Ask around Marblehead what the fastest growing one-design class is and you’ll hear the same thing everywhere you go: It’s the Town class. Yes, the pretty but pudgy 16-footer born, bred, and right at home in Marblehead Harbor. Designed and built by Marcus C. Lowell in 1932, class historians say it was a craft created for the townspeople: easy to sail and affordable. They flourished over the years, then almost disappeared. From a high of 60 to a low of five to nearly 30 boats now on the harbor, you could say the Towns are returning to former glory. And most of the new faces to the fleet are women.
Local sailor Kelley Braun’s was a gift from her husband, a sail designer with North Sails and a professional sailor known round the world. Today, she says, it’s as much a gift for him as it is for her, because he takes great enjoyment in her enjoyment.
Suerte Verde, translates to green luck, and fits her perfectly, and not just because of its green deck. “I’m a green sailor. I married a sailor and I was always frustrated that everyone thought I was a sailor because I was married to JB [Braun]. He gave me this boat so I could learn to sail.”
The Marblehead fleet has doubled in two or three years, she says, with 28 townies and more on the way. “I think it’s the perfect boat for someone like me,” says Braun. “I didn’t grow up sailing, and I’ve always said that to learn how to sail you have to be in a dinghy, where you change things and things happen.”
Bringing her up the learning curve for the past three years is Braun’s crew Karen Lubek. Braun sought her out because “it’s not good to be coached by your husband.”
“It’s a lot of feel,” says Braun. “I like to sail with my eyes closed…you know she’s going well when the centerboard sings. When it hums you know things are tuned well. It’s not a fast boat, but it’s a classical boat.”
There’s a predominance of old salts in the class today, but Braun says it’s changing, with younger people and a lot more women. “It’s a great boat that two women can sail,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s more about being active and being competitive, but not being professional.
Tempted as he may be, her sail-designing husband has not touched Suerte’s original sails. “There are some discussions on making changes to the sails,” she says, “but the fun part is that it’s old, classic and traditional and you have to keep it a level playing field for people like me to come in and have fun.”
For those looking, she says a good Town (preferably fiberglass) can be had for $2,000 to $5,000, some requiring more love than others. “We did a lot of work to this boat,” she says. “We took out all the foam that was waterlogged, did the deck, and all the wood. It’s fiberglass so it’s in good shape.”
Suerte’s best finish was a winning The Campbell Trophy at the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta at Marblehead Race week two years ago, and a “fifth or sixth” at the Town Class Nationals last year. For her, it’s obvious results matter…but are the end all. “It’s about having fun,” she says with a laugh, “but we are competitive.”
As far as her hot-shot husband ever racing with her any time soon?
“By invitation only.”