SMALL BOAT REVIEW Durica belongs to Fleet 69, which is homeported in Dunedin, FL, along with six or seven other active skippers most of whom keep their vessels in city marine slips. Regulations require all boats to motor out to the bay, but a two-horsepower outboard is sufficient to the task. “Our numbers grow when the snow birds come down from up north,” he said. “And St. Joseph’s Sound is a perfect place to sail.” All Florida fleets are part of the class’ Region IV, which covers competition from Colorado to the Caribbean. Another regional hotbed of Ensigns is Fleet 2, which sails on Galveston Bay near Houston. That group consistently puts 12 boats on the line for any given race. Appreciated by former dinghy sailors and cruisers alike, the Ensign skipper usually recruits three others to race with him or her. Since it has no lifelines, Ensign sailors often employ dinghy tactics such as hiking-out, roll-tacking and popping the chute off the wind. Another association objective is to promote the vessel as a family boat for recreational sailing. The Ensign has a large cockpit that can hold eight easily. The vessel is a comfortable day sailer, especially when using a working jib. For cruisers, an owner might equip his Ensign with a roller furling genoa. “You have all this room,” Durica said. “You sail in an Ensign rather than on one. That is why some people call it a little big boat. It’s also popular because of the way it sails. It’s smooth and there’s no weather helm. You can steer it with two fingers.” “I think the Ensign has beautiful lines,” said Elizabeth Brincklow, Durica’s wife of 25 years. “It has the same look as a larger boat.” Brincklow served as class secretary before being elected the association’s commodore in 2005 for a two-year term. She also is in charge of foredeck on the Durica vessel but can race any of the four positions. “At the same time, it is a family boat,” she said. “Our class has an age range from late 20s into the 80s. And it (the class) is being refreshed by younger people coming in.” L.K. Bradley of nearby Palm Harbor, FL, calls the Ensign a classic sailboat. “It’s maintained its popularity through the years,” he said. “The Ensign is a fun and easy boat to sail. It will forgive you of many indiscretions. That’s why the Ensign is a good platform for teaching.” A US SAILING-certified instructor and instructor trainer, Bradley adds that the Ensign is very seaworthy. “That full length, low keel will get you through some pretty nasty stuff,” he commented. “Yet, if you run aground, it is relatively easy to get off. “You might want to hide your face, but you don’t have to hide your wallet. It can be like Humphrey Bogart said in the movie African Queen. You can look, but don’t laugh or you can’t come back.” The Ensign’s rudder also attaches to the full-length keel, and that feature can help the vessel navigate safely through a sea of crab pots, always something to watch for especially in Gulf of Mexico waters and adjacent bays. Bradley admits that the Ensign is not light and it has “enough lead in its butt to keep you standing up if you make a mistake. You have to hike to be competitive, but that is uncomfortable because of the coaming around the cockpit. In addition, it doesn’t have a head.” 54
Down below, in the forward cuddy cabin. Photo by Zeke Durica.
But Bradley had one for eight years and would still be sailing one if it were not for a couple of heart attacks. He has also owned a variety of other boats including a Sunfish and a Y-Flyer. Durica, on the other hand, has owned very few other class boats. His company’s slogan is, “The Ensign Classic may not be the first boat you purchase, but it will be last boat you own.” To say that he likes an Ensign would be a monumental understatement. “I guess that over the years, I’ve owned 50,” he estimated. “It’s been crazy, but I hold the class record for number of boats owned. I’ll buy an older one, refurbish it and then sell it. I try to do one at a time, but sometimes, I’ve had as many as three or four.” Rick Snell of the Houston Yacht Club praises the camaraderie that is apparent among the class members. “There’s lot of cooperation,” he said. “Everybody wants everyone to be better. For example, we tell newcomers that the Ensign should be sailed flat. For racing, it’s critical.” Snell also commented on maintenance, saying that it really depends on the boat owner. “The Ensign could be high maintenance for racers, and for those who have older, restored boats, there’s always a lot of tweaking going on,” he said. “But for cruisers, there may not be much.” In conclusion, let’s go back to this name business. Dean Snyder of Houston’s Fleet 2 has won the national championship four times and owned a 1967 model before he bought his current Ensign in 1980. He had left a big oil company to join a small, three-person company. “Since the Ensign is a little boat, my wife and I agreed to call it Little Oil, although she still worked for big oil,” Snyder said. Snell’s boat is burgundy in color and because he has traveled extensively in Italy, it was no big mystery as to why he named it Chianti. “I get a nudge or two that I better not ‘whine’ about racing since my boat was named for a wine,” he added. Durica’s current personal boat is called Vision for a very good reason. Her sail number? 2020. A native of San Diego, CA, Jabbo Gordon, 74, grew up in North Carolina and Florida where he learned to sail at age 11. He is retired from the Navy and is a US SAILING-certified instructor and instructor trainer, as well as club race officer. Gordon holds a OPUV license with the Coast Guard and is administrator and an instructor with the Venice Youth Boating Association. www.southwindsmagazine.com