Crewed by a formidable team of 20-somethings, another A-scow is gracing White Bear Lake this summer.
The Snitch is back on the water from its hiatus in storage after two devotees of the flat-bottomed scow brokered a deal with Fletcher Driscoll, the Dellwood sailor probably most responsible for returning the magnificent sailboats to their birthplace.
Anywhere from eight to 10 A-boats are assembling for Monday night races that started June 7, many departing from Driscoll’s docks where they are slipped. It’s the largest fleet of A-boats in North America.
Mahtomedi sailor Gene Altstatt was one of the two men who helped get the 1995 Snitch sold.
“Getting the boat active was our goal,” Altstatt said of the purchase. He teamed up with Tim Carlson, a seasoned Great Lakes sailor and owner of Sailcrafters Inc., to make the deal happen. Carlson then recruited one of his young employees, Carl Eaton, to skipper the boat, which required some repair to make it raceworthy. Eaton and his six-member crew have been practicing on Monday nights to get accustomed to the high-performance scow.
A-boats are not for the inexperienced sailor, explained Driscoll. A-scow crew members must always be at the top of their game. Thirty-eight feet long with no keel, the boats are so light they are scary. And they capsize easily.
Snitch was among five A-boats Driscoll purchased almost 20 years ago to kickstart the White Bear fleet. He is thrilled the boat has found new life with the group of 20-somethings, all of whom weren’t even born when the boat was built.
“There’s a different ambience about them,” Driscoll said of her new crew. “It’s not a bunch of kids beating their chest about how good they are, but happy-go-lucky sailors.”
Eaton is 22 and has been sailing since he was 9 with both his father and grandfather, mostly on Lake Minnetonka through the Wayzata Yacht Club. He brings an impressive resume to race night. He captained the Minnetonka High School sailing team and competed nationally. He commodored the University of Minnesota sailing team for two years and sails a 50-foot boat with Carlson on the Great Lakes.
“A-Scows are a lot of boat to handle,” Eaton admitted. “I am still intimidated. You don’t drive the boat; it drives you. It’s different from any other boat I’ve ever sailed, and I’ve sailed a lot of them. The A is the most difficult and requires the most focus.”
The young skipper added he can’t express his gratitude enough to Driscoll for the chance to sail an A-boat. “What he is doing is amazing,” Eaton maintained. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s really exciting, and I’m grateful for his generosity.”
Snitch owner Carlson — who, by the way, is skippering Altstatt’s scow, The Robinson — said he bought the boat expressly to get a youth program going and credited Altstatt for making it happen. “Carl understands the need to get young people sailing,” Carlson noted. “That is our goal.”
Eaton’s boss thinks the young team (all are under 25) will do well. “There will be a lot of talk between me and Carl on Tuesday mornings,” Carlson said. “It will all be in good fun. I expect them to come in second.”
Altstatt agrees, “These young, experienced sailors will be a force to reckon with. The key to these boats is team coordination. One guy can screw it up. You need a good pool of people to sail that boat. They are stronger and more nimble than us older guys.”
Driscoll has been slowly selling off his A-boat inventory to keep their legacy alive and sailing on White Bear Lake. He has one boat left, Hedwig, still for sale. (All his boats were named after Harry Potter characters.) The scows have a long history in White Bear Lake. Johnson Boat Works founder J.O. Johnson designed the racing sailboat in 1900. According to Driscoll, they are the fastest monohulls in the world.