LUC McSWEENEY MAHEU — PHOTOS LATITUDE / TIM UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
hen I first met Luc McSweeney Maheu, he was wearing a kilt. It was the 2017 Master Mariners luncheon, and McSweeney was posing for a picture with his Master Mariners regatta sponsor at St. Francis Yacht Club. With long hair pulled into a ponytail, big, dangling, gauged earnings, a Van Dyke beard, barrel chest and tattoos, McSweeney looked every bit the brawny sailor plucked from another century. "He's built like a brick shithouse," said an acquaintance. "The guy could practically step a mast without a crane. He's got a lot of color." I ran into Luc again about a year later at Berkeley Marine Center as he was hauling out his 60-ft schooner Tiger for the 2018 Master Mariners. From a distance, and given his robustness, McSweeney might appear like a no-nonsense dude, like someone you would have taken care to avoid in the back alleys of the Barbary Coast 150 years ago. But Luc McSweeney is the nicest guy you'll ever meet. He explained Tiger's origins. She was a pinky schooner, he said, not a replica, per se, but a rebuild of a boat originally constructed in 1830 that fished commercially for almost 50 years, and might have worked as a pilot vessel thereafter. I would eventually ask McSweeney if he was a historian. "No," he said. "But I am in the ways that I am: My knowledge is based on maritime McSweeney's 'Tiger' on the hard at Berkeley Marine Center in 2018.
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historical evidence and experience, my time at sea, and what works and what doesn't." For McSweeney, the better word to use, I would find, was heritage instead of history. "I sought out Tiger and made it home because I knew the original fished and worked and had life, and all of that poured right into this bill — and I can certainly feel it when we're out playing around." I finally sat down with Luc onboard Tiger at the Point San Pablo Yacht Club last October on a super-dry, sunny day. He met me on the dock holding two ice-cold Wisenheimers, a wheaty German beer that went perfectly with the parched fall weather. Luc McSweeney is a licensed merchant marine. He went to sea as a young man, and then to Cal Maritime in his late 20s. In addition, he does a variety of educational and corporate charters on Tiger, and also runs Tiller and Gaff, a supplier of handmade tools and crafts for traditional sailors. He started his business, he said, in an effort to bring balance to a seaman's life — but also, to further explore the depths of his legacy. "Tiller and Gaff was a way for me to legitimize my heritage, my knowledge and my craft, and to preserve the art of sailor craft. It's something I've been into since I was a kid. I shipped out at a very young age, and I was always twiddling with twine and doing marlinspike seamanship and scrimshawing and tattooing. You know, normal sailor things. "But I was looking for something to do with the other six months of my life. When you ship out, you go to Alaska, you go to Hawaii, and then you come home and it's like, 'I kind of just want to hang out.' And for me, that was working with my hands and making sure that Tiger was alive and in use, but also, expressing myself in an artistic and functional way. I've had a lot of fun putting my artistic twist on my grandfather's ditty bag. These are real heritage tools for me, but I'm putting them out there to the world."
hat are we calling "traditional sailing" exactly? Is it the vessels themselves, be it an original, restoration or replica? Something with a wooden hull, wooden masts and hemp rigging? Or, is it the sailors themselves, the scope of which includes, as it did 150 years ago, people from all walks of life, some of whom are new to sailing? Or, conversely, is it people with sailing in their blood who have an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure boats and maritime culture on the tips of their tongues? Traditional sailing, in our estimation, is an amalgam of all these boats and people. "When I say traditional sailing, I'm referring to the craft in which we are transiting," McSweeney told me, as we sipped our beers. "As far as my interest and passion, it's really been focused on classic and traditional sailing, whether that's a square-rigged or gaff-rigged or a certain hull type.
The May 2019 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.