What I Saw – by Jackie Philpott
Classics At The Corinthian
When I sail up river to Owl Harbor I live large on fresh vegetables and rich yolky eggs from Devery’s chickens. In general though, singlehanded provisioning on my boat is limited to granola bars, maybe some cheese sticks and chocolate. If I get really organized I might bring a sandwich. One sandwich. Since there’s no one aboard to prepare anything for me down below or complain about the lack of gourmet options, it works for me.
On Sept. 24, the Classic Yacht Association celebrated its 52nd anniversary with a gathering at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon. 2022 was its eleventh annual pilgrimage, called Classics at the Corinthian.
I arrived at the Corinthian to find its docks full of luxurious classic yachts with hors d’oeuvres laid out on elegant trays and bottles of champagne chilling in sterling silver ice buckets. I was flummoxed. Flummoxed, I tell you. There was so much good looking food on those boats that I had to leave, overwhelmed by the largesse. I walked around downtown for a half hour in order to collect myself and walk off all the calories I planned to gain.
When I returned, the first boat I stepped aboard was Triple Crown, looking beautiful right there in front of the clubhouse. Triple Crown is a 48-foot Stephens Brothers classic yacht built in 1972. She is owned by Patrick Welch, who keeps her at Jack London Square in Oakland. On this perfect California day he was accompanied by a dockmate from Alameda, Bren Johnson.
Here are photos of Patrick and Bren with friends Steve and Yolie Gross, on the upper deck of the Corinthian. Find also this photograph of the drawer full of special provisions that visiting guests aboard the Triple Crown are invited to imbibe.
After eating some food bits aboard Triple Crown I backtracked and introduced myself to David Cobb, owner of M/V Sea Breeze, a custom-built 1939 yacht. Also built at the Stephens Brothers boatyard of Stockton, Sea Breeze was owned by Theodore Stephens himself, who installed a freezer aboard sometime in the 1960s because he liked to eat ice cream aboard. These current owners of classic yachts really know how to entertain.
Sea Breeze has a lovely covered patio at her rear where I sat in the shade while David prepared the ice bucket and wine opener for guests. Second to visit were his neighbors Laurie and Pat Steele, who stopped by to admire Sea Breeze.
The Steeles live next door to David and Bunny Cobb somewhere on the water in Belvedere, where they can see Sea Breeze at the Cobb’s dock.
During World War II, most boats between 30 to 40 feet were conscripted by the United States Navy, and Sea Breeze was one of them. She was used as a first aid boat, during which time all her fine brightwork was painted flat grey. Big white numbers were painted on the sides and she was used to patrol the Bay and as an escort for commanders.
Next I walked over to M/V Skal, built by the Stephens Brothers in 1928. I was invited to step aboard by her steward, Rob Sesar, who will become the commodore of the Northern California Classic Yacht Association in November of this year. She was sold in 1928 to a prosperous dentist with a one year return policy in case he wanted to return it. Satisfaction was guaranteed. The following year of 1929 proved to be an unprosperous year for the poor man. Apparently, he lost all his money in the stock market and returned the boat.
Rob keeps Skal in Glen Cove Marina where he is also the commodore of the Glen Cove Yacht Club. During a recent cruise to the Delta he took 11 surviving members of the Stephens family out for a ride and said that the Stephens grandchildren really enjoyed steering the boat.
Rob invited me to sail up and visit Glen Cove Yacht Club. They have a koi pond. Yes, big fat fish as pets. Can your yacht club compete with that? Mine can’t. As Rob and I chatted, Collette Sweeney and Shakti Om Shanti arrived with six big bags of groceries. Six! They handed them over to me from the dock and I handed them on to Rob. Then I took their photo in the saloon. Glen Cove Yacht Club people laugh a lot. It was a pleasure hanging around, but I had work to do.
I walked around to the outside dock and met Steve Kadzielawa, owner of M/V Flamingo, a 1962 Chris Craft. Flamingo’s compact length belies the surprisingly spacious interior. Do I sound like a boat broker? Well, I’m not and she’s not for sale, anyway.
