The Split Rock Yacht Club (SRYC) maintains a small but active racing fleet of Cape Cod Knockabouts which are raced weekly during the summer. This enduring tradition provides excitement for Crater Club sailors and an elegant backdrop for landscape photographers and painters.
Sometimes dubbed “the poor man’s yacht,” Cape Cod Knockabouts are “ruggedly built; with extreme stability and plenty of room. Her outstanding characteristic is heavy weather helm…and her versatility as day sailor, picnic boat, and one design racer still keeps her in the front” (35th Anniversary SRYC Yearbook, 1974. 9).
Cape Cod Knockabouts are found primarily on the (upper) East Coast of the United States where several larger fleets exist in addition to those raced at the SRYC.
“A Cape Cod Knockabout is an 18-foot centerboard one-design sailboat. They are sailed primarily out of upper Cape Cod harbors in Massachusetts. The Cape Cod Knockabout was designed by Charles S. Gurney and first built in 1925. It has withstood the test of time, transitioning from a wooden hull to a fiberglass hull.
Active racing fleets can be found in Megansett (North Falmouth), Waquoit (East Falmouth), Lewis Bay (Yarmouth), and Woods Hole (Falmouth). There is also a small racing fleet at the Split Rock Yacht Club in Essex, New York, on Lake Champlain.” (Cape Cod Knockabout Class)
Visit the Cape Cod Knockabout Class website for details about the other fleets and additional information about Cape Cod Knockabouts.
SRYC Knockabout Beginnings
The following information has been collected from the SRYC materials available at the Paine Memorial Library and from conversations with Ben Brewster — long-time secretary/treasurer of SRYC — and other past or present members.
The Cape Cod (Baby) Knockabout was a popular small sailboat in the 1920’s and 30’s. Koert Burnham, son of John Burnham the founder of The Crater Club, already owned an 18′ Cape Cod Knockabout at time of SRYC’s creation, probably inspiring the tradition of these boats being raced in the SRYC today.
James Morse, Sr., who owned and operated the Essex Marine Base (now the Essex Shipyard), decided he could make and sell a copy of the Knockabout for less than Cape Cod Shipbuilding. He fabricated a form by steam bending oak ribs on the hull of the Knockabout and dubbed the result a Champlain Sailabout, which he marketed to members of The Crater Club. The Morse brothers built these Sailabouts based upon the original design of Burnham’s boat, completing the first hull in February of 1939 (35th Anniversary SRYC Yearbook, 1974. 8-9).
Until the late sixties most of the boats in the club were actually Champlain Sailabouts, not Cape Cod Knockabouts (Ben Brewster).
“Inasmuch as the form for the Sailabout ribs was formed on the outside of the Cape Cod Knockabout, it is about 6 inches longer and wider. The mast (and mainsail) is also a bit taller but in spite of that, the two boats are about equal and were raced together without need of handicap.” (Ben Brewster)
Racing the Knockabouts and Sailabouts
Different sailboat designs perform differently. In an effort to level the playing field handicap systems have been developed to ensure that the order of finish reflects the skill of the skippers and crew rather than the sailboat designers and builders. Handicaps notwithstanding it is much easier to race sailboats of the same or similar design create fair racing conditions, so many yacht clubs designate one design.
“The SRYC started out with the Sailabout/Knockabout designation. The SRYC, however, has had many ‘lean’ years when there was an eclectic mix of small boats without enough of any one make. We devised our own special handicap system which, although not perfect, did at least give us a way of including any boat that wanted to race. In this system, the Knockabout/Sailabout was the standard to which other makes were compared on our standard six mile race course.
We averaged times over three races to determine the starting handicap which would fairly equalize for boat differences. This caused a bit of complication and hassle at the start but theoretically should result in boats sailed equally well arriving together at the finish line. At very least, it helped keep the Split Rock Yacht Club going.” (Ben Brewster)
While the actual number of Champlain Sailabouts manufactured is uncertain, Brewster is aware of six still in existence:
“KIM, given to the Maritime Museum (Basin Harbor) by Bob Akeret; VIKING, the last made, probably still hanging in the Shipyard barn; NANCY-ANNE, restored (a second time) by Tom Cammack; ARGUNAUT, restored but on blocks at the moment at Debbie Swain’s; CAPRICE, restored and in permanent storage at Morris Glenn’s; and un-named Sailabout in storage with Dana Ellis.”
Maybe you know of other Cape Cod Knockabouts or Champlain Sailabouts waiting to be restored and returned to SRYC racing?