams, designer of the SkiffAmerica, brought the prototype. He also brought his spectacular homemade radio control electric model airplanes. Next time we gotta have him mount a camera and get some aerial shots! I don’t have any photos of the SkiffAmerica, but there are plenty at:


Bill Dulin brought SkiffAmerica hull #2.

Jeff Hoesel brought a Glen L "Utility" with restored 1950's 18 hp Johnson – a sharp-looking and very fast rig.

Bill Hoevel’s personal boat is undergoing some scheduled maintenance, so he brought along Jeff's classic 1950's Crosby runabout with 45 hp Mercury. Here they are together. I’m still not clear on whether these guys are brothers.

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Richard Spelling, the founder of www.chebacco.com, towed his pilot-house Bolger Chebacco all the way from Oklahoma. It provided luxurious accomodations afloat, rivaled only by Mike's Campanoe. Shown here with Jim Michalak’s AF4.

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Alan Asay brought a Michalak WeeVee Dinghy.

Robert Cope brought yet another SkiffAmerica.

"Mississippi" Bob Brown brought a kayak and a tortured-ply canoe, both very nicely finished. He took the time to show some of us how bent paddles are meant to be used. They’re supposed to have the tip bending forward. That way, the downward thrust of the paddle translates into forward force. This increases efficiency because only the middle part of the stroke does much good. Bob has clearly put a whole lot of thought into paddling. Bob’s kayak can be seen on the left, partly cut off. Also shown, L-R are Phil Lea’s Junebug, Johannes Schel’s Ozark Jonboat, Paul Ellifrit’s Acorn Skiff, and Max Wawrzyniak’s Oracle.

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Max Wawrzyniak, the outboard guru of Saint Louis, brought AF3 and Oracle. Here’s his AF3. Those are dog collars holding the sail to the mast. Pure genius, that Max. Hanging on the transom is a WWII era Neptune outboard that only runs half throttle because it has a bent crankshaft! Max says he uses that one because he doesn’t have to worry about ruining it if he capsizes.

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Rob Rohde-Szudy (me!) launched the maiden voyage of the Bolger Light Schooner. Forgot to take photos there, but here’s what it looks like much cleaner than she was after 400 miles of diesel exhaust. The official write-up has a photo of us rowing out to get rained on. Richard Spelling got a photo while towing us in from a squall – go to www.chebacco.com and click “new articles”, then “A Summer of Boating – Richard Spelling” and scroll down. Nice photo too. Nobody took a picture when we were sailing.

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Johannes Schel and Sarah Bush brought a Dablemont-designed traditional Ozarks paddle johnboat.

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Phil Lea brought his very-much-modified-and-improved version of the Bolger Junebug. Either Phil’s sail is better than the rest of ours, his skills are better, or both. He can pull wind out of a flat calm like magic. Phil will also be holding a messabout in Arkansas this August.

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And of course, Jim Michalak brought his AF4. The best photo is with Richard Spelling’s Chebacco, above.

We also had participants who are currently building or are considering building the following:

Rovie Alford is still "mulling-over" what to build.

Bill & Terry Kelsey are still mulling-over as well, but she especially liked Max’s Oracle.

Paul Breeding has a SkiffAmerica in progress in Colorado Springs.

Larry Bollinger is building AF4.

Dallas Nickel is building something, but the rain smudged the boat design on the sign-in sheet! Feel free to let us know, Dallas.

As if this were not plenty of people to have a very good time, numbers were further swelled by families in some cases. This is the most people and boats this messabout has ever enjoyed. Many thanks to Max Wawrzyniak for keeping track of who brought what boats, and especially for providing the photos! I brought a camera, but somehow never managed to take it out. Oh well.

The Squall

Max convinced me to write about the family’s experience launching the Light Schooner right into the “Perfect Storm”. His words. I didn’t think the storm was that bad, having been out in similar conditions in the Piccup Pram. (Don’t tell Jim.) But the piccup is a multichine hull, and not having this rig fully sorted out made matters worse than necessary.

We – that is me, my wife Colleen, and daughters Thalia & Rhea, aged 4 years and 20 months – arrived at Rend Lake Friday evening with just enough time to pitch camp by the headlights and turn in. Fortunately, my tent managed to keep out the rain.

The next morning it wasn’t raining anymore, but some of us didn’t feel like cooking in the mud and went to breakfast in town. Afterwards, it was back to rigging. I had planned to attend the Minnesota messabout the week before, but I’d never have been done in time. In fact, I still wasn’t done! After several hours of hastily tying things together, we launched the boat.

