Call them elephants. Call them bathtubs. Call them basketballs with a sticks on top. They may not be the fastest boats competing here at the 2011 Sperry Top-Sider Detroit NOOD, but the Cal 25s are arguably the most competitive. The 17-boat fleet is the event’s largest, and the racing between these built-for-cruising 25-footers is neck and neck all the way around the racecourse.
So what makes these odd little boats so popular in Michigan? It’s simple, explains Rose Alee crewmember Tyson Conway: camaraderie and economics. “In this area, with how depressed the economy has been, it’s nice not to have to dump a ton of money into the boat,” he says. “You can be pretty competitive on a tight budget. Sure, you’ve got to have good sails, but first and foremost, you’ve got to have a good crew and a good skipper to get the job done.
“The camaraderie between the Port Huron fleet and the Detroit fleet is fantastic,” continues Conway, a former commodore of Port Huron YC. “These relationships make the Detroit NOOD a can’t-miss event. As you can see [points to the throng of Cal 25 sailors gathered around a keg on the dock] the social scene is great. Everybody gets along and has a good time, and there’s limited yelling on the racecourse…for the most part!”
Salt ‘N Pepper skipper Pete Irland has been racing Cal 25s for decades, and he’s come to love the boats for their eccentricities. “The boat’s a bathtub,” he says. “You’ve got to steer ’em all the time. They don’t really want to go to weather on their own. In some ways, that’s a negative, but it’s also kept them viable.
“The other thing about the Cal,” continues Irland, “it’s got a flat deck. It makes it easy for people who are more mature to get around. On a lot of boats, the cabin takes up most of the space, and you’re walking through this little narrow space. With the flat deck, it makes it really easy to work in tight situations.”
The Cal 25’s user-friendly deck layout helps keep old goats in the class and allows new sailors to hop aboard at an early age, which makes it the perfect family racer. “There’s a father-son dynamic on a lot of the boats,” says Conway, who got his start in the class crewing for his father and Irland. “Pete [Irland] sails with his son, Kevin. I’m racing with Mark DenUyl, who owns [Rose Alee] with his father and Don Dupuie. You’ve got [Clytie skipper] Dale Marshall, who races with his son, Nathan, you’ve got the Shumakers on Pirogue—I guess that’s what makes the class interesting. The boat that’s winning right now [Paul Nuechterlein’s Never Alone] has a 12-year-old boy aboard. That’s fantastic to see, because that’s what I was a couple of years ago.”