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Montgomery Street - #55

Photos

The Denning family began their 34-year involvement with the Cal 40, Montgomery Street in the spring of 1969.  True to his nature, my dad, Jim didn’t tell anybody of his plans to trade in the 30 foot, wooden, Hurricane Class Sloop that he built and launched in 1958.

When I saw the Cal 40 pull into our slip on the San Rafael Canal she looked like a Gold Plater-Mega Yacht compared to the hurricane.  In the 60s, a forty-footer was a large boat!

When I first stepped aboard, my excitement grew even more. Sooo much room! We could comfortably sleep 8, and someone didn’t have to leave their bunk to allow access to the toilet.

The boat was completely equipped to go ocean racing.  We had harnesses with whistles, and those little single cell flashlights, overboard poles with strobes, big flashlights and an anchor light that matched the strobes. The big bronze Barient 2 speed winches with ratcheting handles were “state of the art” for that time. Everything was clean and shiny and new looking, and since the boat had been the broker demo boat, we were the first “owners”.

My dad, Jim, had dreamed of racing a Transpac, and at the ripe old age of 55 and with little experience as an ocean racer, he figured that no one would ever invite him to crew so he bought the boat. We had done numerous Lightship and Windjammer races, and he and I both enjoyed going “outside”.

My lack of experience, and busy summer schedule precluded me from crewing on this race, and I didn’t push to go.  Frank Bilek had been on Transpac before, and he was chosen to be project manager. He proceeded to load the boat like he would have loaded Java Head, or another wooden displacement boat. We even installed a false floor between the bunks for additional storage. There was a tool for every conceivable emergency, with back-up tools, and back-ups for them. When I compare what we took in 85 to the load carried in 69, I wonder how they ever got the boat to surf, but they sure did! They made the finish in almost exactly 12 days.  Frank, a well-known marine surveyor, decided that the boat was noisy, unmanageable and dangerous.

Montgomery Street made the return trip in just over 14 days. I first steered her from the St. Francis yacht Club through Raccoon Straights with the spinnaker up. The, now experienced, crew laughed at me as I tried to control the boat on a headstay reach. From that day, I was hooked.  We raced YRA, every Danforth, Half Moon Bay, Santa Barbara, Mazatlan, Cabo, and every Transpac from 69 through 91 except the 79  (slowest ever) race.

My first long distance ocean race was the 70 Mazatlan race. We didn’t do well, but Laurie Timpson had a never ending string of dirty jokes that made us want to get there ASAP.

In 73 I sailed my first Transpac, and it was relatively uneventful. I do remember the pinpoint accuracy of our Australian born navigator. Ian Moody had navigated as a job in the oceans around his home country with the pinpoint accuracy necessary to find some of the tiny islands that they visited. He stuck his head out of the companionway at about midnight, and told me to watch for a light. As he pointed toward the port bow, a light flashed at the tip of his finger. Our hostess at the finish was a gorgeous woman who promptly deserted us for a bigger boat with more bachelors in the crew.

Our navigation wasn’t always that good. On the 83 Cabo Race the naviguessor did his calculations with grease pencil on a sheet of plastic, and then erased the results, which effectively erased our log. I had no way of checking his work when he suddenly announced that we had to drop the chute and jib reach for that night and the next day to make the finish line in Cabo. A navigational error also gave us the opportunity to see the cliffs towering over the leper colony on Molokai during the 75 Transpac. This dramatic view was almost worth the embarrassment of the DFL in our class.

The core crew for the local racing was my Dad Jim, my wife Suzy, Dave Killian, and myself. Dave usually delivered the boat home from the long distance races. I filled out the crew with friends chosen more for their attitude than skills. In fact, most of them joined the crew with no previous sailing experience, but they could eat cold fried chicken in the most challenging of conditions.

One of my strongest Danforth Series memories is when we were sailing out from under the protection of Point Reyes on our way to Bodega Head buoy with just Ralph Harding and me on deck. We were getting hammered. The leeward winches were under water, and I was hanging on to the weather lifeline to keep from being pitched over the leeward side and into the water. When I looked over at Ralph, he was grinning ear-to-ear, and chuckling, “This is just perfect. Isn’t this great?” I didn’t know whether to be assured, or fear for my life with this madman at the helm.

