Posted 09 February 2009 - 04:10 PM
The Ed bumped part 2 until tonight, but y'all have been patient, so here it is. Part 3 on Wednesday.
The Coolest Cat
SA: There was something called the “Hobie Edict” that was issued, which banned non-Hobie Cats from any HCA sponsored regattas in North America. Remember that? Do you think that that helped or hurt overall multi-hull participation?
HA: I think it helped our participation immensely, though I don’t know what it did the other way around. It wasn’t a formal thing completely, but it came after the Prindle Cat got in at Lake Havasu, where we'd been racing for years with the Hobie and the P-Cat. We didn't compete much with the P-Cat, but the Prindle Cat came in and pretty soon that wasn’t a fun thing. Their guys didn’t like our guys, our guys didn’t like their guys – it just wasn't a good deal for us, so pretty soon we separated it out. We had enough people to have a good time on our own. We kept the rules tight enough that you couldn't buy your way to victory on our boat – we were just racing equal boats. Certainly Prindle had enough boats out there to do the same thing, but to put the two together on the same weekend just didn't work. And our guys were doing the really hard work, promoting the Class and having a lot of fun and success, so why should they promote a competing class? We really just wanted to do our own thing, and that was to have fun.
SA: Was there bad blood with you and Jeff Prindle after he went off on his own?
HA: Not really, we never really had any big problems. Prindle kind of knocked off our rudder line/drop down thing, so we put a stop to that. But basically there were a few small things, you know - Prindle got a few of our guys, but that's going to happen. Compared to the surfboard business, where everyone was robbing everyone else's top surfers – those guys would switch loyalties really fast, you couldn't believe it. Compared to that the cat stuff was nothing.
SA: Your surf business went from a tiny custom thing to a gigantic monster, and it still hasn't slowed down, right? You and Clark really...
HA: There's a really long history behind all that that was going slowly up through the 30s and 40s through World War 2, and then the light boards, balsa wood and fiberglass were really what changed things, and that's when I got into it. I was like 15 and guys like me all of a sudden became the best surfers – because they had the best equipment. And the old guys didn't want to switch readily, they'd say things like, “Wait'll the surf gets big, you won't want that little potato chip then!” But then it got big and we still went better – but it took a few years for it all to switch over. So in the meantime, all the good surfers were these young guys building and shaping boards with the new materials. That's gonna happen anyway with the younger people, but the change made it happen really fast for those riding balsa/glass. And then foam came in, and we figured out how to make lighter boards and to make them so much easier to manufacture, all the while balsa was getting more scarce. I think that only 10% of the tree could be used for boards, the rest was thrown out or used for model airplanes.
SA: Let's move back to one of our reader questions. One of the writes, “A U.S. relative of mine, based in Florida these days, told me a tale of buying Hobie 14 # 1 from you way back when. He said you wanted sail # 001 back, and swapped it for a road trailer. Any truth to this tale?
HA: No, not that I can remember. We had hull #1 in the 14 and 16. And #1 in the 16 went to my friend Ted McClelland. On the 14, we had a few early boats that went to a couple guys that hung around and worked with us on the beach.
SA: That’s okay, it was a long time ago...
HA: Yep, that would have been '68 I guess.
SA: Let's talk about your creation of the 14. How much time did you spend on the Malibu Outrigger before you started on the 14, and was it much of an influence?
HA: Almost none, though that was the thing that the surfers were building, the ones that wanted to get into boats. Benny Gilford made one...Phil Edwards made a 20-foot cat that was a pretty hot boat, getting more into the Tornado proportions as far as weight and the 10' beam and small hulls – it wasn't as sophisticated as far as the rig. I was really busy with surfboards at the time so I didn't really pay too much attention, but then I started to build a Malibu Outrigger myself. I didn't have plans or anything, I just had the hull and ama built, no deck, and it was sitting out back full of water. One of the guys said, “why don't you give it to me, I'll finish it and you can use it when you want?” So I said, “that's a deal” and that's what we did. He made a sail out of an old parachute, and I think I went on it once or twice, I didn't even know how to sail.
SA: But you kept it on the back burner?
HA: I was always looking at what was going on, watching guys sailing cats. I sailed the Ensenada Race with Phil, it was illegal for a cat but we went anyway...and we talked about them a LOT. When the Catfish came out I watched, and then the Aqua Cat came out, but it really didn't do much – the “plumber's nightmare.” I guess it was a better boat than it looked, it served it's purpose, and did alright – I mean, they sold 4 or 5 thousand of them so they got people in the water...
SA: And the Malibu?
HA: It was really just a stepping stone for all the guys making small cats. We tried the Catfish, which was just too heavy, too low in the water, but then Joe Quigg, who was a surfboard builder before I was, came out with the Cal Cat, a really nice boat. So here I am, pretty much a non-sailor, and I bought a used P-Cat. I kept it at the beach and started sailing up and down the beach, riding waves in, there wasn't any racing or anything, just having fun. I kept it on my mooring in Laguna in the summertime, and we still kept talking about making a little boat.