Steve walked me through all the updates to Flamingo’s interior, most of which he installed himself. He used 1960’s period laminates and cushion patterns, and his workmanship is impeccable. It’s my kind of boat interior. If only she had a mast and sails.
Onward we went, across the dock to steps that led up to the cabin of Aurora V. The Aurora V is the boat from which vessels on the San Francisco Bay were blessed during this past Opening Day on the Bay. She’ll be out there again in 2023 for the annual Blessing of the Fleet. I introduced myself to Gerry Kamilos, the owner of Aurora V, and asked him who was on board this year to dispense the blessings. My understanding was that there had been a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi and a Buddhist monk. Well, according to Gerry, the rabbi couldn’t make it so they sent a cantor instead.
I wondered: On a purely teleological basis, does a cantor’s blessing count in the same way as a rabbi’s or is it simply a different type of blessing? I wanted to ask Gerry but didn’t. Instead I went home and looked it up. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a cantor is “a synagogue official who sings or chants liturgical music and leads the congregation in prayer,” whereas a rabbi is “someone trained and ordained for professional leadership.” So now we all know. It seems to me that, cantor or rabbi, the soles of all those boats are probably in good shape for another year.
What is there to admire aboard a classic yacht like the Aurora V? There is this description from an article in a 2016 brochure from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum:
“Trumpy boats are legendary for their display of affluence, craftsmanship and beautiful design.”
I have to agree. Aurora V has a spacious saloon full of comfortable furniture and not mere portholes, but windows all around.
The bar is upstairs; the furniture down below is made of polished teak and Lalique crystal figurines are displayed, impervious to the waves outside the yacht club harbor. This boat wasn’t going anywhere today.
Several men climbed the steps up onto the Aurora V at the same time I did. One of them introduced himself as a woodworker who had seen an article about the boat in Yachting Magazine. I asked permission to audiotape Gerry, then sat down and made myself comfortable in one of the cushy club chairs. The woodworker asked really good questions and I’m sorry that I didn’t get his name. Current commodore of the Classic Yacht Association, Gerry was very well prepared to talk about the group, its purpose and in particular, his own boat.
Gerry: The Aurora V was launched in 1969 by John Trumpy and Sons who built yachts from 1909 all the way to 1973, making the transition from wood to fiberglass along the way. They built about 400 privately commissioned yachts during that period. Some of them were owned by a lot of well-known families, such as the Guggenheims, the Chryslers, the Dodges and Rockefellers during the 1920s and 30s. John Trumpy designed the USS Sequoia, the presidential yacht which President Carter sold in a symbolic act of austerity. It’s currently being restored up in Rhode Island. The yard started in Camden, New Jersey and then, in 1947, moved to Annapolis. It was known as Annapolis Yard, but then the Trumpys took over and they built yachts from 1947-1972. Then they stopped.
Woodworker: How long have you been the caretaker here?
G: About ten years.
W: Overall length?
G: 58-foot hull, throw in the swim platform, it’s another three feet. I’m the sixth owner and fortunately, most of them have been responsible. She went through a major refit in 1986 and then a repowering in 1987. Two years ago, just as the pandemic was hitting, we took her out of the water and stripped what was at least 30 years of paint off the bottom, refurbished and put new bottom paint on.
Jackie: What does it mean “to refurbish” a wooden boat? Do you have to re-caulk it, replace the wood?
G: Replace the wood as needed, replace paint, planks. You have to put in more fasteners. There are about 70,000 bronze fasteners on the hull holding two layers of planks. It’s all Honduras mahogany. There’s a lot of teak molding, walnut and white oak. The keel is old growth Douglas fir and the ribs are white oak.
J: What is the draft on this boat?
G: The boat itself, it drafts about 4 feet, then with the keel it probably is about 4.5 feet.
J: So then, when you are in the Delta you have to really watch where you are going.
W: When did this boat come out to the West Coast?
G: It came out about 20 years ago. A gentleman from Southern California bought Aurora V and then basically cruised her to Galveston. Then she was taken out of the water and put on a flatbed railcar and then relaunched in Long Beach. She spent about a decade or so in Newport Beach before Ken Murray and crew brought her up the coast to her new home in Emery Cove Marina. Right next to Trader Vic’s restaurant.
