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SMALL BOAT REVIEW Moths sailing in Tampa Bay in 1939. Photo courtesy Dave Ellis.

A hydrofoil Moth at the 2009 International Moth Worlds. Photo by Sean Trewes.

The Moth By Dave Ellis


o sailing craft has gone through as much change over its existence as the Moth. Started in the United States in 1929, the original Moth was always home-built. Since it was only 11 feet long and no more than five feet wide, it was easy to build by the average sailor. There was no set design for the hull. If a sailor thought of an innovative idea for a hull shape, in a few days the boat could be launched and sailed in a fleet among others’ bright ideas. The Moth shows up in many old newspaper clippings from the late 1930s through the ‘40s around the Tampa Bay, Florida, area. Most were ‘V’ bottomed with a rounded bow area. Former St. Petersburg Yacht Club sailing master, Del Jordan, built a few Moths using sheet metal. They say that there were numerous street signs missing in the area at the time. The boats were lightweight but noisy, and they leaked. But they went really fast while they lasted. Many old-timers sailed the Moth. My mother sailed hers in races on Big Bayou, St. Pete, in the 1930s, beating the boys in light air. Past St. Petersburg Yacht Club commodore Don Krippendorf raced Moths, one of which hung for years at the former Marina Point Ships Store at the St. Pete Municipal Marina. Page Obenshain, who owns the store, says Don took it back and plans to get it sailing again. By the mid to late 1950s plywood took the place of strip planking. Doug Halsey of St. Petersburg’s Big Bayou was a prolific builder of Moths. His thin aircraft ply boats ranged from scow types with flat bottoms and blunt bows to extreme ‘V’ shapes, narrow at the waterline with the top42 July 2010


sides extending far out to maximum beam at the deck. I owned two of these boats in the 1970s, and they both sailed very well indeed. The Miami Yacht Club had several Moths in the ’50s and ’60s. An icon of the class was Lew Twitchell. He was known to be still building his Moth while sailing out to the starting line. Then he would proceed to win. About the only time he lost was when Ed Sherman from St. Pete showed up with a Moth using a trapeze hiking aid. That, along with extendable hiking boards, was banned thereafter. Times change and by the early 1970s fewer people were interested in building their own boat. It was about that time that the Laser, the antitheses of the anything-goes hull of the Moth, was introduced. Most sailors went with the simplicity and off-the-shelf option of the Laser, and the Moth soon died off as a viable class. Meanwhile, in Australia—and later in Europe and the UK—a very similar boat was being sailed. It too was 11-feet long but had a more modern, bigger sail plan. When the United States adopted a sort of unified rule with the other fleets of the world for the Moth, development accelerated. The boats were certainly faster, but were so narrow and with such wide wings that only a few athletic sailors could manage to get around a racecourse. With an anything-goes philosophy, within the 11-foot length and set sail-area bounds, it was inevitable that flying the hull above the water with hydrofoils was developed. As early as the late 1970s there were Moths that had some