We’re pretty sure that one day, sailboats will be required to carry a Surgeon General’s warning about the dangers of addiction. Especially wooden boats. And most especially, old wooden schooners. Over the years we’ve seen it time and again: an otherwise intelligent, level-headed fellow takes one look at a schooner and, well, he’s hooked.
Newport Beach’s Byron Chamberlain will be the first to admit the hook was set decades ago – and shows no sign of shaking loose. But at least the founder and president of Mariners General Insurance Group – one of Summer Sailstice’s staunchest and longest supporters – came by his affliction honestly. “My Great Grandfather, William H. McWhinney, was a shipbuilder,” he says. “In the early 1900s, Cousins and McWhinney Shipyard in Aberdeen, Washington, built lumber schooners that sailed all over the world.”
Byron grew up in Olympia and first started sailing on Puget Sound in the ‘50s while still in his teens. By his early 20s, he’d already bought and sold a couple of small sloops, but was getting rides on such well-known West Coast schooners as Serena, Queen Mab, Kelpie, Dauntless, Lucky Star, Don Quixote, and others. With the hook firmly set, in 1966, at age 28, he got his first one, a lovely 46-ft Alden schooner named Golden Hind. That was followed a few years later by another schooner, a 43-footer named Revenge.
After Revenge, Chamberlain took a brief respite in the ‘70s to rescue a rare Nick Potter-designed California 32 sloop (which is actually 46 feet long), from near oblivion in Puerto Vallarta. When he finally got the leaky Andale up to Hank Hill’s Boatswain’s Locker Shipyard in Newport, it wasn’t long until his ‘schooner radar’ guided him to a nearby Costa Mesa yard where a beautiful 51-ft staysail schooner named Rose of Sharon was also undergoing a complete refit.
A bit of research revealed that Rose had been designed by Starling Burgess for Thomas Lamont, then president of JP Morgan Co. She was built and launched in Nova Scotia in 1930. She’d had a long and storied life, including more than a few racing accolades from regattas on both the East Coast and Great Lakes, before arriving on the West Coast in the early ‘70s. (And a bit of intrigue – in the ‘30s she was docked near the Lindbergh home in New Jersey. After the infamous 1932 kidnapping, Rose’s boat captain was an early suspect.)
As soon as Byron saw the boat, the ‘hook’ reset firmly (along with the line and sinker) and three months later, he traded owner Roy Wildman straight across – his completely restored Andale for the not-quite-finished schooner.
That was 39 years ago last month, and the love affair between Chamberlain, now 77, and Rose of Sharon, now 85, continues unabated.
One of the many special things about Rose of Sharon is that she is no slip queen. Unlike many of her peers who venture out only for daysails or the occasional classic yacht regatta, Rose regularly hits the starting line, both in classic yacht competitions and ‘regular’ races. Under Chamberlain’s ownership, the boat has done the Swiftsure Race in Victoria, Canada, the Marina Del Rey to Puerta Vallarta Race, and the Banderas Bay Regatta, to name just a few. In the 1981 Ancient Mariners Sailing Society’s Yesteryear Regatta (San Diego to Maui), she set a new elapsed time record of 13 days, 5 hours – which still stands today! She has done many local SoCal events, as well as made a number of trips up the coast to compete in the annual Master Mariners Regatta on San Francisco Bay, where she has won her class several times.
One of the boat’s other main duties is as ‘mascot’ of Mariners General Insurance. That’s where Byron’s business dealings with Summer Sailstice creator John Arndt eventually led to a friendship between the two men – and a win-win arrangement: “Summer Sailstice is a great place to advertise!”says Byron. “And I talked John into crewing on Rose of Sharon in a Master Mariners Race.”
A tough job, to be sure. But somebody’s got to do it.