Certification was also needed to qualify for insurance. If I don’t have insurance I can’t come into a marina. Ken Murray trained and certified me so I am able to pilot the boat myself.
I’m glad I did it. I have taken Aurora V to the Farallon Islands in search of whales with no luck. To date, I have yet to witness a whale from the decks of Aurora V. We have also taken Aurora V throughout the San Francisco, San Pablo, and Suisun Bays, and on a few cruises into Benicia, Pittsburg and Antioch. We hope soon to take her to the Delta, especially Grindstone Joes.
The five previous owners of Aurora V really did a good job of maintaining the boat. It’s very frustrating to sell classic yachts, especially when they are put on the market during an economic downturn. During an up market it’s difficult. It’s even more difficult in a down market.
J: So you got it in 2012. Would you consider that to have been a down market?
G: Yes, due to the 2008 crash. A lot of times the owner of a classic yacht will donate it to a foundation and people then buy it from the foundation. We bought Aurora V from Orange Coast College, which is a seamanship and navigation school.
G: This is my first big boat. My last boat was about 20 years ago. I had a Catalina 22.
[The small crowd of people listening laughs as this information sets in. Gerry laughs, too.]
W: That was a big step up!
G: Yes. All through my life I’ve been in boats. I started out by taking a class when I was eight and sailed an El Toro on Lake Washington in West Sacramento. Then I joined the Sea Scouts. We had an old 1943 AVR. [AVR is the acronym for Aircraft Rescue Vessel, used to rescue pilots from downed planes during World War II.]
W: Whaddya got for power in here?
G: Two Lugger engines. They’re 420 horsepower each. It was repowered in 1987. They’re John Deere diesels, then they’re stripped down in Seattle and then Lugger puts their technology on. Lugger, of course, makes Northern Lights generators, so we have a Northern Lights onboard as well.
This was John Trumpy’s personal yacht. This was the first one built of this style in the late 60’s where you were starting to see the transition from wood to fiberglass. They wanted to build a yacht for someone who wasn’t worried about cost and wanted a high quality yacht. They wouldn’t go to fiberglass hulls, they wanted to stay with a traditional wood hull. So, the design for this design was the prototype that was supposed to save the company. This was launched in 1969. The company was shuttered in 1973.
W: They didn’t’ quite make it.
W: I saw this boat at the dock. You came into the Corinthian for Opening Day, and I said to myself, ‘I just saw this in the magazine!’ Thank you very much! It was great to learn its history!
[Then the woodworking fella and his friends left.]
G: John Trumpy trained as a naval architect in Germany. Actually, the Trumpy family goes back hundreds of years to Norway. They were ship builders in Norway. John emigrated in the early 1900s. He went to work for a company called Mathis Yachts out of Camden, New Jersey. He was hired on as the chief designer. After some difficulty with the company he ended up becoming vice president and eventually owned Mathis. For many years it was called Mathis Trumpy, then eventually it became Trumpy Yachts. He had about 150 employees.
They built a lot of naval vessels like patrol boats that were used in World War II. He also came up with the design for the Delta Gunboats that were used in the Vietnam War. He built a lot of military boats. He came up with a hull displacement design so the boat can go on a plane, which basically means that you are operating the boat with the stern third of the hull, which maximizes fuel efficiency and speed. Right after World War II he went back to recreational yachts. They built about six to eight yachts a year. All the materials are very high-end and everything is hand built.
I asked Gerry what he sees in the future for the Classic Yacht Association. He told me the group may initiate outreach with the Spaulding Boat Center in Sausalito. Given the expense of new boats, he sees a classic yacht as an affordable expense for a young family. Gerry believes that a classic yacht in the 30- to 40-foot range can be had for $30-$40,000. Compared to the cost of new boats of any type, and given their versatility, he believes in the classic yacht’s appeal for young families as an alternative to the much greater cost of a new boat.
G: These boats are a part of the recreational history of the boating/yachting heritage. There’s really no other organization besides the Classic Yacht Association that is out there maintaining these vessels on scale level. It’s one of the best kept maritime secrets in the world.
