Fiddlers Green

Carl Schumacher


Carl Schumacher, a naval architect who designed the celebrated Express series of sailboats, died Feb. 5, 2002, at the age of 52 at his home in Alameda, Calif. Remembered for his humble manner and open spirit, Schumacher operated his one-man design firm overlooking the water on the island of Alameda between San Francisco and Oakland since 1977.

Terry Alsberg, founder of the Santa Cruz-based Alsberg Boat Works, eulogized Schumacher thus: “Carl was more than a just a clever designer; he was just the kind of person you liked to work with. He was a can-do kind of guy who worked his tail off to please his clients. He was of course creative, intelligent and savvy in the ways of yacht design. Perhaps most importantly, he was the sort of mellow, sensible kind of guy who designed real boats for real people. We shared a common vision, that sailboats should be as user-friendly as they are fast.” Alsberg and Schumacher collaborated on Express 27, 34 and 37 projects.

Schumacher, who designed more than 50 custom and production sailboats, designed the popular Alerion-Express, a sleek daysailer that was known for its traditional appearance and modern performance.

Schumacher was a member of the Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda and a long-serving member of the Northern California Performance Handicap Racing Fleet committee.

Thor Heyerdahl


Whether you believe that an early migration from Africa to South America took place aboard reed boats, or that ancient South Americans populated the islands of the South Pacific by building and sailing rafts of balsa, there was something about Thor Heyerdahl’s personality and wandering adventure stories that made his fans want to believe in what he proposed. The Norwegian adventurer and would-be anthropologist, who died on April 19 at the age of 87, sold millions of books that detailed his efforts to prove vague theories of early exploration.

Heyerdahl achieved fame and fortune with the publication of Kon-Tiki, Across the Pacific by Raft, an account of his 4,300-nm journey from Peru to Raroia in 1947. Heyerdahl and his five companions — and a parrot — averaged a miserable 42.5 nm per day. They navigated by sextant, carried no life raft and caught numerous sharks by pulling them aboard by their tails. But the book remains, 55 years later, just as fresh, since it effectively portrays the joyful banter of a happy crew of friends at sea. (Despite criticism from the scientific establishment, Kon-Tiki was translated from Norwegian into 65 languages.)

Consider the following section, in which Heyerdahl is asking a companion, quietly reading Goethe while stretched out in the shaded cabin, while the raft is mid-Pacific:

“‘Bengt,’ I said, pushing away the green parrot that wanted to perch on the logbook, ‘can you tell me how the hell we came to be doing this?’

“Goethe sank down under the red-gold beard. ‘The devil I do; you know best yourself. It was your damned idea, but I think it’s grand.’

“He moved his toes three bars up and went on reading Goethe unperturbed. Outside the cabin, three other fellows were working in the roasting sun on the bamboo deck. They were half-naked, brown-skinned and bearded, with stripes of salt down their backs and looking as if they had never done anything else than float wooden rafts westward across the Pacific.”

Regardless of Heyerdahl’s scientific theories, Kon-Tiki holds an unquestionably important place in the literature of the sea, since it is one of the last accounts — before satellite navigation and inflatable canister-type life rafts — of a sailor who, with few safeguards, willingly and boldly sailed into the unknown.

Lyle Hess


Lyle Hess, the Southern California boat designer who inspired an enthusiastic following for his quirky, seaworthy designs, died in July at the age of 90. Hess designed numerous traditional-looking small craft, notable for their ability to handle rough weather and also be slippery in light air.

“Lyle was a great man, a real artist as a designer and someone who absolutely loved boats. He was one of my heroes,” said Larry Pardey, who had been friends with Hess since the late 1960s and built two wooden boats to his designs, from his home and workshop in Kawau, New Zealand. “The thing about Lyle’s boats is that they were so good in light air. All I can do is rave about the two boats he designed for me (Seraffyn and Taleisin), which almost never lost steerage in light air, despite several circumnavigations. This one factor of the designs is why we felt comfortable sailing the world without a motor.”

Several companies still actively build Hess designs, including Samuel Morse Co., based in Costa Mesa, Calif., as well as Nor’Sea and Montgomery Boats of Ontario, Calif.

Friends and colleagues of Hess described a man devoted to boatbuilding and assisting others in their projects. Although well known in certain circles, Hess never achieved wealth from his work, perhaps because of his lack of interest in developing the business aspect of his work. He never advertised, relying on word of mouth to gain design contracts. “He was really proud of that fact,” Pardey said. “He wasn’t a very good businessman, but I think he had a clear conscience.”

Born in Blackfoot, Idaho, in 1912, Hess moved with his family to Southern California while still a boy, becoming immediately entranced with the ocean and boats. From a young age he began hanging around shipyards and was “the kid who always asked questions,” according to Pardey. Hess apprenticed to several shipwrights in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area, eventually founding his own company in the 1940s, L.A. Yacht Yard in Harbor City, Calif., with his partner Roy Barteaux. His first two vessels were a wooden motor-sailer and a 36-foot cutter called Westward Ho. Hess cultivated an interest in British designs like the Bristol Channel pilot cutters. He made the underbodies finer, hollowing out the garboard area and cutting away the forefoot. His Nor’Sea 27- and 37-footers and his 28-foot design for Samuel Morse Co. represent this work. Hess never received formal training as a naval architect but relied on his contact with master builders of the early 20th century for his finely tuned eye.

