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The Kitsita Story

By Ron Mazza (as published in the October 2018 issue of Clipper)

In 1962 my father, Fred Mazza, bought a boat, a 6 Metre called Kitsita II. It was wood construction with likely the original cotton sails, built in 1936 in Denmark. It was painted white and had a small cuddy cabin not part of her original design. It was not his first boat but it was his first sailboat. He had owned two classic 1930 power launches – but that’s a different story. Like many Island residents at that time, he was a member of QCYC and had been sailing for a number of years but crewing on other boats, most notably on Allan Rae’s Tumlaren Valhalla.

The boat was designed by Knud Reimers, a Danish naval architect living in Stockholm and also designer of the famous Tumlaren. Reimers only designed five 6 Metres. It was called Hy Winds when Dad bought it because it had been owned by a fellow named Herb Yates. But he renamed it to its original name, Kitsitta, inexplicably misspelling the name with a double "t". How he even knew its original name I don’t know. No one seems to know the origin of the name. It is neither a Danish name nor a Danish word.

We sailed her from 1962 to about 1967 when our Dad bought Rob and me our first International 14 – but that too is another story. We primarily raced in local regattas from Toronto to Hamilton under the old LOR handicap rule against R and P Boats (Universal Rule). There was not a 6 Metre fleet in Toronto in those days – the Canadian 6 Metre fleet had migrated to Hamilton by this time. And with her cuddy cabin Kitsita likely no longer rated as a 6. By the late 60’s, however, even the Hamilton fleet was mostly gone, with the boats being sold to the Seattle area where an active fleet still exists.

So when his sons moved onto 14’s Fred sold Kitsitta in the late 60’s. In fact he sold her twice if I recall, as the first sale seemed to go awry and we got her back painted black. But the second sale stuck and we lost track of Kitsita, hearing only that it had sunk in Port Credit harbour a few years later and had been resurfaced and completely restored by a woman named Judy Kennedy. But we never saw her again – until recently.

My father passed away in 2012, never as far as I know seeing his old boat again.

But now some technical information.

What is a 6 Metre?

In 1906 the first “International Rule” was developed. This was a system devised by European countries so that boats from different countries could race against each other. The Americans stuck to their own “Universal Rule”. The International Rule produced Metre boats, the Universal rule produced R boats, P boats, and the famous J boats used for America's Cup racing in the 1930’s.

The rule itself is a fairly simple formula, plus an inch-thick binder of additional restrictions such as maximum width, mast height and dimensions, etc.

This formula could be used for any size of boat and was used from 5 Metres to 23 Metres. About 6000 Metre-rule boats have been built since 1907. About half of them still exist, which is a remarkable number considering that most of them were built before World War II. Partly this is a result of the fact that the Metre boats had to adhere to Lloyd's strict scantling rules: that has given them longevity that very few other traditional classes have been blessed with. The most popular classes were 12 Metres used for many years in the America's Cup races after WWII (300 built and 189 still existing), 8 Metres seen for many years on Toronto Bay out of RCYC (500 built with 177 still remaining), 5.5 Metres used for Olympic racing for many years in the 50’s and 60’s (800 built and 557 still remaining). But by far the most popular class was the 6 Metre used extensively for international racing in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, and as an Olympic class from 1908 to 1952 (1500 built and 450 still remaining).

Kitsita Comes Back into My Life

Sometime late in 2016 I got a phone call from a friend of mine, Kit Wallace, who sails Wayfarers out of Toronto Sailing and Canoe Club. “Did your family ever own a 6 Metre called Kitsita?” he asked. “Yes we did,” I responded, “Why do you ask?”

Well, as it turns out his brother is Mark Wallace, a shipwright living on Salt Spring Island who had been hired by a client in Vancouver to come east to select a 6 Metre for restoration to compete in the forthcoming 6 Metre World Championship in Vancouver in September 2017. One of the ones he was looking at was Kitsita. She had been owned by the same lady, Judy Kennedy, since she resurrected her from the bottom of Port Credit harbour in 1973 and had her restored by C&C, but she had been sitting on the hard unused for the past 20 years.

I next saw Kit at a corporate event in January 2017 where he informed me that, in fact, Kitsita had been purchased for restoration and, by the way, how would I like to crew on her for the World Championships in Vancouver? I said, without a nanosecond hesitation, YES. My brother Rob was also invited but had a conflict that date so could not participate.

The Rebuilding of Kitsita II

The fellow who had engaged Mark Wallace to restore Kitsita was Rainer Mueller. Rainer is a Swiss citizen who spends six months of each year in Vancouver developing seniors' residences. He is, coincidentally, a client of my old engineering firm. He has this passion for 6 Metres and is reputed to have ownership of anywhere from 10 to 20 of these boats, both Classic and modern. The resurrection of the Vancouver 6 Metre fleet and obtaining the 2017 World Championship were primarily his doing. Mark Wallace had restored other 6’s for Rainer. His shop is beside his house near Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island.

Kitsita was selected for restoration over the other boats Mark looked at because she had not been either fiberglassed or extensively modified. But her original lead keel had been taken by the Germans during WWII and repurposed for other uses. A cast iron keel had been refitted. The first thing Mark did was remove that cast iron keel before having the boat trucked to the west coast.

Amazingly, the original design drawings of the boat are still available in the Stockholm Marine Museum in the Knud Reimers archives. These drawings were used to build a new lead keel and reconstruct the rudder in its original form.