Tour and history lesson completed, we all walked up to the Corinthian dining room for a delicious dinner of filet mignon and scampi. Oh, dear. I’m starting to sound like Bill Wells.
If you would like to read more about these luxury yachts, view these sites: https://web.archive.org/web/20100204190239/http://www.trumpyyachts.net/AHistoryLessonNov30.html or http://www.shipbuildinghistory.com/shipyards/yachtsmall/stephens.htm
Delta Champions Award Dinner
I attended this dinner on Sept. 13 because my colleague, Bill Wells would receive an award. How could I not go? This was the first year that Delta Champion Awards were presented by an entity called The Delta Regional Foundation, and Bill received an award as the premier Delta Promoter. He certainly promoted the Delta to me in a big way.
Back in the early Spring of 2017 I called up the Delta Chamber of Commerce and Bill answered the phone. Who does that anymore? I told him that I wanted to come up river on my sailboat, so he sent me several laminated fishing maps of the Delta waterways. I tried to use those maps when I drove up to scout out the Delta in my car and was lost for an entire long day. Fishing maps? They are useless to the driver of a car. But guess what? While I wandered around lost in the Delta I didn’t find anything I expected. Instead, I found everything else. I have Bill to thank for that.
At this dinner, surrounded by strangers in the middle of a cornfield I was reminded of the phrase “sense of place” that describes a special relationship between people and their land. It is a dynamic that is said to contribute to social resilience, in the same way as do social networks. At this dinner, way out in the middle of farmland, my impression was that everyone in attendance loves the Delta in a deeply felt way. It was palpable in the acceptance speeches, and in the undertones as they spoke with each other over dinner at the tables all around me.
The first recipient of the evening was Dino Cortopassi, who received the Delta Preserver award. Mr. Cortopassi, unfortunately passed away in February of this year and his grandson accepted the award for him posthumously. Trevor Carson, Dino Cortopassi’s grandson spoke eloquently about the lessons he had learned from “my greatest mentor, my hunting partner, my boss, but most importantly, my beloved Nonno.”
I don’t have the breadth of Delta knowledge to explain Mr. Cortopassi’s importance to the Delta. He seems to have been a successful Delta farmer and people at the dinner were sincere in their appreciation of him. As his grandson spoke, people sitting near me had tears in their eyes. As far as I can tell from a video by Gene Beley, Mr. C’s argument was that rice crops are a successful deterrent to subsidence. Mr. Cortopassi also argued that private landowners are more successful at growing rice than are taxpayer funded state agencies. Mr. Beley’s video, made at a meeting of the Delta Lands Strategy Meeting in Walnut Grove on Nov. 13, 2018, can be found here: https://vimeo.com/303058115
Besides his vigilance as a farmer, another of Mr. Cortopassi’s accomplishments was a privately funded wildlife habitat known as The Black Hole. His grandson referred to The Black Hole as “… a 150 acre riparian wetland nestled in the northeastern corner of the Delta… the physical embodiment of a successful businessman’s duck club fantasy and… the swamp rat’s way of giving back.”
Certainly that description made me want to learn more, so I looked it up and so can you. I would encourage anyone who is interested in Delta history and Dino Cortopassi’s legacy to read the articles I found here: https://www.wetlandspreservationfoundation.org/black-hole-habitat or https://www.lodinews.com/news/article_829cdfee-3383-11eb-aeeb-4b875ebc2f50.html
After attending this dinner I went right home and looked up Dino Cortopassi. It became clear to me that he was a man who got riled up over all sorts of things. He was obviously a passionate person with strong opinions and he loved the Delta. His actions also bring to mind that other phrase: “He put his money where his mouth was.”
When I went to school I studied liberal arts. Art history. English literature. Intangible pleasures. I had no idea what argument Mr. C was making regarding subsidence. What does the word subsidence mean anyway? I looked it up and this is what I learned: Subsidence is a geological term that refers to the sinking of ground because of underground material movement most often caused by the removal of water, oil, natural gas or mineral resources out of the ground by pumping, fracking or mining activities. Now we all know a bit more.
