Outdoor people, the Leonards spend much of their time at home on one porch or another, on a dockside deck, or in the greenhouse that extends the outdoor season on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. So it's perfectly understandable when Bill says, "We figured we'd be looking at our sailboat on the mooring 90 percent-of the time. It had to be nice looking. We wanted to be able to see it and smile."With her classic Alberg-esque lines, their C&C Redwing elicits that smile.
The Redwing isn't like the rest of the Canadian-built C&Cs that came a bit later and are so common on the Great Lakes. A 30-footer, she was replaced by the ubiquitous C&C 30, the boat Jerry and I sail. Only 145 to 150 Redwings were built by Hinterhoeller between 1967 and 1972, before they cast those plans aside in favor of the C&C 30, of which more than 800 were produced between 1973 and 1985.
Since the Redwing came relatively early in the history of production fiberglass boats, Cuthbertson and Cassian were clearly influenced by the designs of Carl Alberg. The Redwing has the recognizable wooden cockpit coamings and the pedestal-mounted winches. She has that beautiful upswept stern and a narrow beam. At 21 feet 9 inches her waterline is much shorter than her 30 feet on deck would lead you to believe. And space below is tight, as can be expected of all boats with the Alberg look.
What is surprising about the Redwing is her shape below the water. Designed as a family racer/cruiser, the Redwing has minimal wetted surface below - no doubt a revolution for her time. Her keel is the same inverted shark fin found on the early C&C 30s that followed in her wake, and her rudder is an unusual affair that looks for all the world like the blade of a scimitar
Bill and Nancy use their Redwing exactly as she was intended. They participate in club races on Sundays, and they take an annual two-week cruise to Isle Royale on the other side of Lake Superior. Isle Royale, a pristine national park, is one of the most desirable destinations on Lake Superior. It's a long day's sail from their home on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
The Leonards bought their 1970 Redwing in 1994 and named her, appropriately, Blackbird. They began their annual excursions to Isle Royale the following summer.
Bill started sailing dinghies many years before that, while growing up in Connecticut. His formative years at the seacoast have been a defining factor for the Leonards throughout their years together. They had to be by water because Bill can't imagine life any other way.
Bill discovered this need when he went to Indiana's Rose Hulman Institute for his civil engineering degree. Nancy, a Hoosier, met her Connecticut Yankee there. She was attending Indiana State, working on a teaching degree. The two worked for a short time at their intended professions in Indianapolis and sailed a Sunfish on Eagle Reservoir there.
But it was the time of peace, love, and flower children . . . a time for dreaming dreams. In 1973, they quit their jobs and sold their home to chase a dream. They bought a Volkswagen camper bus and spent the summer circumnavigating Lake Superior by land and living on $10 a day, as the books of the time said they could. They were looking for a home by water, one where they could put down roots.
Bought a farm
The community of Houghton, on the Keweenaw Peninsula, attracted them as the home of a growing technical university and a community influenced by the water surrounding it. That fall they bought a farm that hadn't been inhabited in 40 years. After doing a lot of work to make it habitable, they moved in on May 6. It burned to the ground with all their possessions on May 13. Many family treasures were lost, of course, but they are philosophical about the loss. They lived through it, saved by their faithful Saint Bernard dog, who awakened them in time.
But they were new to the community, and they had nothing but the smokepermeated clothes on their backs, a large dog, and the VW van. Some people in the community helped them make a new start. More than 25 years later, they have become so much a part of the Houghton and Chassell community that a similar loss would bring an outpouring of support personal and financial. In addition to their status as well-known merchants there, Bill serves as Chasssell Township Supervisor, and both volunteer their time in many areas of community life.
After the fire, they bought a small store in Chassell, a small town just south of Houghton. There they opened a gift shop and rented out apartments upstairs, living in one of these themselves. The gift shop flourished, and the civil engineer and specialeducation teacher never returned to their "careers." Instead they discovered their artistic and aesthetic sides. It is this sense of beauty that defines their lives today.
One and the same
The Leonards transformed the shop building into a place of beauty with a delightful garden in the back, and filled it from wall to wall inside with tasteful treasures beautifully displayed. They named the store Einerlei . At the time, they were studying German and learned that einerlei meant "one and the same." To them, the concept meant having your work and play intertwined and indistinguishable. Over the years, the shop crowded out the apartments and grew to include a building next door and a second shop in downtown Houghton.
Meanwhile, Bill and Nancy were enjoying sails on a 17-foot Windjammer daysailer, and converting a log cabin on the shore into a spectacular home worthy of a feature in Home & Garden. In fact, it was featured in Country Living magazine in June 1983.
During this time, they discovered the joys of sailboard sailing and had a series of his-and-her sailboards that could be launched from the beach in front of their home. When the homebuilding project drew to an end, it was time to buy a cruising sailboat, and they selected Blackbird, based on her pretty lines. They didn't first sail her or have her surveyed. Luckily, she sails like a dream, and very little refitting was necessary.
