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The Country Doctor

Meet the boat surgeons of Louisville, Kentucky.

Come late January, Michael Gregg is itching to escape the dismal grip of winter in Louisville, Kentucky. By then, he’s usually had enough of sipping rum and cola with Jimmy Buffett while browsing through pictures of his friends sailing down in Florida—without him. Fortunately for Gregg—Mickey to his friends—his S2 7.9 Greggarious2 is sitting on its trailer ready to roll when it comes time to hitch it and point the bow toward Tampa Bay. Here, at the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in St. Petersburg in February, is where Gregg and a dozen “Seven-Nine” fanatics hailing from the Great White North to the mid-Atlantic meet annually for a week that’s equal parts racing and reunion.

Mickey Gregg and the crew
Mickey Gregg and the crew of the S279 Greggarious at the 2022 Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series St. Petersburg Dave Reed

Gregg has been coming to this very St. Pete regatta for a long as he can remember, mostly sailing on other people’s S2s, but this year, he’s bringing his own boat—to see if all the boatwork he’s sunk into it is enough to beat the go-fast perennial champs on John Spierling’s Rebel.

Gregg, by the way, is more than a Seven-Nine loyalist and retired cabinet maker. He’s now a self-taught Doctor of Epoxy, doing his part to ensure the class’s survival for at least another generation or two. His Kentucky boatshed is where Seven-Nines are being rehabilitated one at a time.

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About 10 years ago, Gregg’s story goes, he sold his cruising boat after enough time at sea and picked up his second 7.9 (he bought his first 7.9 Greggarious about 10 years earlier) from a local guy who could no longer use it. Gregg kept it in the water for a year, and when he hauled it at the end of the season, he discovered “four little punctures in the bottom of the hull.”

The balsa core—from the waterline down—was sopping wet.

“That was my introduction to repairing them,” Gregg says with a chuckle. “It was a crash course in boatbuilding. If I’d known what I was getting into I would have run screaming in the other direction.”

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Over the winter, Gregg and his friends replaced all of the hull and deck’s rotten core, piece by piece. And after he launched it back onto the racecourse for the local PHRF series held on the Ohio River, he was winning races, which naturally got people’s attention.

“Eventually, a couple other local guys wanted to get one, too, so we started finding them and fixing ‘em up,” he says. “I’ve been talking a lot of my friends into projects, fixer uppers…Actually, I’m lucky I still have any friends at all.”

The first boat to go into Mickey Gregg’s new boat shed. “Before we built this we worked under an old makeshift shed that had to be shored up with lumber each time we raised a boat,” Gregg says. “We have also learned to make parts that are no longer available, such as hatches ,rails, guides, etc.” Courtesy Mickey Gregg

In true dedication to the cause, he and his “community of friends” built a proper shed where they could roll a boat in, lift it, remove the keel, and get to work regardless of the weather or time of day. It’s a legit Seven-Nine Rehabilitation Center, with one boat always hanging on the chain, its keel off the side being faired, and a few other patients waiting on trailers outside.

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“The last four or five boats we’ve found in different places around the country,” Gregg says. “We bring them here and then kind of find an adopter.”

One recent Seven-Nine, he says, was donated from Minnesota to the local sailing school (“that’s Hull No. 5, it’s in the shed, and that one is almost finished”). Another came by way of a divorce in New Jersey (“there was a lawyer who apparently pissed the judge off because he gave all three of the guys boat’s to the wife”). And then there was another from New Jersey with a hurricane-inflicted hole in its side.

The work always involves replacing coring—he buys sheets at time—in both the hull and deck from improperly bedded fittings and neglect. It’s tedious and messy labor, and while Gregg doesn’t do all the work himself these days, he is a mentor for the many new and unsuspecting owners on their path to epoxy enlightenment. “There’s no better way to get to know your boat better—from stem to stern,” Gregg says. He would know.

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“We’ve saved a bunch of boats this way, and by doing so we’ve got folks into sailing that never thought they’d want to be involved in sailing. I find a boat, I talk someone into it, and next thing you know they’re knee deep in Epoxy.”

And the next thing you know, he’s talking them into racing the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series. And, why not? You only live once, the saying goes, but that doesn’t apply to the Seven-Nine.

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