While working on the keel, Mark discovered that the boat had deteriorated more than originally thought. He was surprised to discover that the wood keelson was heavily rotted. I said it was rotted when my dad had it! My dad drilled a series of ¼" holes in the rotted areas near the rudder and poured in a product that was supposed to saturate the rotted areas and solidify the area “like the yellow plastic handles of screw drivers”. An early form of epoxy? Mark had wondered what those holes were.

So, in the end, after about 3000 hours, Mark figured he'd replaced 80% of the boat. In addition to the keelson and many planks, every rib was replaced. The mahogany used in the 1973 restoration did not match the original mahogany so Mark chose to stain the boat to a single colour before varnishing the hull.

Unfortunately, the beautiful aluminum mast that came with the boat that Klacko built in ’73 to replace the original wood mast was discovered to be just millimetres too wide to meet the 6 Metre rules and had to be discarded. A used mast from another 6 was sourced. The old sails too were not up to scratch, so another set was sourced from hand-me-downs from other boats in Rainer’s fleet. Unfortunately, we discovered much later that the mast was 8” too short, which explains why the sails we got did not fit it well.

The World Championship

This may have been the largest gathering of 6 Metres ever. There were 21 “Classics” and 24 “Open Class” boats there. Classics are any boats built before 1967 and Open are any boats built in 1967 or after. 1967 is of significance because that is the year the America’s Cup 12-Metre Intrepid was designed based on extensive tank testing by Sparkman and Stevens in the US which completely changed what a Metre boat looked like. Gone were the long keels with attached rudders; eventually wings were added to the keels. So even some of the modern Open class boats could be 50 years old.

The Championship was organized so that the Open division started first and the Classics had their own start second.

And the quality of participant was unbelievable. Dennis Conner of America’s Cup fame was there sailing his Classic May Be VII. The Brazilian boat moored beside us at the regatta was sailed by brothers Lars and Torben Grael and their friends and relatives, who among them had seven Olympic medals. There was also Lars Guck, an American catamaran champion; Leigh Anderson, Canadian 470 Olympic sailor; Erik Jespersen, past 6 Metre world Champion, and did I mention Juan Carlos, ex-King of Spain?

Leigh Anderson was also sailing one of Mueller’s boats and was complaining she only had six weeks to prepare for the regatta with her boat. A complaint Kitsita’s crew found amusing.

The crew for Kitsita, other than me, were all from the Salt Spring Island Sailing Club. The helmsman was Paul Faget, originally from Seattle but who was in the process of relocating to Salt Spring. Mark Wallace was on board at jib and spinnaker sheets, Ole Anderson was beside him, and foredeck was the youngest of the bunch, Doug Woolcock. I was mainsheet and running backstays. The cockpit of <I>Kitsita<I> as reconfigured by Mark was too narrow to stand side by side so we all stood in a row ahead of the helmsman. As an aside, Kitsita is one of the narrowest 6 Metres ever built, at less than six feet with an overall length of 38 feet. They introduced a minimum width restriction of six feet after she was designed.

But our challenges began well before the first race. Mark, Ole, and I arrived at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club several days before racing was to begin only to discover that Kitsita was not ready to sail, let alone race. She had a mast, shrouds, forestay, winches, and that’s about all. The yard that was to get her race-ready for us got so overwhelmed with the needs of Mueller’s other boats prior to the regatta that they had to deliver her as was. If we wanted a boat to sail we would have to finish her off. So with the help of the rigger supplying materials, and me casing the tools of a friend's workroom, we set to work fitting the boom, installing all control lines and cleats, back stay controls, main, jib, and spinnaker sheets, spinnaker sheet tweakers, traveller control lines, etc. etc. We missed the practice race, which was likely a good thing as it was blowing and one boat lost her mast.

The main Championship was preceded by a two-day event called the Westerleigh Cup. The first race of that event was delayed due to light wind. By this point Skipper Paul had joined the team but our foredeck guy, Doug, had not yet arrived. But at about noon we suddenly realized that we had got Kitsita to a point where we could sail her. Not 100%, but good enough. So we went out, short one crew member, and made the start of the first race. This was the first time in over 20 years that Kitsita was sailing and the first time in over 50 years that she was racing. We had lots of issues, the main sail looked awful, it was too long in the luff and went block to block sheeted in, the boat leaked like a sieve when it heeled, we were short one crew, we all had to learn our jobs on the boat, and learn how to sail a 6 Metre. But despite all that, we did OK. We were in the race! We were by no means outperformed or outclassed. Kitsita had legs.

Doug arrived the next day and we jelled well as a crew and spent the rest of the week racing Kitsita in wonderful conditions. We got our main sail shortened by 8” which improved its shape and we added check stays to help control mast bend. Each day we had to pump less, Paul got some great starts, our spinnaker work steadily improved, we had flashes of brilliance, and we were always in the race. Our best finish was 12th and our worst was 17th. In one race we were even ahead of Dennis Conner, briefly. Our overall finish was 16th in a fleet of 21. Not bad under the circumstances. Juan Carlos won the Classic division and a modern boat called Junior out of Switzerland won overall.

It was a great week.

Postscript

It was only months after the regatta when the boat was again on Salt Spring that Mark discovered the mast was too short. But he did manage to convince Mueller to fund the application of a new teak deck on the boat. She looked pretty good before, now she looks spectacular. He also widened the helmsman’s station to create more room.

We were hoping to reunite the crew this past June to participate in the North American Championship outside Seattle. We did manage to get everyone together for a sail on Salt Spring but events conspired to prevent the boat getting to Seattle, so sadly that could not happen.