It was exactly fifty years ago, in NE Portland, that a boatbuilder named George Sutton was putting the finishing touches to a 40' yacht for Don Schafer. Work had been under way in the small shop for almost two years, but Schafer wanted a boat that would last was and was prepared to wait. This attention to detail certainly paid off, because the Janie became the first local yacht to race across the Pacific Ocean and is still sailing today.
While the hull took shape, Don, his wife Jane, son Bob and daughter Donna continued to sail their Columbia River One Design #1, Ahoy, purchased in 1938. The new boat was designed by Heinie Dole, a marine engineer who had moved to Warrenton during the war to work on minesweeper production at Astoria Marine Construction. Don Schafer had come to trust the centerboard configuration of the CROD so Dole drew him a shape which is as distinctive now as it was then: an offshore centerboarder with 4' hull draft, 12' beam and a spacious deck house.
Donna remembers that her father had contracted to pay Sutton by the hour to ensure that the new boat was built to the highest standards. When it came to the finishing, Don didn't trust anyone using electric sanders on the immaculate, 1 1/4" Port Orford cedar planking, so he enlisted his children to hand-sand and paint the hull. This hands-on experience had a greater influence on them than Don could could ever have imagined. Bob became a proficient boatbuilder, turning out several Geary 18 dinghies that he raced with great success in many northwest regattas, while Donna continues to own the Janie, and has kept her in first-class condition for the last 20 years.
That spring of 1948 the river kept rising until it breached the dyke below the Interstate Bridge and flooded Vanport. Once the emergency was over, the Janie was lifted into the water by a barge-mounted crane from Gundersen and the 60', spruce mast was stepped. Large sailing yachts were quite a rarity in those post-war days and all the gear had to be ordered from the east coast.
The Merriman company in Boston queried the order, saying that everything was too heavy for a yacht of this size, but Schafer had his own ideas about seaworthiness and thought that easterners didn't understand that sailing on the Pacific Ocean was not an afternoon cruise. There's no question, says Donna, that her father was already thinking ahead, and wanted everything on his yacht to be well-found. The proof is that much of that gear is still holding the mast up today!
For the next three summers, the Schafers sailed the Janie up the Washington coast in company with other PYC boats, and cruised around British Columbia and the San Juans for two months. Midway through their vacation, Don would return to Portland from a convenient harbor like Victoria to catch up on work, leaving his family onboard.
From those far-off days, Donna recalled a couple of exciting moments. Sailing north one year they ran into fog near Destruction Island, started to pump the fog horn and heard echoes off the PORT side! Surfing over the bar into Grays Harbor the Janie was caught by a powerful breaker, her father struggled to keep the boat on course and broke the tiller. He immediately ran into the deckhouse and resumed steering with the wheel!
By 1951, Don had put enough sea miles on the boat; he was ready to fulfil his dream of entering the Transpac Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii. The Janie would be the first Portland boat to enter this famous, biennial event, first run in 1907. Until the 1970s, the 2,200-mile Transpac Race was the longest, regularly-held event in the yachting world.
It wasn't hard to find crew for this adventure. Moored next to the Janie at the Portland Yacht Club were the the 27' sloop Spindrift and the 40' Bugeye Beachcomber (also built by George Sutton). Their owners: Les Ordeman, a writer for the Oregon Journal and Dr Jim Wiley, made up a crew of five in all with Don, his wife Jane as cook and son Bob aged 18.
It's thanks to Ordeman that we have a complete account of their 14 day-13 hour crossing and their reaction to the single, most amazing rescue in the history of yachting. Ordeman and Wiley could only take time off for the race itself, so the Schafers sailed the boat down to the start and also back from Hawaii. (Remember, this was before the time of self-steering or auto pilots.)
The safety inspectors didn't approve of the Janie's big deckhouse and insisted they raise the height of the coaming between it and the cockpit. Then they filled up with "fuel oil which turned out to be partially water and L.A. water, which later tasted a lot like fuel oil." The race started at noon, July 4th. Don had ordered two new sails, but hadn't had the time to test them.
They needed the new balloon jib for the start and were struggling to rig it, when George Sutton showed up. He was still helping them when the warning gun went. He leaped ashore and they crossed the line "with all the confusion of a Chinese fire drill." They looked back and were surpised to find themselves near the front of the fleet of 28 boats.
That night, a lone wave broke over Ordeman and Wiley just as they were settling into their first night watch. The next day they crossed tacks with the 35' ketch Moana. "She looked terrific slithering down the big seas, now almost hidden with just her upper sails showing, now bouncing up on a crest." A little later Ordeman was on the helm and found the rudder jammed. The prop shaft, which had been disconnected from the Gray Marine 73 HP gas engine, had slid backwards. They had to lower all sails until they could blockl the shaft in place with "a horrible assortment of vises, jacks, wooden blocks and rope."