Subsidence is studied all over the world. Research on the Vietnamese Mekong Delta, the world’s third largest delta plain, suggests that annual subsidence rates up to several centimeters per year are causing it to rapidly lose elevation. Yangoon, a city in the Irrawaddy Delta in Myanmar is being studied to determine whether groundwater extraction is the cause of subsidence there. In the Netherlands soil subsidence has been ongoing since the Middle Ages and studied since then.
After this dinner I learned that the people present on this evening at Silverdale Ranch represented multigenerational Delta landowning farmers for whom the issue of subsidence has significant implications.
In his November column Bill Wells wrote, “Amazingly, I have driven by here a few thousand times on Thornton Road over the last 30 years and never knew it was here.” In 2016, when I still kept my boat at the Berkeley Marina there was an oversized flag that hung above another boat in the harbor. The flag was almost as large as the little boat itself. In huge letters it read RESIST! I didn’t understand the significance of that flag at the time. My sense, after watching the video of Mr. Cortopassi, is that he might have appreciated that flag’s inclination.
I suspect that there are farmers and landowners deep in that Delta farmland quietly determined to resist the incursion not of salt, but of people who Mr. Cortopassi might have referred to as unelected bureaucrats spending other people’s money.
From the reverence with which Mr. Cortopassi was remembered, I wonder whether there might be a similar kind of resistance movement going on deep in the cornfields and fruit orchards of the Delta. A new kind of resistance: Quiet. Focused. Determined to maintain and preserve the agrarian way of life that is necessary for their families and crops against a particular type of encroachment: Government subsidence.
Not a Delta landowner myself, I have selfish reasons for preserving the Delta waterways. I want to be able to keep sailing up there from the San Francisco Bay in order to drop anchor in the tules somewhere and sleep while floating on quiet water.
Three more Delta Champion Awards were presented that evening. The award for Delta Improver was given to the Restore the Delta organization and was accepted by Barbara Barrigan-Parilla. Tom Surh of the organization RIOVISION accepted the Delta Innovator Award, and not least was the Delta Lifetime Achievement Award, given to Dr. Henry Go in recognition of his respected work as a Courtland-based physician. Dr. Go has provided medical care to Delta residents for many years.
Delta Leadership Program
Graduates of the Delta Leadership Program were also recognized at the dinner. The Delta Leadership Program is comprised of teams of people who address important issues that impact the agriculture, environment, recreation and more general issues that affect the future of the Delta.
Eighty-seven individuals have already graduated from this program, and the following people were recognized during this evening: Matt Hemly, Virginia Hemly, Douglas Hsia Locke, Morris Lum, Brett Pieretti, Jeremy White and John Hospenthal.
I’ll have to ask my Dutch friend, Kees about subsidence in the Netherlands. Kees will be my crew for the famously time consuming sailboat race, the Three Bridge Fiasco. The Fiasco is a twenty-one nautical mile loop around the San Francisco Bay that takes place on the last Saturday in January. If there’s no wind we may even have to anchor for awhile, wait for the water to come carry us the way we need to go. If so, we will have plenty of time to discuss subsidence. And global warming. And world peace. Until we finally time out, turn on the engine and head for the barn.
During Fleet Week I drove over to the City and interviewed members of the armed forces and families who filled up Marina Green and Crissy Field. I went on Friday, which seems to have been the least foggy day during which we were able to see most of the Blue Angels’ flights.
On Oct. 22 I listened in as Jerry Desmond spoke to the members of PICYA (Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association) at Richmond Yacht Club. Mr. Desmond is a lobbyist in Sacramento who works with the Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC). My colleague Bill Wells is always on the money regarding such issues. I’ll try to write about only those bits that he doesn’t cover so the information isn’t redundant.
In November’s column I mistakenly and repeatedly referred to the San Jose Sailing Club as the San Jose Yacht Club. The yacht encore! was also referred to as Encore! Her owner, Brad Belleville, pointed these errors out to me. In a nice way. Mea culpa, mea culpa.
Stay tuned and thank you for reading. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have anything you would like to share. Enjoy your time on the water and let’s all be careful out there.