Yacht club christens its new fleet

South Whidbey Yacht Club Commodore Derek Pritchard christens the club
South Whidbey Yacht Club Commodore Derek Pritchard christens the club's new fleet of wooden, one-design Pelican sailboats Saturday as opening day of boating season begins.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

FREELAND — For years the members of the South Whidbey Yacht Club have bemoaned the lack of a fleet to christen on opening day.

No more. On Saturday, Commodore Derek Pritchard pulled the traditional sword from its rocky resting place and blessed the club’s growing Pelican sailboat fleet.

Pritchard hopes the new boats will encourage people to join the yacht club.

“If you have something that floats and don’t belong, check us out,” he said.

The 12-foot, 2-inch long “Pelican” was first designed in the early 1950s by Bill Short who drew inspiration from the small boats he saw during World War II off the coast of Asia. With a beam at just over 6 feet, the craft is wide for stability and can safely hold four. With the centerboard raised it only draws 4 inches so it can be sailed and beached in shallow bays.

“Short lived in San Francisco Bay and wanted a stable rig that could be sailed single-handed,” Bill Brown said. “The lug, where the halyards are all that touch the mast, is much better than a Marconi or gaff rig.”

Called a one-design, there are three Pelican fleets on the West Coast; in San Diego and San Francisco, Calif., and the Northwest. Members, though, come from as far away as Idaho and Utah.

“People take them on camping cruises,” said Brown as he set up the lug-style rigging on his Pelican.

Another big draw is the cost. The marine-grade plywood boats can be bought for as little as $2,500, fully fitted out with a 12-foot mast and two sails totaling 114 square feet (outboard motors, trailer and nautical gewgaws not included).

It takes just 20 minutes to get ready provided one knows the drill; a bit longer for launching.

Bob and Jan McConnell worked as a team to get their Pelican down the ramp at Freeland Park.

“It’s always an adventure,” Jan McConnell said. “The first time we did this it was snowing. The second time, no wind. But today looks perfect.”

Pritchard hopes the fleet will grow rapidly. To spur enthusiasm for the boats and the start of boating sesaon, the club arranged for rides around Holmes Harbor this past weekend.

Bush Point’s Sylvia Stinson had never sailed before.

“I was impressed by how complicated it was with all the rigging; there’s a lot to learn,” she said.

“But Derek is a good teacher and I felt safe relying on his expertise. The ride was so stable my husband is thinking of buying one and joining the fleet,” Stinson added.

That’s what Pritchard likes to hear.

“How can you you have a yacht club with no boats?” Pritchard asked.

“Soon we’ll have 10 to 13,” he said.

“I chose the Pelican because it’s cheap, there’s a national class and it’s a good tool for teaching kids and grandkids,” Pritchard said. “We’re a small, informal organization with limited resources, but we want to stay true to our mission: to reach out and touch the lives of young people. Eventually we hope to offer classes, perhaps through the local schools.”

Watching Don McArthur’s Bagpipe get underway with passengers aboard with “All She Needs is Wind” emblazoned on the stern, Pritchard expertly judged the wind’s speed and strength.

“They really are lovely little boats, wouldn’t you say?” Pritchard asked, already knowing the answer.

For more information about the club, contact Pat Sasson at 331-5816.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or

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