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SMALL BOAT REVIEW

THE

Blue Jay By Jabbo Gordon Photos by Diane and Peter Rothman

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The Blue Jay became a favorite junior training boat from Maine to Florida, but its popularity spread to the adult world, male and female, as well, and today, the class numbers more than 7,200, reaching from Canada to Mexico.

hen Ed Corns was just a lad of 12, living on Long Island Sound back in the ’50s, he and his father decided to buy a kit and build a wooden Blue Jayclass sailboat. It was a great bonding experience. However, while Ed was in school one day, his father finished the boat and decided to launch it himself. They lived right on a canal, and the elder Corns just rolled it down a bank and into the water. Then he took the bowline over to a dock, but as he stepped on the bow to board the boat, it capsized. “He turned it over before we ever used it,” Ed Corns said with a laugh. “That became one of those funny family stories.” A Blue Jay is a relatively stable vessel, but it can capsize easily if a person steps aboard incorrectly. And they are simple to sail, according to Corns, a Venice, FL, resident now. “I actually learned to sail on a Penguin when I was 10, and I crewed on Lightnings,” he said. “You know a Blue Jay is just a miniature Lightning.” Even a brief history, which can be found on the class association’s website (www.sailbluejay.org), refers to the Blue Jay as a “baby Lightning.” That is partially because

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January 2012

SOUTHWINDS

Drake H. Sparkman, head of Sparkman and Stevens, had a big hand in designing both boats. The two have a hard chine, and they carry a spinnaker. Although they may look alike, look at the measurements (Blue Jay first, followed by the Lightning). Overall length: Waterline length: Beam: Draft (board up/down):

13 feet 6 inches, 19 feet 10 feet 7 inches, 15 feet 3 inches 5 feet 2 inches, 6 feet 6 inches 6 inches/4 feet, 5 inches/ 4 feet 11 inches Weight: 275 pounds, 700 Sail area (main and jib): 90 square feet, 177 square feet Spinnaker: 56 square feet, 300 square feet Portsmouth rating: 108.6, 87.0 (A Butterfly has a Portsmouth rating of 108.3, and a Flying Tern’s rating is 108.6 while a Moth is 107.1.) Going back to the history, Sparkman fathered the vessel in 1947 by drawing the plans after his tenure as chairman of a yacht club’s junior sailing program. A friend suggested to Sparkman that he call his design a Blue Bird, but he decided on Blue Jay and marked a blue “J” on the sail, possibly thinking of the junior aspects. It became a favorite junior training boat from Maine to Florida, but the Blue Jay’s popularity spread to the adult world, male and female, as well, and today, the class numbers more than 7,200, reaching from Canada to Mexico. Building the early wooden boats ranged from homebuilt, like the Corns family, to numerous yacht builders, but the current official builder is Tom Allen Jr. of Allen Boat Co. in Buffalo, NY, which also builds—you guessed it— Lightnings. Allegra Knapp Mertz, who formed the International Blue Jay Class Association (IBJCA), served as its president for 35 years. Although the board has maintained a strict onedesign class, it agreed to allow fiberglass in the early ’60s. Blue Jays also used to have skegs like Lightnings, but most owners have removed them. William K. “Bill” Dunbar III is the president now, and he has been for 30 years. His wife, Julie, has served about the same length of time. “I’ve asked others if they wanted to be president, but they all say I’m doing a good job,” he said with a chuckle. “So, I’ve kept the job because I don’t want www.southwindsmagazine.com


Southwindsjanuary2012