I admit it. I’ve got the bug. There’s something about wooden boats that makes me go all gurgly inside. But add in the word schooner, and I go twice as gurgly. Those yachts with their raked masts spell one word: S.e.x.y.
So I was at an exhibition of nautical photos aboard the Star of India the other night when my friend Joe pointed out this snowy-haired gent. We were down in the cargo deck. The gent was looking at a picture of a beautiful wooden schooner slicing through the waters and flying a giant stars and stripes. She looked straight out of an old maritime painting. He looked like an old salt, too.
“That’s Paul Plotts,” Joe said, like I should recognize the name, if I was any sort of sailor. Guess I’m not. Turns out Mr. Plotts owns the flag-flying schooner he’s looking at. That’s him at the helm.
“It’s the Dauntless,” says Joe. “Seventy-foot stays’l schooner. Mahogany and spruce. Has been racing since 1930. Is still competitive. Paul’s had it since 1984.”
By this time another gent is at the picture, talking with Paul.
“His son Tom,” says Joe. “Paul and Tom and Tom’s sons crew this monster.”
Of course, I have to go over.
“Would you like to come see her?” asks Paul.
Is there a bull moose in the north woods? A couple of days later, on a sunny, breezy day, I’m stepping aboard this greyhound of the seas from a dock at the Southwestern Yacht Club in Point Loma. I’m so in awe of her lines, of the fact she has sailed — raced — countless times to Hawaii (and won twice), that I hardly notice the original tulip lamps that light the main salon below, or the 1930 pot belly stove that still keeps you warm in stormy weather. Paul’s telling me how she carries 2200 square feet of sails with names like main staysail, 110-degree genoa, and gollywobbler. Even anchors have names like “CQR” and “Danforth.”
Already, in my dream life, we’re slipping into Catalina just as the harbor lights are winking on. I give the orders. “Drop the Danforth! Secure the CQR! Line up for your tot of rum! Shore party to the dinghy davits!”
Paul’s 90, but you can see he’s still quietly in command. He made his money in restaurants, and has been steadily restoring Dauntless (named after a British 1871 America’s Cup hopeful) in the 34 years he’s owned her. Today, he says she’s as good as the day she slipped into the water at the Dauntless Shipyard in Essex, Connecticut on 16th June, 1930 (design number 458 in the design book of a very famous designer named John Alden).
Come April 7th, she’ll be at it again, competing in the 30th running of the America’s Schooner Cup Regatta in San Diego Bay. Paul will be at the helm.
But for how much longer?
“My family are all too busy now,” he says. “And I’m getting on. I’m selling her.”
Electric bolt charges through my body.
“Asking $350K,” he says. “And that…”
“I know,” I say. “That would be just the beginning.”