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Sailing / Richard Buffum

Spike Africa: a Product of Poetic Inspiration

July 09, 1986|RICHARD BUFFUM

The Skipper Says: The schooner rig, with its gaffs and beauty, has been raised above American decks for two hundred years.-- Neale Haley, from "The Schooner Era."

It seems a poet generally is unrecognized in his hometown. The late Bob Sloan of Newport Beach was a poet, and except for those who are deeply into sailing, the rest of the city's populace were unaware of Sloan's beautiful poetry, which he had written with wood, iron, bronze and canvas.

Sloan, who fought a valiant battle with leukemia and died last March at age 50, wrought his final and greatest poem, Spike Africa, in his own inland shipyard in Costa Mesa. Spike Africa is a 61-foot, two-masted schooner, built as a cargo-carrying vessel, but because she was built by the eyes, hands and heart of a poet, she is sheer poetry herself.

Many have seen her, but know not of her author. Spike Africa, named after the legendary Pacific Coast sailor Sloan met in Tahiti, has been seen on TV and her picture under sail has been published in magazines and on billboards across the country, advertising a cigarette company.

And there, on the cover of the May/June issue of Wooden Boat magazine, is Spike Africa, schooning along close-hauled. The main feature story of the magazine is about Sloan and his beloved vessel. It was written, with deep admiration by Maynard Bray, technical editor of Wooden Boat.

In February, Bray spent a day and a half with Sloan and his wife, Monika, and it was then that Bray realized and wrote, "that Sloan was unique, a Renaissance man who could create a vessel like Spike, and make an operation on such a scale as this work when most others have failed."

Bray was referring to Sloan's making the schooner pay her own way by hauling freight, such as cruising gear for race boats. Spike Africa made three trips to Honolulu to coincide with the TransPac Race. She also has carried freight as far south as Cabo San Lucas.

It took Sloan, working alone, seven years to finish Spike. He hired Wayne Ettel to build the interior, however, because, by his own admission, Sloan was not a cabinet maker.

"Because she was set up outdoors and there was plenty of clear area around her, Sloan could exercise his preference to develop some of her shape and general appearance by eye as he went along," Bray wrote. "He could look at her from any distance or viewpoint and, in so doing, assure himself that he was getting just what he wanted, especially in critical areas like the sheerline and the transom."

That's the secret of Spike Africa as a poem. It was the poet's heart and eye that formed her. Next time you see the most beautiful schooner you've ever laid eyes on in Newport Harbor, you'll know you're seeing Spike Africa. Just tip your hat in memory of the remarkable man who created her.

Sailing Notes The Brass Elk will be launched at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Boatswain's Locker, Newport Beach. That's the name of a newly built, 32-foot, Colin Archer-design sloop. The vessel derives her name from the Elk Brass Mfg. Co., suppliers of brass and teak parts for the sailboat industry. The vessel, Brass Elk, was designed by her skipper, Lee Vuille of Laguna Beach, one of the owners of Elk Brass, along with Vince Hames.

Born of Westsail molds in 1978, the Brass Elk underwent more than 7 1/2 years of changes to her fiberglass hull, deck and liner. She now is covered with more than 1,500 feet of teak, Honduran mahogany and appointed brass work. She weighs in at 19,500 pounds displacement.

-The 51st Annual Flight of the Lasers will be held July 20 in Newport Harbor, begining at 1 p.m., according to the Newport Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, sponsors of the sailboat race. Actually, although the Chamber failed to mention it in its announcement, the Laser, a fast, little scow-type sloop, has only been around for about seven years. The 51st Annual Flight of the Lasers refers to the continuation of a historic sailboat race with little sloops called Snowbirds, a few of which are still found in these parts, but as a class they seem to have lost their popularity.

The race starts and finishes near the Balboa Pavilion and the course circumnavigates the bay.

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