Kelpie: Fastest Schooner in the West

Saturday, 28 May 2011 12:57

The 65-foot (82-foot LOA) staysail schooner Kelpie, built of longleaf yellow pine, was one of the first yachts to come out of the Gamage yard in 1928, built for a New York stockbroker on the on the eve of the Great Depression. She was designed by the firm of Ford, Payne, and Swiesguth, based in New York. Francis Sweisguth had designed the Star-class sloop in 1910 when he was working in the office of naval architect William Gardner, and in 1933 went on to design the Interlake dinghy. Both Star and Interlake remain popular today as top competitive one-design classes, just as Kelpie endures as a testament to inspired original design, fine construction, and meticulous maintenance and restoration.

During World War II, Kelpie became part of the famous Coastal Picket Patrol, also known as the Corsair Fleet or the “,” started by officers of the and overseen by the U.S. Coast Guard. These private vessels, many of them CCA sailboats, patrolled the 50-fathom curve off the U.S. Atlantic coast year-round in fair and foul weather during World War II, on the lookout for German U-boats. Kelpie’s beat was off the coast of Maine.

The view from the galley aft to the companionway and mainmast. Note the cutting board lowered on hinges and the fiddles in the galley and on the dining table beyond. First and foremost, Kelpie is a sea-boat.

After the war, Kelpie sailed to Mexico, Hawaii, and the Pacific. She eventually settled in California, where she became known as the fastest schooner on the West Coast, sailing against other legends like the 71-foot Alden schooner Dauntless, topsail schooners Alcyone and Spike Africa, and the Fife-designed Astor in the America’s Schooner Cup, the Newport-to-Ensenada Race, and many other events.

“In big winds it was like driving a runaway freight train,” said Mike O’Connor, owner of in Dana Point, California, and Kelpie’s captain for 10 years. “And when we were doing charters it was like giving pony rides on a thoroughbred. Under pretty much any conditions it was a well-mannered boat – one of the best boats I’ve ever driven.”

O’Connor broke a 54-year-old record aboard Kelpie in the Newport-to-Ensenada Race in 2000, when Kelpie took first in the Ancient Mariner division, first multi-mast to finish, first schooner to finish, and first schooner on corrected time. Dennis Conner chartered Kelpie in 2004 to try to set a new record, but it was not to be — O’Connor’s record still stands.

Kelpie was totally rebuilt between 1990 and 1993, and has been refitted periodically ever since. She’s still going strong as a favorite on the Pacific wooden boat circuit and among classic yacht lovers everywhere.

As of this writing, Here’s hoping she finds new owners who deserve her.

Posted: 2011-05-26 09:12:50