We sailed with Bill and Nancy in late June. It was Sunday, time for a club race, and their crewmember was unable to come along. This was good news to Jerry (Good Old Boat technical editor and my husband), who still misses his racing days on a Flying Scot in an active one-design fleet. There are not enough sailboats on the entire Keweenaw Peninsula to create a onedesign fleet, but the club members race PHRF and have a good time with the boats they've got.
The Redwing crossed the line first in two races, and may well have won the races once the ciphering was done. That didn't matter. There was plenty of wind, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
The club races on Portage Lake, a wide spot in the Keenenaw Cut. It is unlikely that Bill and Nancy would ever be accused of carrying too little sail when they race. The day of the race, they hoisted a Mylar 170 before the first race in light-to-moderate winds with large black clouds looming on the western horizon. They carried this sail through both races and through the pleasure sailing that followed, even when a cold front arrived toward the end of the day, bringing very fresh winds for a 170-percent genoa.
The Redwing has a high ballast ratio in a fairly narrow beam by modern standards. But the big gusts could do no more than roll her rail down a bit and shoot the spunky 30footer forward. Bill says he likes to sail her with up to 25 degrees of heel and has observed no loss of speed at the higher angles of heel. So this couple does not do a lot of reefing or headsail changing.
Racing on the Leonards' Redwing is meant to be fun. Exchanges between skipper and crew are conversational in tone with an occasional laugh. Still, make no mistake: the Redwing was first over the line each time, and they made sure they didn't give away an inch. That day, Nancy was at the helm for both races. Bill was skipper, tactician, and deck ape. Jerry served as utility string-puller of jib, main, and spinnaker sheets.
After many years, one problem for the Redwing and others with a deck-stepped mast is that the deck begins to sag under the load. Delamination is sometimes an additional problem. John Vigor has said that deckstepped masts often lead to trouble in the end. The Redwing had indeed experienced some trouble with hers. She was designed to have a removable compression post located under the deck beam that spanned two bulkheads forward and aft of the head compartment.
It's possible that if the compression post had been left in place continuously while sailing, the mast wouldn't have been able to distort the deck beam and crack the forward bulkhead. But as Bill points out, the interior of the boat is virtually unusable with the compression post in place. Access to the V-berth is nearly impossible, and the two cleverly arranged doors that close off the hanging locker, V-berth, and head aren't functional with the post in place because they won't swing through their intended arcs. Only the most dedicated of owners will have used the compression post routinely.
Since Bill and Nancy did not use the compression post all the time, they eventually noticed that the deck beam, an aluminum weldment, was bent, and the bulkhead supporting its forward end had a small stress crack. Bill modified the deck beam by increasing the thickness of the panels and the depth of the webs. As a rough guess, it might now be four times as stiff as it was. Then he put aluminum doublers on both sides of the forward bulkhead beam inside the cabin and through-bolted them on close centers. The original wooden beam is reinforced in this way to several times its original strength.
Other sailors may wonder why the designers at C&C didn't take these kinds of measures to begin with. There may not be any good answer to this except to say that a lot of otherwise very acceptable recreational sailboats were designed with mast steps (deck- and keel-stepped) that would eventually prove to be inadequate. Perhaps it's not easy to estimate the compression loads of sailboat masts and to provide a structure that will last for 30 years. It's all the more tempting to keep unnecessary weight out of locations as high as the cabintop, which is perhaps why so many deck-stepped masts seem to have been underbuilt.
Blackbird continues to be exactly what Nancy and Bill wanted when they bought her: a complement to their home, a boat that sails well, and an important component in their lifestyle. They are not planning to sail to Tahiti some day. If a plan of that nature begins to develop, they agree that a bigger boat would be in the picture.
Right now, they are happy to spend a couple of weeks in the northern paradise we know as Isle Royale, using an inflatable kayak as their dinghy, and racing for fun with friends on the Keweenaw. They also use their shore base for launching a canoe for quiet paddles in the nearby marshes and their sailboards for the occasional whisk away. Blackbird is just one part of their lives, not an all-consuming displacing passion as sailboats can become for some of us. The Leonards have created a nice balance in their lives, one that is both remarkable and exemplary for the passionate sailors among us.
SUBLIME TO SERIOUS
Whether you're a racer or a cruiser or a racer/cruiser (like Bill and Nancy Leonard above), the
C&C Redwing is just right. Brian and Joanne Novak are cruisers, new to sailing, who were captivated
by the Redwing and are getting to know her inside and out as they refurbish and sail her. At the
other end of the spectrum, Andrews Hooker has been sailing and racing aboard his Redwing for the
30 years she has been in his family. His father bought her from the factory in 1969. Since 1986
she has been Andy's restoration project and racing yacht.