They haven’t really changed with time, and that’s what gives Beetle Cats appeal.
The wooden hull boats are made the same way today as when 87-year-old Herb Browne started sailing them as a kid, although it is unlikely Herb took to the tiller as young as Ben Fallon.
Both Ben, who is 5 years old, and Browne were competitors in the New England Beetle Cat Association’s Leo J. Telemanick championships, hosted this weekend at Edgewood Yacht Club. The regatta brought in sailors from Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts, a total of 20 of the beamy boats with a door-like rudder off the stern.
Ben, who crewed for his father, Timothy, was one of several family teams on the water.
Actually, said Tim as sails flapped and boats bobbed waiting for the wind to settle in, Ben first sailed the regatta six years ago. On that race his mother was crewing and he was yet to be born. Tim and Benjamin sailed the boat up from Warren on Friday, sleeping aboard in the open cockpit for the night. They represented the Wild Harbor Yacht Club on the Cape.
Beetle Cat sailing is also in the blood of the Shuster family of Warwick. The full family was on the water for the championships with parents George and Stephanie on one boat and their daughters Greta and Georgia on separate boats. Herb had his grandson, Oliver, as crew.
While Sunday provided a beautiful day, the morning winds were weak and unpredictable. It made for challenges for both sailors and Stuart Malone and the race committee. At one point the wind appeared to fill in from the north, only to shift to the west and die. When there was a zephyr from the south, usually the dominant wind at this time of year, Malone set the first mark upwind to the south. The wind looked like it would fill in and so he started a race. By the time the last boat crossed the finish line, the wind had swung around to the north again.
The original boat was designed and built by John Beetle of New Bedford in 1921 and soon afterward started appearing on shores of New England. According to the Beetle Cat Association website, more than 4,000 of the 12-foot, four-inch boats have been built to date. They are gaff rigged and, unlike other boats that were first built in wood and later in fiberglass, the Beetle Cat has remained true to its origin. Even the spars continue to be wooden, although there is some concession to the advances of technology when it comes to sail cloth and lines. A new Beetle Cat costs upward of $14,000 and that doesn’t include sails or a trailer.
But if there were new boats on the water Sunday there was no telling them apart from those with scores of years on the water.
As it turned out, youth triumphed over age Sunday when it came to overall placement. After sailing nine races over the two days, the Fallons placed first overall, followed by Scott Bearse and Alasdair Petiet of Barnstable in second and Ery Largay and Sage Wadlow of the Wianno Yacht Club in third.
The Brownes of the Bristol Yacht Club finished in 7th place, but got first in the Ancient Mariner Class and the Shuster family from Edgewood placed in the middle of the fleet.
From TB.com: Beetle Inc in Wareham, MA is a favorite customer of ours. Their facility is a sight to behold, and their production line style boat building is famous – enough so that it is rumored that Henry Ford visited their factory for tips on the set up for production lines back in the day. If you find yourself near their factory, it’s worth a tour and a stop to inhale the amazing cedar smells. And if you get the chance to sail a Beetle, you will know the joy that these little boats have delivered for almost a century. They truly are a wonderful boat to sail.