For sailing traditionalists, there is perhaps no boat more revered on Long Island than the SS.
The small, one-design wooden sailboats, first built in 1908, are now considered antiques, but owning one is like owing a piece of history. Fewer than 150 were made, and dedicated sailors of the boats estimate that no more than 40 are currently seaworthy.
The SS class celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008, and this year members of the SS Class Association decided they didn’t want to wait another century to give the famed boats their due, setting up a 105th commemorative anniversary regatta in Quantuck Bay on Sunday.
The regatta, organized by Bob Murray and facilitated by race committee members Doug Adams, Bob DeYoung and Greg Imber, drew seven boats to Quantuck Bay, one of three bodies of water in the area that have traditionally hosted SS races. The small boats, which were originally designed as the ideal vessel to teach children how to sail, were popular at Shinnecock Yacht Club and the Westhampton Yacht Squadron, as well as the Quantuck Yacht Club, which is no longer in existence.
Robert Dudley and his crew member, Jimmy Ewing, were the winners on Sunday, finishing first, first and fourth in the three races, for a total of six points. Peter Fenner and crew Hampy Smith were second, finishing second in all three races, for six points; Dudley and Ewing won the tiebreaker, because they had finished first twice. Sisters Deb and Denise Dalmasse were third (finishing third, third and first), followed by Paul Graf and Bob Murray (fifth, sixth and third). Tracey Cast and her daughter, Kylie Cast, were fifth (fourth, fifth and fifth), while Michael Turner and Tyler Sheldon (sixth, fourth and sixth) were sixth. Philip Smyth and his son, Arthur, finished seventh.
Dudley, who is one of the most active members of the SS Class Association and has a wealth of knowledge about the boats, credited Murray as the catalyst for putting the regatta together. Murray’s wife, Meredith Murray, wrote the book “That Magic Boat and the People Who Sailed It” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the class, and gave a special presentation on the history of the boat across the street at Quantuck Beach Club during the regatta.
“He brought it up at a meeting, that it would be good if every once in a while we did something to commemorate the history of the SS,” Dudley said of Bob Murray. “It’s really a unique thing. The boat is indigenous to this area and was made specifically for the shallow bays, so you can sail in the bay and up onto the beach pretty easily.”
As the winner of Sunday’s regatta, Dudley received the Annetta Horton Trophy, which was donated by her daughter, Helen, in Annetta’s memory. Annetta Horton was instrumental in teaching many children how to sail on SS boats at the Shinnecock Yacht Club.
Dudley said that he and others who own and love SS boats are dedicated to keeping the tradition alive, and that hosting regular races is part of that mission. The Westhampton Yacht Squadron regularly hosts SS races as well. Dudley explained that because the boats are old, they require more maintenance than most boats. But he said he considers the extra work worth it, both for the fun he still has sailing it and for the memories it keeps alive.
“A lot of us, we had these boats before we had our driver’s license, so it was great freedom for us,” he explained. “We’d sail over to Quantuck Beach Club and then sail home without having to rely on our parents for a ride. And then we’d participate in races every weekend. It was a really cool part of growing up in Westhampton.”
Dudley explained that keeping the boats in good condition is not only time consuming but also requires extensive knowledge of the boat. He added that many people have fiberglassed the boat as a measure to keep it in good condition, although he said he has not fiberglassed his own SS, preferring to keep up the old tradition.
Dudley says he loves the SS boats not only because of the great memories associated with his childhood, but because, from a sailing traditionalist’s point of view, the boat represents a kind of purity.
“They’re very sensitive to the wind,” he said. “And that’s the trick of being a sailor: The wind is constantly shifting and changing, and you have to try to take advantage of each shift.”