“Lyle worked closely with Charlie Weckman, a shipwright who built Henry B. Hyde, the last American square-rigger. Weckman would build these 150-foot oceangoing tugs, which he would hang the rudders for. Lyle told me you could move these massive rudders with one finger,” Pardey said. “I learned 90 percent of my boatbuilding skills from him; when I was building Seraffyn in the late 1960s, he would loan me his tools, his adze and slick, which were very personal tools. He was always that way.”

It was publicity stemming from the Pardeys’ success with Seraffyn, a 24-foot engineless cutter design based on the popular 25-foot Renegade, that rekindled an interest in Hess’ designs, following their debut sail from California to England in 1968. Hess developed what he described as a go-anywhere trailer-sailer, a series of designs that included the Balboa, a 20-foot double ender. “He worked thousands of hours to get that boat right,” Pardey said. “But he worked equally hard developing all his designs. He worked just as hard on developing Fatty Knees, his 8-foot dinghy, as he did on Taleisin, our second boat.”

Roger Olson, former owner of Samuel Morse Co., had similar respect for Hess. “He helped me get my first Balboa, helped me get to know it and gave me enough information about how to sail it around Baja,” Olson said. Olson wrote up his adventures in a 1977 issue of Yachting, an adventure story that was also a tribute to Hess. Olson spent 13 years voyaging in a 28-foot Hess pilot cutter.

An irony of Hess’ life is that he was not an ocean sailor, perhaps as a result of his interest in cultivating his building and design skills and having a family to support. “He was an accomplished coastal sailor. But to my knowledge, he never did an ocean passage,” Olson said. “He was devoted to his wife ‘Doodle’ and their kids. He chose to stay around.”

In his later years, Hess was doted on by former colleagues and friends, including Olson, Pardey and Bob Eeg, a principal at Nor’Sea. “We would go over to his house, even after he went blind, and take him sailing, take him to the boatyards,” Eeg said. “He was a magnificent man.”

Harman Hawkins


Harman Hawkins, a long-time judge for the U.S. Yacht Racing Union and International Yacht Racing Union, died Dec. 17 at the age of 83. He was a member of the Cruising Club of America and eight times skippered vessels in the Bermuda Race and three times in the Halifax Race. He cruised much of the east coast of North America, Caribbean, northern Europe and Mediterranean. He was a member of the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club on Long Island, N.Y., serving as its commodore.

Hawkins was a jurist in numerous yacht races, including in the Olympics in Korea, Admiral’s Cup, Hawaii’s Clipper Cup, China Seas Race in the southwest Pacific, several Bermuda races, Keil Week, European 470s in Hungary, Congressional Cup, the Etchells Worlds, Bermuda International Race Week, Block Island Race Week and International One Designs.

As an attorney, Hawkins served several America’s Cup efforts, including the successful 1985 attempt by the Royal Perth Yacht Club to allow America’s Cup races to be held during the Austral summer. Hawkins chaired the legal committee of the America’s Cup Organizing Committee. Hawkins served the Coast Guard during World War II. He donated a 30,000-volume collection of papers, logs and photographs to Mystic Seaport in 1995 and 1996, which includes extensive records of his involvement with the USYRU, which has since changed its name to the U.S. Sailing Association (USSA). Hawkins was also a member of the Storm Trysail Club.

Dick Stimson


Dick Stimson, a two-time winner of the Newport-Bermuda Race, died Jan. 10 at the age of 68 after a brief battle with cancer. A life member of the Annapolis Yacht Club and charter member of the Eastport (Md.) Yacht Club, Stimson became a member of the Storm Trysail Club in 1987.

He sailed his first Bermuda Race in 1958 and went on to sail numerous ocean races, including the Buenos Aires-Rio Race and Halifax Race, several times. Stimson won the George Mixter Trophy twice as navigator of the fleet-winning boat in the Bermuda Race: in 1976 (Running Tide) and 1988 (Congere).

Born in Chicago in 1933, Stimson was educated at Culver Military Academy (1951) and Purdue University (1955) before attending Harvard Business School for his MBA. He served in the Far East in the Marine Corps and was decorated for valiant service. Beginning in 1970, Stimson worked as a marine surveyor and compass adjuster based in Severna Park, Md.

Mark Soverel


Mark Soverel, an accomplished sailor and designer of race boats, died at the age of 52 on Jan. 3 at his home in Palm City, Fla. The cause was cancer. Soverel’s most successful designs included the Soverel 26, a Midget Offshore Racing Club winner; and the Soverel 33, a popular, ultra-light production raceboat, which enjoys a happy owner’s group. The group’s website,, offered this assessment of his boat: “The Soverel 33 is a fast, light, fun and exciting, performance sailing yacht, raced where ever there is sailing in America. The boat is the forerunner to today’s modern sport boats, with its innovative open stern and high sail area to displacement ratio.” Soverel also designed the 1983 Admiral’s Cup winner, the 43-foot U.S. entry Locura.