By noon of June 7th they had logged 530 miles. Ordeman's routine included cleaning water out of the galley stove every morning. Then the engine wouldn't start to charge the batteries. It had filled with salt water down the exhaust pipe and had to be completely stripped. The exhaust line was cut and plugged with a potato! "We had to fall back on Smokey Joe to keep the batteries charged," wrote Ordeman. "Smokey Joe is a loathsome little brute with a two-cycle nervous system, a fluttery heart and delicate digestion. Every ten hours of running it was my lot to clean the carbon out of his ports and take his carburetor apart. The rest of the time he growled and howled and blew smelly smoke all over the place. There were times I was sore tempted to give him the old heave-ho."
The problem of chafe also kept them busy and they used a whole coil, 350 feet, of new, 1/2" manilla line. Otherwise they stayed on a broad reach for six wonderful days. They hoisted the spinnaker on July 10th as the wind came astern, creating even more chafing problems. Occasionally they wondered what would happen if a man went overboard (this was before harnesses came into popular use).
Ted Siercks was helping re-rig a tackle on the boom of the 72' sloop L'Apache when the stanchion he was leaning against tore loose and he was in the water. He grabbed for the log line and hung on until it broke. Somebody threw him a life ring, which he reached, but the big sloop was miles downwind by the time she started beating back toward him.
All the boats close behind began searching but to no avail -- they were taking a pounding going to weather against the wind and sea. By noon hope was fading. A navy task force was in the vicinity and arrived to take up the search. By then L'Apache had run out of gas and exhausted their batteries in the effort. The navy insisted they give up and continue on to Hawaii. The next day, after 30 hours in the water, Siercks was seen by the destroyer escort Munro and recovered in good health. It was another day before the good news reached his shipmates.
The sun finally shone on the Janie after a grey week, but the wind slowly died 600 miles from Oahu. On July 15th they tacked when the wind veered to the east. The water was unpalatable, the beer too warm to drink; the crew were dreaming of cold milkshakes. The skipper's noon sights with the sextant were confirmed when a Matson freighter passed them.
A school of squid landed on the foredeck, right on top of the proud navigator who was taking a snooze. He was covered in ink! On July 17th the wire splice in the head of the spinnaker blew out with only the helmsman on deck. The crew turned to and some quick work kept it out of the water. Then it was necessary to hoist a man up in a bosun's chair to retrieve the halyards.
With the sail re-hoisted, they raced into the Molokai Channel in 25 knots of wind with the knotmeter showing a steady 8 1/2 knots, occasionally 9 1/2. It was dark by the time they realized they would have to gybe to make Diamond Head. They dropped the spinnaker and hauled in the mainsheet, the yacht swung on the face of another wave and the entire mainsail flew to shreds in front of them.
With two miles to the line they raced to corral the wildly flapping sail in the red glow of the Diamond Head buoy. Four boats were finishing within hours of each other, which meant there was an impressive welcome at the dock, even though it was midnight by the time they were towed into the basin at Honolulu. Their rating placed them 11th on handicap. The overall winner was the 36' gaff-rigged schooner Sea Witch, only two hours behind them.
The sailing Schafers entered Janie in the Honolulu-Kauai race before sailing home to the Columbia in 22 days. "Wonderful sailing," said Don. "None of the strain of racing. We just jogged along under working sails and at night we all turned in and slept. Nothing to it!"
Eight years later, the Janie did it again. But this time she brought five other P.Y.C. boats with her, an impressive turnout from Portland's freshwater sailors. This time, Donna was one of the crew, with her then-husband Dean Burch. Three of the seven Oregon yachts were centerboarders designed by Heinie Dole --Janie, Patronilla and Ebb Tide. By far the biggest Portland entrant was Bob Johnson's 75' ketch Zia, (with Larry Barber along for the ride), then came Stan Bishoprick's 56' schooner Corahleen, Duane Vergeer's 47' cutter Hasty, the 39' ketch Suzy Q with Dirk Winters onboard and the Maramel.
The Patronilla came third in Class C with a time of 13 days 11 hours --the first Portland boat to come home with a trophy. Overall winner was the 46' sloop Nalu II, which Donna recalled as being a "stripped out racer with nothing but a few bunks below." The Janie was the subject of a short-lived search when she failed to meet the radio schedule. It was again caused by the engine flooding.
The galley stove also failed, leaving Jane to cook on Sterno fuel --she still managed to bake stovetop bread every day. Close to the islands, the Janie recorded her best day's run, exceeding 200 miles --an 8-knot average. However, when it came time to gybe, they got into difficulties again. This time the spinnaker wrapped around the forestay and was still there when they reached the dock.
In the years that followed, the Schafers continued to cruise the northwest coast until 19??. Don's affection for the Janie never waned. "My father never even dreamed of a getting another boat," Donna reflected. "He really loved that boat and must have passed it on to me. I can't imagine selling it either." Since 1980, she has kept the Janie in LaConner, Washington, where it is close to the popular cruising waters of the San Juans.