The Saga of Flying Clam
By Steve Tiebout
from Messing Around In Boats)
here for more information about MAIB)
Many years ago, when Skipper got the word he
was being transferred to the Los Angeles office, he hustled
over to the Harnmond Map Store. There he found a fabulous aerial
photo mosaic map that showed every body of water in the greater
L.A. area. The star, by far, was a huge puddle labeled "Lake
Hollywood." It sparked a glorious image in Skipper's dream
box, a quaint shore-side cottage complete with a dock for a
roomy daysailer and a smart pulling boat and, if motorboats
were legal, a spiffy outboard runabout.
Reality squashed that dream flat. Desert-dry L.A.
turned out to be sadly short of navigable inland water. Lake
Hollywood had long since been paved over. Malibu Lake was dust.
The Skipper family had arrived at the beginning of a record
four-year drought. A semi-stagnant pond graced MacArthur park.
Skipper and Skipper Junior brought Albatross, their large, homemade
model schooner, and rented an electric powered launch as a chase
boat, but the wind was wimpy, even wimpier than they were used
to putting up with in New York's Central Park. They heard of
a breezy model boat pond in far-off Alondra Park, but when they
launched Albatross it ran aground, even though it drew only
Then they discovered Marina del Rey. It was under
development, a vast labyrinth of deserted waterways that Skippper
thought of as an aquatic moonscape. All they needed for real
adventuring was a boat they could get into. Their old-fashioned
garage fitted their Chevy Biscayne like a glove. Skipper sketched
a flat shallow hull that could lie on its side in a foot wide
slot next to the car. Two bargain priced sheets of 1/4"
3'x6' interior ply yielded an 11-1/2' x 39" double ender,
fiberglassed with short forward and after
decks, plus 4" side decks with 3" coamings.
One could say that the resulting Flying Clam
was a fat, flat kayak, and it went like one, leisurely, that
is. But Skipper and Skipper Junior thought it was a greyhound
of the sea. They had once built a craft from six inner tubes
that had a top speed of approximately l/8th knot. Cruising Marina
del Rey was hugely successful, with the added spice that it
defied the "No Trespassing" signs. Next (while Mrs.
Skipper was away) they challenged the sea. They made it through
the mild surf at Santa Monica in the lee of the half sunken
breakwater, but capsized coming back. Skipper's fault, not the
An interesting addition to Flying Clam was a
small sail right aft, Maine lobsterboat style. It didn't seem
to do much but Skipper thought it looked salty as hell. To celebrate
the new look they took Skipper Junior's friends, Billy (9) and
Linda (7) for a cruise, which was fine until the mothers heard
about it. Skipper's stock sank to a new low. In his defense
he pointed out all the kids wore life jackets. "Oh, and
what about SHARKS??"
Now that Skipper had been discouraged from taking
youthful passengers, he said, "What the heck, why not throw
caution to the winds and make Flying Clam into a real sailing
vessel?" So Flying Clam metamorphosed into a gaff rigged
sloop with a bowsprit and daggerboard. A demountable cuddy and
10" bulwarks helped deflect surf and spray.
How did she sail? Skipper thought she was a winner
until a marconi rigged skiff about her length left her in the
ruck. Still she was well balanced, stiff, and fun to sail, and
undoubtedly professionally made sails would have helped her
a lot to go to windward. Her moment of triumph arrived on a
late afternoon down at Newport Beach. She was gallantly broad
reaching at top speed in a narrow channel that led to a launching
ramp on the other side of a fixed bridge, which she had sailed
under coming from the ramp that morning. There were powerboats
steaming along with her, before, behind, to port, to starboard,
hemming her in, no room to maneuver.
As they got closer to the bridge Skipper realized
that the damn thing was too low. The tide! Tides were things
he never had to bother with before in his innocent young life.
The powerboats were forging happily along, they didn't have
high rigs. Grinning spectators on the bridge waited hungrily
for the delicious impending disaster. Desperate, Skipper clawed
the peak halyard off its cleat, the tip of the gaff swung down
a fraction of a second before it could connect with the bridge,
and Flying Clam flung herself under and out the other side.
An admiring gawker called out, "Is that how you always
"Of course," Skipper called back. "Every
There came a day four years later when Skipper
got the word he was being transferred back to New York City.
Flying Clam voyaged to the East Coast ia moving van, but Skipper
never found an opportunity to cruise her there. He gave her
to a customer who set sail in her with three little daughters
on Long Island's Lake Ronkonkoma and promptly capsized, fortunately
with no harm. That's when Flying Clam attained Nirvana as a
peaceful and practical flower planter.