Beetles are back

Text and photos by John Howell
Posted 7/1/20

COVID-19 can’t stop the bugs. Well, more accurately, the Beetles.Beetle Cats, as they are known by many who sail them, are a version of a catboat. As for the Beetle, that has nothing to do with …

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Beetles are back

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COVID-19 can’t stop the bugs. Well, more accurately, the Beetles.
Beetle Cats, as they are known by many who sail them, are a version of a catboat. As for the Beetle, that has nothing to do with insects, but rather is the name of the family that designed and built the first boat in 1921 in New Bedford. Beetles are beamy for the 12 foot, 4 inch length that make them especially stable. Furthermore, making them ideal for kids and single-handed sailing, they have a single gaff-rigged sail.
The Beetle defies the classic lines of a sloop with its gracefully angled transom and wave-slicing bow. It’s squat with a rudder projecting off its backside like a barn door. It all works to allow the Beetle to navigate the shallows and with center board pulled up be beached. Let go of the tiller and the boat sails into the wind coming to a stop.
Beetles were never built of fiberglass, just wood, and as such demand attention. Before the days of fiberglass craft, Beetles were popular in these parts and organized racing a given at most bay yacht clubs.
Beetle racing resumed a couple of weeks ago at Edgewood Yacht Club.
Sailing Beetles surely meets the social distancing and gathering restrictions drafted in response to the pandemic. It was a natural in the opinion of the club’s commodore, George Shuster, who owns a Beetle and so far this belated sailing season is nipping at the transom of Jeff Lanphear. The club has a fleet of 10 Beetles.
In the 1950s and ’60s, about 50 Beetles sailed out of EYC says Shuster. Boats at EYC age from a few years old to decades old.
“My boat, Seashell, has the same name and sail number (52) as my mother’s Beetle that she raced at EYC in the late ’50s and early ’60s. My grandfather used to race Beetles at EYC among the ‘Peppy Pappys,’ a group of dads that raced their kids’ boats … a copycat, apparently, of Barrington’s ‘Tired Fathers’ group who similarly raced their kids’ Beetles. The moms’ group at EYC was called the ‘Wet Hens’ and did the same,” Shuster writes in an email.
Shuster’s daughters Georgia and Greta occasionally race against each other.
Racing takes place Wednesday evenings in the mooring field in front of the clubhouse. The race committee – Shuster’s wife Stephanie played the role last week – sets up at the end of the north dock. A buoy serves as the far end of the starting and finishing line. A flag on the dock serves as the other end. A series of whistle blasts provide the countdown to the three-minute start.
There’s a chance of a swarm of Beetles at the club this August.
EYC is scheduled to host the Leo J. Telesmanick Beetle Cat Championships, but Shuster said a final decision on whether to hold the regatta has not been made by NEBCBA, the class association (New England Beetle Cat Boat Association).
The EYC fleet of Beetles has no formal captain, but says Shuster, “Jeff Lanphear serves informally as the fleet historian and soul of the group.”

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