SA: So where'd you finally get the motivation for the cat?
HA: A guy came in and wanted to buy my surfboard company – I guess this was in early '67. It wasn't really for sale, but if someone gives you too much money you probably have to take it. He had a friend with him that his mother made go with him – I guess to keep him from doing something stupid – that was Art Hendrickson. They looked at the board business and we talked about that for a while, and when they asked, “what else can you do?” I told them that I thought there was room for a little catamaran – a small singlehanded cat. A few weeks later Art comes back in alone, and says, “so tell me about that boat you want to build.” We talked about it, and we agreed that we'd go in together with the money to make it happen. I told him that I didn't want to run the business, I liked building things more, and he'd run the business part of it. And so we did that.
SA: And did you go right to work on the prototype?
HA: Well let me take it back a step, I got a little ahead of myself. Before then, Sandy Banks had his little 11-footer, and Phil Edwards had his big 20. Sandy's boat was kind of fun, but it was all over the place, just too small. We used it along with my P-Cat and we thought of everything that needed improvement – that we could do on a new boat. Then when the Cal Cat came out, it got us really revved up to do it right.
SA: And that's when Art and some money came into it.
HA: Yeah, and I took my little Quonset hut, cleared all my motorcycles out of it, and we started working on our prototype. First we bought two Cal Cats because we figured it was the best thing out there. This way we always had one to chase, seeing how ours compared to it.
SA: And what was the defining feature of your imaginary boat?
HA: I guess it was the assymetric hulls. For a singlehanded cat there was enough to deal with without daggerboards, especially going in and out of the beach, riding waves.
SA: You built 4 test boats before going to production - how long did it take to build one?
HA: About six days, but we saved a lot of time by putting the Cal Cat rig and rudders in, and it gave us a chance to see how our hulls compared very quickly. The first prototype didn't maneuver the way we wanted it to. We saw how much more rocker we needed and we built the second boat – and it was much closer to what the 14 ended up as. It did everything we wanted and we felt sure we could do better than the Cal Cat.
So now what are we going to do? We knew we had to have some looks out of it, so we came up with the idea of casting metal parts to make it look right and be the right weight.
SA: What kind of casting?
HA: Sand casting. Now this is where Art was good – he didn't know much about anything, but he was a smart person. We could send him off to the city and tell him to find out everything about sand casting – how much it costs, how it works, what we needed to know, and what potential it had for us. It was generally for short run prototype metal parts, you pack dirt or sand around a pattern, then pull the pattern out, which leaves the shape you want as an open space. Then you do the other side and put them together, and fill them with liquid metal. The thing is you can make these shapes and you don't have to have them release, you just bang the sand out when you're done, so you can make all kinds of shapes that you couldn't do in fiberglass.
SA: So that made life a lot easier.
HA: Well it gave us some good shapes that we couldn't otherwise do, for the crossbeam and runners and that. The boat started to have a body of its own - kind of a weird looking one, but enough to see that it wasn't an Aquacat, it wasn't to be confused with anything that was around that time. We didn't want a full-width or full-height hull, just too heavy – so the cast parts solved that.
SA: What was the biggest difference between the boat you envisioned when you first talked to Art and the final 14 production hull?
HA: Well I didn't have anything when I first talked to Art. Sandy's little boat was down on the beach then, we looked at plenty of stuff, but we just figured it out as we went along.
SA: It's kind of funny to think of how modern boats are designed and compare it to a few guys in a quonset hut throwing together one of the most important boats in sailing history. How did you go about designing the rest of the boat – rudder, tramps, halyard locks, everything else? Did you have any specialists or people devoted to that kind of thing?
HA: No, I designed virtually everything. I had a couple of guys like Sandy working for me, doing hand grinding and sanding and stuff. I got the first plugs sanded and all polished out ready to make a mold, and I remember it was in September, and the sun came through the windows and heated up one of the hulls and warped it. We had to take a big saw and slice it in each direction, made a noodle out of it, routed it and put rebar in it and put it back together straight. Everything was hand done. We had everything but the rudders done that Christmas, and I was spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to get them to kick up right and to get them down without moving the tiller around. I was mounting my kid's ski bindings, and looking at how the toe plate locked into the boot, and I realized I could put a cam and a ball in just like the bindings to make the rudders work, and it kind of just evolved like that.
SA: How much time passed between moving the motorcycles out of the hut and the 14 being ready for production?
