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A Tale of Two Tanzers

By Mary Maynard Drake
originally published in Good Old Boat, March/April 2000

A pair of tough mini racer/cruisers strut their stuff in Maine and New York

"I'm sailing." As Bob Howe speaks those words, his eyes sparkle, and the grin common to born-again sailors spreads broadly across his face. Six years ago, the 54-year-old East Harpswell, Maine, resident stopped at a boat brokerage on a whim. He walked out owning a 1973 Tanzer 22. "The next day my business partner remarked, `Oh, those are good boats,' " Howe says. Tanzer Industries, Ltd., of Dorion, Quebec, built more than 2,000 of the one-design fiberglass sloops in Quebec, plus a few hundred in North Carolina and Washington, between 1970 and 1986. Each carries 222 square feet of sail (main and working jib) plus optional genoas and spinnakers. Below are a forward V-berth, a convertible dinette to port, a tiny galley, and a quarter-berth to starboard. Most owners mount a 5- or 6-hp outboard on the transom.

Once he had bought the Tanzer 22, Bob Howe and his wife, Kathy, went looking for a lot along midcoast Maine's rocky wooded peninsulas, carrying a nautical chart to ensure the water would be deep enough for a mooring. "A very expensive dock" is what Bob calls the passive solar home they designed and built on the New Meadows River, three miles from Casco Bay.

A self-sufficient Mainer, Bob built a boat cradle, modified a low-bed, car-carrier trailer, and bought a doublewheel dump truck so he can launch and haul his 2,900-pound keel sloop from his neighbor's level yard. then tow it home. "Saves $300 or $400 a year," he says. "Besides, our mile-long driveway is so steep that the trucker who towed the boat down the first year said he would never, ever do it again."

To Bob's delight, his summers are free for sailing. (Most of his work as a health-care lobbyist at the Maine State Legislature occurs between January and April or June). He launches Svoboda (Russian for "freedom'') in April, and often is the last one out sailing in November. Kathy is a nurse practitioner, so they sail together on weekends. Weekdays, Bob may sail his homebuilt Bolger-designed Gypsy. The Howes usually sail east, for Bob spent many summers exploring the nearby waters in a 13-foot wooden skiff with his daughter.

Annual cruise

Each August, Bob singlehands Svoboda to Penobscot Bay, Maine's fabled island-dotted cruising grounds. After Kathy completes a monthly clinic on Vinalhaven Island, they take off on their annual week-long cruise.

"It takes a while to get used to living on the boat together," Bob says. "By the second afternoon, Kathy enjoys sailing. By week's end, she wants to sail longer on a bigger boat." Since they usually try to do more than is practical, they often venture to outer islands, including Damariscove and less-visited Matinicus, 16 miles offshore.

Once, fog marooned them on Matinicus for two days, so they chatted with locals, attended the annual islandwide bean supper, and basked in the respect of fishermen because they arrived in little Svoboda. When Kathy pointed out their sloop to an island patriarch, he looked at the boat, then at her, and said, "That took courage."

At the end of Kathy's vacation, they leave the boat in Vinalhaven and drive home. Bob returns later to sail back. "It's an easy boat to singlehand, especially since I've added an Autohelm ST 1000," says Bob. "'Otto' makes my solo trips a lot safer." Unlike self-steering windvanes that follow the wind direction, the 12-volt battery-powered "Otto" has an internal compass to maintain the course Bob programs in.

Since Bob only raced once, in 1995, he disregards Tanzer 22 class rules about modifications. "I've put just as much money into upgrades as I spent on the boat originally," he says. "It's easy to get parts for my 27-year-old boat because John Charters, the class association vice president, runs a parts company.

Restricts movement

Bob added lifelines ("so I won't lose Kathy overboard"), a 130-percent genoa with Furlex roller furling, larger winches, a traveler, a vang/preventer, a compass, a depth finder, a GPS, a boom tent, and a solar-powered vent fan. He devised jiffy reefing for the mainsail and replaced the wiring and the four-fuse circuit panel with a seven-fuse panel.

All are successful except the traveler. "It restricts movement in the cockpit, so it's more trouble than it's worth," he says. "We aren't racing sailors who demand every last tenth of a knot."

Upkeep is simple - except when the coating pulled away from the iron keel. That required sandblasting down to bare metal, then priming and painting. Now all the boat requires is annual bottom painting.

"Svoboda is easy to sail, performs well, feels like a bigger, heavier boat and is very seaworthy," he says. "I don't know what it would take to capsize it. I had it over 40 degrees and never worried that it would roll farther."

Because they like to cruise overnight or longer, the Howes find the sloop's most serious flaw is lack of standing headroom. "It just isn't big enough for two to be comfortable on a long cruise or in bad weather. Also, the cockpit is large enough to sleep in, but if it filled, the water would pour below, and we'd be in big trouble."

Bob dreams of cruising the tradewinds some day in a larger, full-keel boat. He's learning to use a sextant and satisfies his offshore cravings on other people's boats. Twice, he's sailed from New York to Bermuda through Ocean Passage Opportunities, an organization that matches boats and captains with crew. In October last year, tropical storm Irene's 50-knot winds and 25-foot seas pummeled the Beneteau 411 he was crewing on. Safe arrival in Bermuda ended the ordeal.

