In 1967, Bob Brack could not have anticipated that for the next 50 years he would return season upon season to the waters of Buzzards Bay aboard the same sailboat.
As David Kaiser of the Mattapoisett Boat Yard knows, most boat owners who spend any amount of leisure time with boats will go through several boats in a lifetime – not just one.
But Brack’s love for his 19-foot Sailstar Corinthian purchased in 1967 is much more than a passion for sailing – it is the tangible evidence of his love for family.
As a boy, Brack spent summers motor boating in the waters in and around Parkwood Beach, Wareham. “We had a family cottage there. My father had a small outboard,” Brack recalled.
Years later, it would be a suggestion by his first wife Joan that would inspire the latent sailor. Brack remarked to her, “I don’t want to golf.” He wanted something that would give the family time together. She said, “Why not take up sailing?” Thus began a lifetime of experiencing the joy of being with family and sailing.
As he sits on the back porch of his historic home located on Water Street in Mattapoisett, Brack looks out at the cerulean harbor and seems awestruck that 50 years have indeed passed.
Brack tells his story of a man, one boat, and a thousand memories.
The first boat Brack purchased was an 11-foot O’Day Sprite. “A close friend taught me how to sail.” That friend was John Flood who would become his sailing partner for many, many years. “It had a mainsail and a jib, but I worried the children might get frightened,” he said, given that the O’Day could at times be unstable in choppy water, “I wanted them to have a good experience.”
Brack acquired the Sailstar he named Embarker in 1967. The family business was in steel, and the business was called Barker Steel. Barker is also Brack’s middle name, so naming the boat Embarker was a play on words of sorts. Embarker was a boat that Brack believed would be more stable, a reasonable consideration given the moody nature of Buzzards Bay. “At two o’clock the air changes, you know,” he chuckled.
Carl Alberg created the Sailstar in 1966. Alberg (1900-1986) was a prolific boat designer well known in sailing circles, having designed 56 different types of sailboats especially crafted for Buzzards Bay and surrounding bodies of water.
Brack describes his boat this way: “It has a full keel, draws three feet. It’s the keel that gives it stability, so when the wind kicks up, the boat won’t go over – it leans.”
November 1967 his children began learning the ropes, thus the adventures of a lifetime followed. He recalled one particular season when they sailed an amazing 29 times, respectful of weather conditions but sailing nonetheless.
And then there were the end-of-season rituals. Sailing the boat back from Wareham where it was moored from 1967 until 1987 into Mattapoisett Harbor for the winter haul-out at the Mattapoisett Boat Yard he called a “right-of-passage” for his children. That trip, Brack said, almost always took place over the Columbus Day weekend.
Except for one year when he and his oldest child Ginny sailed it back through bitter cold conditions just before Thanksgiving 1977.
“The boat was at Parkwood Beach. The Sunday before Thanksgiving it was blowing twenty knots, it was thirty-five degrees, but I had to get the boat back to Mattapoisett,” Brack recalled. He said he knew that the boatyard would still have a launch running, but he called ahead anyway to ensure, “…someone would be there to get us off the boat…”
“The wind was coming off the west. We tacked in from Angelica Point … it was cold … we were wet … we loved it,” Brack remembers with a meaningful chuckle. Debarking from the boat, Ginny turned to her father and said, “Now that was a whizzer!”
“When you sail, you have to think safety,” Brack said. He knows how unforgiving Buzzards Bay can be, lessons learned first hand through the decades. “It takes your mind off everything…. You are focused on the changing winds and tides.” He has instilled a very healthy respect for the ocean in his family through sailing. He said oftentimes the swells in Buzzards Bay are a very choppy 4 feet high. “The kids loved it!”
Brack’s sailing experiences are not confined to the joys of sailing exclusively with family. In 1987, he became a partner, along with friends Jack Noble and John Flood, in a racing yacht, winning the Marion Bermuda Race, the highly regarded 645-mile race testing sailor against self, weather conditions, and other sailors. No doubt that was a “whizzer” too.
Also beginning in 1987, for the next 25 years Brack would participate in the Buzzards Bay Regatta as well.
On Monday, June 12, Brack’s beloved sailboat was launched for the fiftieth time. The memories of all the previous seasons docked in his mind, image after image, year after year with the voices of his children floating up from the froth of time calling, “Dad, I want to go sailing.”
“I’m at that point where the kids won’t let me boat alone,” Brack dryly announced, although he had often sailed alone up until just three years ago. He hopes to find someone who is willing to sail alongside him, someone with general sailing experience and, of course, a love for being out on Buzzards Bay.
Monday morning Brack was joined by his son, Ken. Together the two repeated what had been done for 50 years now after Embarker was lowered onto the water’s surface and fastened to the dock. Father and son moved together in motions they have done side by side for years and will continue to do so this fiftieth year. It was the hottest day yet of the year and a group had gathered to witness this golden anniversary of the annual launching of Embarker.
“It’s very, very, very special,” said former Mattapoisett Boatyard owner Art McLean, who had been assisting Brack with his sailboat every year. Art’s wife Alberta accompanied the group, snapping pictures with her phone. “This is probably the only boatyard who’s had the same customer with the same boat for fifty years.”
“Here’s to another fifty!” shouted out David Kaiser.
There are still quite a few sails yet ahead for Brack, but it is the memories from decades spent sailing with his three children that provide the aging mariner with bounty more precious than gold. “We’ve had some wonderful days. It’s been an incredible experience.”
By Marilou Newell and Jean Perry