Stanley Rosenfeld


Stanley Rosenfeld, a photographer best known for his stately images of America’s Cup boats in the 1930s, died Dec. 23 at the age of 89. Rosenfeld covered America’s Cup races for 65 years, in the early years with his father Morris Rosenfeld. The Rosenfeld duo was a common sight at Cup races, flitting about in their succession of distinctive wooden chase boats Foto I, II and III.

Rosenfeld produced some 20 books of photographs and attended Cup races until 1992. Rosenfeld sold his work to Mystic Seaport in 1984, which now licenses his images as The Rosenfeld Collection.

David Lewis


“I ponder what seems like a certain rendezvous with death.” Those words, written by Dr. David Lewis during the autumn of 1972, while aboard Icebird, his 32-foot steel sloop, lying dismasted, at 60° south latitude, in 45 knots of blowing snow, 3,600 nm and six weeks out of Sydney, bound for the Antarctic Peninsula. Lewis, medical doctor, sailor, explorer, anthropologist and prolific author has died at age 85.

Born in Plymouth, England, an only child of a Welsh-Irish family, on Sept. 6, 1917, Lewis was raised in New Zealand and Rarotonga. From an early age, Lewis exhibited an adventurous spirit. When he completed his studies at the Wanganui Collegiate School in New Zealand at age 17, he informed the headmaster that he intended to travel the 450 miles home to Auckland on his own, using a canoe he had built, via river, lake, portage and seacoast. The superintendent objected, but was overruled by Lewis’ own parents. He completed the journey, shooting the Tongariro River, a feat that had been achieved only once before, in 50 days. While attending premedical studies at Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island, he ascended 19 unclimbed peaks, one of which, Mount Carinna, now bears his mother’s name.

After completing his medical studies in England in 1942, Lewis went on to serve with the British Army’s 9th Parachute Battalion, serving in France after D-Day, during the final year and some of the most intense fighting of the war. This experience left him with very definite impressions of human conflict and the need for avoiding it.

Lewis’ oceangoing exploits began after the breakup of his first marriage, restless and desirous for adventure, he turned to the sea. In 1960, he entered the first Observer Single-handed Transatlantic Race, finishing third in a fleet of five, behind Chichester and Hassler. This passage took 54 lonely days in his 25-foot sloop Cardinal Vertue. Remarkably, Lewis was dismasted while still within sight of England, but opted to continue under a jury rig. This passage spawned the first of Lewis’ many books, The Ship Would Not Travel Due West. A lesser man would have retired from the race and sought refuge, but that was not Lewis’ way, a trait he would exhibit during later adventures.

After the Cardinal Vertue voyage, in Lewis’ own words, “the call of distant seas became irresistible.” In 1964, he set out in Rehu Moana, a 40-foot catamaran, on a circumnavigation, the first ever for a multihull, via the Straits of Magellan and Cape of Good Hope. With him were his second wife Fiona and two children, Vickie and Susie, one and two years old, respectively. This voyage produced Lewis’ next two books, Daughters of the Wind and Children of Three Oceans. The die was cast; Lewis would repeat this successful process of voyage and book many times over in the next 35 years, eventually authoring 13 tomes on seafaring, navigation and his related experiences.

Many other passages and projects would follow. These included resurrecting the long-thought-lost navigational techniques of the Polynesian seafarers and Australian aborigines. The most epic of all of these, however, must be that of the Icebird saga. In the fall of 1972, Lewis set out from Sydney aboard the aforementioned hastily prepared and rigged 32-foot steel sloop Icebird. His intention was to circumnavigate the Antarctic Peninsula. In this endeavor, he failed — nearly losing his life several times in the process. He did, however, succeed in becoming the first individual to sail solo to this continent. The passage from Australia to Palmer Station, the U.S. research base located on Anvers Island, lasted 14 weeks. In this time, Lewis was not heard from and he spoke to no ships along the way. His friends and family thought him lost, and he nearly was.

He endured the worst the Southern Ocean had to offer, most of the passage, which ultimately ended in Cape Town, traversed the Furious Fifties and Screaming Sixties. Dismasted twice and capsized three times, the entire voyage lasted six and a half months and covered nearly 11,000 nm.

Described by a close friend and shipmate as, “a typical Polynesian sailor, getting into trouble through haste and neglect, then, with near superhuman courage and seamanship, fighting his way out of it.” Lewis’ judgment was often questioned, voyaging to the Antarctic aboard a vessel that possessed no source of heat and the hasty preparation of most of his boats for sea (in Lewis’ own words, “problems that were not solved were pushed aside”); however, his seamanship was superb.

Bestowed upon him were numerous and well-deserved awards, including Gold Medals of the Royal and Australian Institutes of Navigation, New Zealand Yachtsman of the Year, and Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America, among many others.

Lewis reveled in expeditionary cruising, undertaking voyages requiring audacity, courage and the spirit of adventure. Near the end, despite a prosthetic hip and blindness, he continued to cruise with the help of friends.

His ashes were scattered in the Pacific in January 2003.

Steve C. D’Antonio

By Ocean Navigator