SOUTH CAROLINA SAILING
Sea Island One-Designs – A Low Country Tradition Endures By Dan Dickison
Ernest Grimball IV at the helm with his father (Ernest III) in the middle of the boat. This is the second oldest of all the SIODs, built in 1947. Photo by Priscilla Parker.
hat can you say about a class of boat which some of its most ardent fans refer to as a “potato barge?” That’s right. The Sea Island One-Design—a peculiar species indigenous to the waters around Charleston, SC—is a craft that prompts equal parts admiration and well-intended ribbing. At 20.5 feet LOA (with a 7-foot, 4inch beam), these hard-chined vessels appear decidedly boxy. In fact, it’s been said by at least one sailor close to the class: “It looks like they’re sailin’ the box that the real boat came in.” Despite this levity, the boat’s longevity—with roots stretching back 63 years—has fostered a dedicated, almost reverential following among sailors and non-sailors alike, and in these waters, the Sea Island One-Design is as much of a sailing tradition as any other. The SIOD has its heritage in the shallow, flat-bottomed “bateaux” that were once used by growers to ferry freight (yes, occasionally potatoes) and passengers back and forth between South Carolina’s Sea Islands and the mainland. But the design owes much of its origin to Oliver F. Seabrook, a local farmer and renowned sailor whose ideas held sway in the late 1940s. At that time, Seabrook and other local racers were dissatisfied with the trend of new, faster boats coming on the scene every two or three years. Inevitably, whichever boat was newest dominated nearly every race, a situation that contemporary competitors will tell you gets tiresome pretty quickly. To resolve this arms-race scenario, the area yacht clubs decided to establish a standard design that everyone would use. A vote was taken, a strategy approved, and Seabrook was chosen to convey the parameters of this new design to naval architect Henry Scheel of Connecticut, who would draw the plans. Over two decades later, Seabrook recalled the process: “I took the best features of the three fastest and best sailing scows in the area and sent them to Scheel.” After Scheel executed the plans, the first two SIODs— the Marcheta and the Undine V—were built in 1947. Two more, the Cygnet (1948) and the Doghouse (1950), took shape after that. And for the next 40 years, that was the size of the fleet. But by the late ’80s, the class was losing steam. That’s when a number of fortuitous things happened. In the summer of ’89, local sailor John Gervais won his class at one of the region’s marquee events—the Rockville Regatta—aboard a very worn-out Marcheta. That victory sparked renewed interest in the boats. And the following winter, Van Smith, a lifelong sailor who grew up around these boats, commissioned local boatbuilder Mark Bayne of Sea Island Boat Works to build a fifth SIOD, which he christened the Privateer. Eventually, a total of eight SIODs were built, the last one hitting the water circa 1995. Among the many remarkable aspects of this class, perhaps most notable is the fact that all eight boats are still actively sailed. But that hasn’t www.southwindsmagazine.com