The 81 Transpac had a couple of memorable moments. The first was about ½ hour after Rick Shultz and I had been relieved from our 9 to midnight watch. There were several severe rolls combined with banging and crashing as we rounded up, and then down several times. The tool drawer went flying across the cabin, narrowly missing one of the crewmembers in his bunk on the low side.

I was first on deck, and I can still visualize the sight. My dad was floating around the back of the flooded cockpit on his tether. There, through the driving rain, standing before me was a vision of the helmsman, eyes wide, frozen, with a death grip on the tiller. I had to pry his hands off the tiller and push him out of the way to regain control. We were surfing at full speed with the spinnaker pole half way to vertical, the main jibed to the wrong side, and a giant tear in the main between the top 2 battens. As the Bosun’, I spent from midnight until breakfast sewing the main, and damaged spinnaker.

I was once told that every sea story begins with “Christ, there we were” and ends with “She went down like a greased refrigerator”.

That thought was running through my head!

My other, hazy, memory is of the party when we finished. Our sponsor’s recipe called for a “float” of 151 rum in the Mai-Tais, but his daughter made the entire batch entirely with the 151. When the host found out, he tried to warn us but it was too late. When they threw Jim into the water, I suggested that someone go with him since he couldn’t swim. He almost went down like a “greased refrigerator”.

In 1982, my Dad and I lost control of all reason. We hauled Montgomery Street at Cal Coast Marine, where I was working, and performed major surgery. First we pulled the rig, engine and tanks. Then I took a skillsaw to the bottom. When I was done, there was a hole about 14 feet by 3 feet where the keel had been. I then picked up the hull in the Tami Lift and rolled her over and set her on 55-gallon drums. Les Harlander, boatyard owner and naval engineer, determined the size, shape and placement of the new keel. A plug was made of the “stubby” and a part made off of the plug. Bruce Heckman (of the Olsen 30, Saint Anne) had just joined the boatyard crew, and it was the two of us that fabricated the new bottom under the watchful eyes of Don Peters, boatyard manager and Myron Spaulding the IOR measurer. Keelco cast a new lead keel, and when it arrived we set Montgomery Street on it and bolted it up.

With the new keel, we decided we needed a new, Dave Hulse built, 2 spreader, internal halyard mast. Since this involved moving the chainplates inboard, I had to strengthen the main bulkheads.  While I was at it, I peeled most of the secondary bonds throughout the boat and replaced them with significantly stronger laminations. Now we had a new keel and mast, so why not a new Volvo 2002 diesel engine? This was all quite out of character for my Depression Era Dad, Jim, who was thrilled when given a box of slightly used sandpaper by one of my co workers. I guess he figured that this was a golden opportunity, with his son able to use the facility, and volunteering to do much of the work for free. The final bill was very reasonable, and would look like “chump change” in today’s boat-bucks.

During this time, big projects were happening at Cal Coast. We had worked with the BMW for Bravura II on the fabrication and instillation of a new, updated and lightweight cockpit. We had worked on Scarlett O’Hara, Merlin and Wall Street Duck and we were building Les Harlander’s radical 40 footer Mirage.

Montgomery Street was launched just in time for the 83 Cabo San Lucas Race. The boat handled beautifully except for some lee helm in light conditions. After the race, the boat became stranded in Mexico when the delivery skipper jumped ship. We finally got the boat back up to the Bay in late May, and just had time to prepare for the 83 Transpac. For this race, the boat got a new, state-of-the-art boom that was the full original length and replaced the shortened “high aspect” boom that had been popular in the 70s. The new boom also eliminated the lee helm, and I believe that Les Harlander had placed the new keel according to the original sail plan.

The 83 Transpac was a fun one, and we had the boat going well. My wife, Suzy, remembers seeing our name in 3rd place on the standings chalkboard for several days, only to be bumped to 4th on the day we finished. The ghost of our name was still on the chalkboard under the name of the eventual 3rd place finisher. We missed placing by minutes, and I could look back and easily see where we had squandered this amount of time.

