Le Vif d’Or Expands White Bear’s A-Boat Racing Fleet | New
Equipped with a formidable 20-something team, another A-Scow graces White Bear Lake this summer.
The Snitch is back on the water after a storage hiatus after two enthusiasts of the flat-bottomed barge negotiated a deal with Fletcher Driscoll, the sailor from Dellwood probably most responsible for returning the magnificent sailboats to their place of birth.
Eight to ten A-boats gather for the Monday night races which started on June 7, many of which set off from the Driscoll docks where they slipped. It is the largest fleet of A boats in North America.
Mahtomedi sailor Gene Altstatt was one of two men who helped sell the 1995 Snitch.
“Making the boat active was our goal,” Altstatt said of the purchase. He teamed up with Tim Carlson, a seasoned Great Lakes sailor and owner of Sailcrafters Inc., to close the deal. Carlson then recruited one of his young employees, Carl Eaton, to skipper the boat, which required some repairs to make it fit for racing. Eaton and his six-member team trained on Monday nights to get used to the high performance barge.
A boats are not for inexperienced sailors, Driscoll explained. A-scow crewmembers should always be on top of their game. Thirty-eight feet long without a keel, the boats are so light they are scary. And they capsize easily.
Snitch was one of five A boats that Driscoll bought almost 20 years ago to launch the White Bear fleet. He is delighted that the boat has found new life with the 20+ age group, who weren’t even born when the boat was built.
“There’s a different vibe about them,” Driscoll said of his new crew. “They are not a bunch of kids fighting their chests over how good they are, but carefree sailors.”
Eaton is 22 years old and has been sailing since the age of 9 with his father and grandfather, mainly on Lake Minnetonka via the Wayzata Yacht Club. He brings an impressive resume to race night. He was captain of the Minnetonka High School sailing team and competed in national competitions. He commodored the University of Minnesota sailing team for two years and sails a 50-foot boat with Carlson on the Great Lakes.
“The A-Scows are a lot of boats to manage,” admitted Eaton. “I am still intimidated. You don’t drive the boat; it pushes you. It’s different from all the other boats I’ve been on, and I’ve sailed a lot. The A is the most difficult and requires the most concentration.
The young skipper added that he couldn’t express his gratitude enough to Driscoll for having the chance to sail an A-boat. “What he’s doing is amazing,” said Eaton. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s really exciting and I’m grateful for his generosity.
Snitch owner Carlson – who, by the way, is the captain of Altstatt’s barge The Robinson – said he bought the boat expressly to start a youth program and thanked Altstatt for making it possible. “Carl understands the need to have young people navigate,” Carlson noted. “This is our goal.”
The Eaton boss thinks the young team (all under 25) will do well. “There will be a lot of talk between me and Carl on Tuesday morning,” Carlson said. “Everything will take place in a good mood. I expect them to come in second.
Altstatt agrees: “These young, experienced sailors will be a force to be reckoned with. The key to these boats is team coordination. A guy can screw it up. You need a good group of people to navigate this boat. They are stronger and more agile than us older guys.
Driscoll slowly sold his inventory of A boats to keep their legacy alive and sail White Bear Lake. He has one boat left, Hedwig, still for sale. (All of its boats were named after characters from Harry Potter.) Barges have a long history in White Bear Lake. Johnson Boat Works founder JO Johnson designed the racing sailboat in 1900. According to Driscoll, these are the fastest monohulls in the world.