HA: We started about in June, and by September we'd decided on a shape for the hulls, and that we were going to do the castings for the mast bearings, and all the little parts. All winter long we were making molds and putting everything together. And the first boat we got out of the molds we called April, it pretty much had everything but the kick-up rudder Than we had another one called May, then another one called June. And my partner started getting nervous now, thinking we'd have a July and August and everything – worried about money. So on the 4th of July, 1968, we were going to have our first regatta with the four boats we'd built. But of course it was glass, the wind didn't blow even a little. So the next week we had our first little race out off Beach Road.
SA: That's awesome – you are just full of stories about everything. One of our readers wants to know, “Why are you golfing and fly fishing instead of sailing? Have you lost all interest in the sport?”
HA: No – but I've never really stuck too long with anything! When you're a kid surfing you think you'll be a surfer all your life, but you get on with other things. I've always loved model airplanes, I played with those, and then I got into the dirt bikes – we went to the desert and raced dirt bikes every weekend for three years! And that's what all the rest of the guys were doing too. There were just a load of fun things to do, none of them were intentionally laid out, it all just happened somewhere along the line.
SA: Robin writes, “You and my old man Sled Shelhorse did the Worrell 1000 back in the late '70s and early '80s. It seems with insurance liability and a general aversion to risk these days, we'll never have that sort of adventure where a few guys just take off with a compass and go. Do you think we'll ever see that kind of race again?”
HA: I don't know! I thought it was scary at the time – I mean, it really was downright dangerous, and they were lucky they never killed anyone. And I didn't want to do it anymore, but my kids, oh boy! Off they went, raced it two or three times, won it...so with that I went back to follow it and watch it. They were gonna do it anyway so I might as well be there to watch it, right? It was exciting, but it wasn't patrolled as well as it could have been. Guys that could handle almost anything, but God! They went around Hatteras on one of the races, and I was right on the tip watching them, and you could see the oceans running together. They tacked out to clear the point, but they just kept going while I was thinking, “why are they tacking out?” Those waves were twice as high as the mast, and they just couldn't find a spot to tack – there wasn't any safe spot. You could just be dead out there, it was such a scary thing.
SA: Do you think it helped promote Hobies or multihull sailing?
HA: Well Mike Worrell got a LOT of press from it, and it definitely promoted the boat. The fact that they came in to the beach every night, it get everyone on the East Coast into it. And then the Hog's Breath did another one around the bottom of Florida, that one had its scary pieces too, but it was also good for the boat.
SA: Another reader says that he raced on the ProSail circuit as well as “the Ultimate Yacht Race” on Hobie 21s against Jeff and Hobie, Jr. - he wants to know if there is any potential for another multihull series in the US that could catch the public's interest?
HA: I don't know – I really haven't thought too much about it. But the ones going up the beach, the Tybee and that, that could work really well if the individual towns are promoting it like they were back in the Worrell days. Individuals watching sailboat racing isn't too exciting. But maybe that thing that the San Francisco computer guy built up here in Anarcortes...
SA: You're talking about Elison's trimaran. What do you think of that one?
HA: (laughs) I've just seen it in pictures off the internet – that looks scarier n' hell! They're gonna be a long way in the air. But it sure would be neat to see it race in an ultimate, all-out kind of thing.
SA: Could be really ugly too.
HA: It sure could. That's the thing, all that stuff they're doing now, with the canting keels and open oceans, you really can get hurt. It is a real sport!
SA: Is it true that you worked on Dennis Conner's America's Cup catamaran?
HA: No – but I was kind of their official lender. They had an old Hobie Cat building that they built it in. Bob DeLong, who is a friend of ours, he was doing the hull work, and John Wake, who worked for me, he went on to work on the Conner crew.
SA: So you lent a bunch of technical expertise to Stars & Stripes through some of your Hobie crew?
HA: Well, John was really the one who laid up the hulls, laminating them out of pre-preg honeycomb, something we weren't really doing. But I was two buildings away building Katie Sue, so I had clearance to go in and watch the build. I really give 'em credit, I mean we were all catamaran guys, but I was just looking at it thinking “boy those are long, skinny things with little tiny bits, is that really gonna work?” But they did an unbelievable job of putting it together and making it a one-shot success.
SA: And yet the boats are still holding up – one of them sailed the Chicago-Mackinac race just this year.
HA: I didn't know that, but it doesn't surprise me. I have a little piece of the hull section that they gave out to some people - it was really a great job that Rutan and all those guys did on the overall structural work on the boat.
SA: So you know that the America's Cup is in a mess right now, at least as bad as it was back in '88. Have you followed any of the current legal battle?
HA: Well, I have just a little because of that new boat they built. I guess it's kind of like what Fay tried to do with Dennis, you know, forcing a race on their terms. I don't really know too much about this one, but I thought what Fay did was really rotten. The New York Yacht Club had kept it in this country, and weren't the best people to deal with, but it was starting to really come together, it had gotten to the foreign countries, they'd gotten some rules together, and then Fay pulled that. Guys with too much money...that's kind of been the story of the America's Cup the whole way.
Check back for Part 3 on Wednesday.