I took this lesson to heart, and was determined to go 100% in 85.  To this end, I wanted to optimize the boat, and select the best crew that had ever sailed on the boat. I told my Dad that I wanted to skipper the race, and he agreed to let me run the project. We hauled the boat and put a sexy, white Micron bottom and bold black bootstripe to complement the silver topsides. The Transpac Committee had again raised the minimum rating so we added sail area. The spinnaker pole grew by a bunch, and the kites were 20% larger than the stock Cal 40. Our first spinnaker set was breathtaking! The sail blocked out the view. We named it “Kong”. The new ¾ ounce also needed a name, so we called it “Godzilla”.

The food was to be retort (boiler bag) over potatoes or rice. Suzy organized the food and other provisions, and it all fit into 2 plastic milk crates, and was probably the best in the fleet. With the boat fully loaded, we still had 2 empty drawers to offer to crewmembers for their personal items. We were light, and powered up! We were also 45 minutes late to the starting line because Suzy was walking on our backs. I will be forever grateful that we didn’t lose this race by 46 minutes!

The crew was selected for their attitude. Everybody on board had competed, and won, and took it for granted that we could win this race. Even Tom, who was on his first major ocean race, had been on the UC championship Rugby Team. The rest of us had  totaled over 25 Transpacs among us, and it paid off. For the first several days the fleet was becalmed, and crews were just hanging out and waiting for the fill. On board Montgomery Street we were sailing. We tried anything and everything to get moving and keep it moving. We were sailing at about 1 knot while others were still. When a helmsman had our apparent wind up and we were moving, we wouldn’t let him leave the helm until he lost it. When the wind finally did fill, we were up among the A and B boats.

With the giant spinnakers and light boat we were able to sail very fast, on the Rhumbline, dead downwind while other boats jibed behind us. A number of boats followed Bravura’s winning 83 track and sailed into the very visibly obvious (to us) North Pacific High. To keep the crew on their toes, navigator Chris Nash deliberately gave us the impression that the fleet was catching us. We never let up. We did inside-out and peel spinnaker changes, and trimmed both the sheet and guy when running down waves. Crewmembers stayed past their watches to help sail the boat.

We had a moment of concern when the wind died at Coco Head, in sight of the finish line. Much to my Dad’s concern, we jibed away from our course to the finish and out into the channel where we let the ocean swell push us over the line. When we finished, we had beaten, boat for boat, all of the class D boats, most of the class C boats and several of the class B boats.

At the Trophy Dinner Bill Lee chided us for setting yacht design back 20 years.

My oldest daughter was born in February of 87, so my priorities had to change. I helped my Dad prepare the boat for the 87, 89 and 91 races. His last Transpac was in 1991 when was 76 years old and had more than lived his dream of racing one Transpac. He raced 11, and the boat has done 12.

Jim Denning passed away in 2002, and now, at about the same age as my Dad was when he began this story, my family and I are in the midst of restoring Montgomery Street.

Is it now my duty to race Transpac at the same age my father began? If the estate had been settled a little sooner, who knows? I would have enjoyed racing on the 40th anniversary of the class, even though we aren’t a Cal 40 anymore. We are thinking about a West Marine Cup in a couple of years. The kids are both accomplished sailors due to the Richmond Yacht Club Junior Program so maybe…

The above was written in 2003, and we have been busy since:

The interior was stripped and re-finished, and the many coats of varnish now look gorgeous. My dad had done some re-configuration of the interior, by moving the sink into a “L” shaped counter. I moved the sink back. We built  new companionway steps, and installed a teak and holly sole and counter tops. New cushions really add to the beauty of the interior and Suzy loves the 2-burner propane stove, and pressure water.

The outside cosmetics are nearly complete, with new windows, painted cabin, decks and topsides. The topsides were painted at Berkeley Marine Center, and the staff there were very accommodating. They let me do all of the prep, and the final bill was quite reasonable. While hauled out, I also stripped the lead keel, and wrapped it in a couple of layers of cloth and epoxy. This should minimize problems with the lead. My original coatings did last for nearly 20 years.

We also took up the toerail bolts and replaced and re-bedded them. This eliminated lots of leaks! I wish I had replaced the wood. Most of the deck hardware has also been re-bedded.

Dave Hodges built a new, full size, full roach, Dacron main, and I have just finished installing a rigid vang kindly donated by Bill Partridge.

I would like to install one of the newer design, and lighter, rudders.

I am currently working on updating the PHRF certificate, so we can begin to race local events.

 

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