The Saga of Flying Clam

By Steve Tiebout
(Excerpted from Messing Around In Boats)
(click 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 16".

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 boat's.

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 do it?"

"Of course," Skipper called back. "Every time!"

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.