Bob prefers a previous winter cruise he took aboard a chartered 39-foot catamaran with two other couples in Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

Meanwhile, Bob sails Svoboda, usually with Kathy and sometimes alone. One December, he rounded a nearby island during a slight snow squall while reading Kon Tiki. "Other things being equal, I like warm-weather sailing. But I was sailing in December, albeit with gloves on.''

Three generations later

Bill O'Reilly Jr. grew up on New York State's Lake George, learning to sail as a child in dinghies and an O'Day 19. "The summer I was 15, my dad (Bill O'Reilly Sr.) ordered a new Tanzer 22, hull #1685, with keel and optional black hull," he says. "I have lots of great memories sailing her."

Twenty years later, as he teaches his son, Bill, and daughter, Chelsea, to sail, the sloop is enchanting the third generation of Bill O'Reillys.

"The Tanzer 22 is a great boat for kids," says O'Reilly, 35, a globe-hopping power plant manager who sails whatever, whenever, and wherever he can. "It's solid with a big cockpit, small sails that are easy to handle, and plenty of room below for the kids to play. A self-tending jib would make it perfect, though, because the genoa sometimes hangs up."

The O'Reilly children sailed before they could walk. Now Billy, 6, handles the tiller, keeping the boat headed into the wind while Chelsea, 9, pops up through the forward hatch and pulls up the sails. "Billy's big thing is letting us know when motorboats are coming," says Deborah O'Reilly, 33, Bill's wife. She was raised on a New Hampshire farm and learned to sail after their marriage.

As a teen, Bill belonged, along with his father, to a small Tanzer 22 fleet on mountain-rimmed Lake George. They both waited impatiently for the monthly class newsletter and enjoyed the camaraderie.

"Everyone participated in the low-key races," Bill says. "We had no spinnaker, so we'd race the two upwind legs only. When everyone popped their spinnakers on the downwind leg, we'd pull out our lunch bags and eat our sandwiches. We'd reach the finish in time for the party." Bill hasn't raced as an adult, preferring to share the fun of sailing with his family, and not let them get all tense and hyped about racing. "Sometimes the kids would like to go faster," he says, admitting that he roared around in his own motorboat as a youth.

A 4-mph target

The O'Reillys consider their Tanzer 22 perfect for sailing on 32-mile-long Lake George. Dulse (from the Gaelic word for "seaweed") draws 3 feet 6 inches, allowing them to sail or tie up almost anywhere.

Bill scheduled his summer classes (he's completing an MBA at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) on evenings and Saturdays, leaving weekdays free for sailing. They stay home weekends, Deborah says, because the boat is a 4mph target for the powerboats, parasailers, and jetskis that zoom around Lake George's touristy southern end.

As they introduce their children to sailing, two-hour sails have stretched into all-day cruises, and overnights are planned. "On a nice day when the wind's out of the south, off we go, wing-and-wing with the whisker pole out," says Bill. "It's so beautiful and quiet, with no tacking... sailing at its best."

A four-mile cruise from their dock at his mother's house takes them to a favorite place - Sandy Bay Community Park. "We pick up a mooring. jump off the boat into shallow water, and swim ashore where the kids can run around on the beach.

"Sailing on the lake is a challenge, for the wind can whip up whitecaps or switch direction in no time," he says. "We keep an ear to the radio and an eye to the west. If we see thunder clouds rolling over the mountains, we batten down, start the motor and head for home quick."

Sleek bottom

Freshwater sailing makes it easier to keep Dulse shipshape. When Bill's job transferred the family and their boat to the Connecticut shore for a year, marina workers were amazed at the 18-year-old sloop's sleek bottom. However, the antifouling wax the O'Reillys applied didn't stop saltwater marine growth.

"When we pulled her out of the Thames River, I almost lost it. Six inches of slimy stuff were growing on her," says Deborah. "We'll never put her in the ocean again."

Back on Lake George, the O'Reillys sail into November, enjoying having the waters almost to themselves. Chelsea and Billy's schooling restricts boating time, though Deborah admits they occasionally take the children sailing on a really great school day. Bill's return to work in June 2000 will further restrict their cruising. But, they agree, boating has top priority.

"Dulse is the one steady thing in my life," says Bill. "She was there during my teens, through my parents' divorce, and when I had vacations from Maine Maritime Academy. We sailed her in Long Island Sound, then came back to Lake George. She was waiting when I returned from two years working in Kazakhstan."

Bill is fulfilling his dream: involving his wife and children, so all enjoy sailing together.

In her previous life, newspaper reporter Mary Maynard Drake and her then-husband, George Maynard, built Scud, an engineless replica of Capt. Joshua Slocum's Spray, in their backyard and sailed it around the world with their three children from 1973 to 1978. Later she and her husband, Bob Drake, sailed his Cape Dory Typhoon and a 23-foot Sailmaster on Fishers Island Sound before they moved to Maine. Mary prefers writing about boats and boaters and sails whenever possible often in the Grumman aluminum 15-foot outboard boat they rigged with a windsurfer sail.