I immediately found out that my push pole gets in the way of the oars. I need to find a way to lash it to a mast or something. We rowed awkwardly out of the launch ramp’s cove. The rudder lift lanyard was not working well at all, so my eldest was at the wheel while the grownups rowed.

As soon as we got out into the main part of our branch of the lake we could see a dark gray smudge in the sky to the south. We thought this meant we were going to merely get wet. I also thought we could sail in before it hit. I was wrong.

I actually had an outboard in the cockpit, but I had never started it, had no idea if it would run, and knew it had 2-year-old gas in the tank. No time to start testing it, I thought.

Thalia was holding the wheel as I pulled in the jiffy reef on the main and hoisted it. Of course, the jiffy reef line caught a fitting way aft and I had to mess with it to free it. And the simple rope ties in place of mast hoops had a very annoying habit of binding. I got the sail up just about in time to catch the first BIG gusts. I sheeted in and realized I was going nowhere but downwind.

You know how you get used to certain conveniences? Well, the Michalak leeboard arrangement is very convenient. You hardly have to think about it. I had one on my old Piccup Pram. So I didn’t think about it. The trouble is, that’s not what the light schooner has! I realized that I had a big, heavy daggerboard laying in the bottom of the boat, and that the slot was on the lee side. There was no way I could stand on the lee deck holding a 30-pound piece of plywood in this wind. Without the board down in this wind, I couldn’t really steer either. So no chance of jibing, even if I was dumb enough to try it on a maiden voyage in strong wind.

There was nothing for it but getting the sail in and rowing to shore. Of course the plain rope parrels bound and the jiffy reefing line tangled, but I ultimately got the sail in. None too soon either, since I was running ashore faster than I’d like. It wasn’t yet a close call, but there was no room for anything to go wrong with getting the oars ready.

Of course that’s when the youngest decided that she simply had to be standing on her own. Breaking free of mom in a wildly rolling boat, she immediately fell and cut her lip. Not major, but painful. Thalia was also starting to get very cold, but still gripping the wheel like a true sailor.

Fortunately, it turned out not to be necessary for Colleen to try to row with a screaming child. Steve Lewis heroically porpoised over the whitecaps in one of the solid outboard skiffs of his own design, and Colleen threw him a line. Towing was rather rough. I was trying to steer to compensate for the wind, but it didn’t do much good. In fact, it pulled Steve’s stern cleat out. (Steve, I owe you a cleat!) Fortunately, by that time Richard Spelling was on the scene with his Pilot House Chebacco. Now that’s a boat for that kind of weather! I want one!

Richard hand signaled over the wind and motor for me to keep the rudder centered and finished the tow. I jumped into three feet of (warm) water to brute-force the boat onto the sand. Richard carried Thalia up the rather precipitous slope to the campsite, and Colleen took Rhea. Steve and I beached the boat solidly and followed.

A little ice on Rhea’s lip, a little warm milk in Thalia, and copious thanks to Richard & Steve made all well again. It even stopped raining.

Here’s the really galling part. I decided to test that outboard and it fired up and ran fine! Had I only known! Oh well. As Jim Michalak pointed out, another week or two and I’d have had it all worked out anyhow.

A few hours later the weather cleared and the family loaded up and motored out on the lake, hoisted main and fore, and sailed. Max was amazed we had it in us after rigging all morning and getting caught out, but as Colleen pointed out in her characteristically blunt way, “we came here to sail.” We must have very adaptable kids, because they loved it.

Colleen didn’t have enough hands at the time to hoist the jib, but the boat sailed well enough anyway. Just a bit of extra weather helm. It was quite fast even though the outboard prop was lowered the entire time. (I have to cut a slot in the motor well bulkhead to allow the Johnson 5.5 to tilt up. The motor well is designed for a much smaller engine.) With the motor up and the slot covered, this boat will fly! We just need to work out the bugs in the boat and our technique. Especially getting some beads on those parrels.

But the real lesson in all this is not to mess around with traditions that are millennia old. You see, we forgot to offer the customary libation at the launch of a new boat. Those old gods don’t take it well when you don’t give them their due. Would a bit of wine have made it turn out differently? Call me superstitious, but I’m certain the experience was meant to be a reminder. When I got back to Wisconsin, I made a point of anointing the new boat with some really good port wine as an apology. I hope those old gods like port!

Don’t miss the official commentary on the messabout at:


--Rob Rohde-Szudy--