In the Summer of 2010, Barbara Engeman of Raytown, Missouri is going about her usual angelic duties of taking care of her neighbor, Joe Pooler. Barbara is the manager of a veterinarian hospital, so compassion is kind of built into her. In Barbara’s spare time, she helps Joe with household duties and laundry. You see, Joe is 92 years old, is recovering from a hip replacement, and has no living relatives since his wife, Lee, died in 2008. He’s only about 5 feet 6 inches tall, yet he’s a decorated WWII veteran, who served in Patton’s Army. He’s still mentally very sharp with a good sense of humor.
Joe mentions to Barbara that he has an old wooden sailboat in his garage that he built in 1963. With Lee as his crew, they faithfully raced their boat on Lake Jacomo in Kansas City until 1975. Joe shows Barbara the original plans, a cool little tackle box of spare parts, and pictures he took of the construction. The plans call the boat a Windmill, and as a historical note, 20-30 Windmills were built in K.C. in the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s in small groups. That’s because Lake Jacomo was opened for use in 1959, putting sailboats in high demand, and the Windmill was one of the few sailboats that you could build yourself out of wood in your own garage.
Joe mentioned to Barbara that he sure would like to see his boat sail on Lake Jacomo again, even though he could no longer sail her himself. That’s all it took for Barbara to contact Lake Jacomo and get the name of someone who might be able to help. The staff knew that I raced Windmills and worked on boats, and they gave her my name. When Barbara called, I drove to Raytown to meet with both of them and evaluate the boat’s condition.
Joe had put a tarp over the boat when he put it in the garage in 1975. Unfortunately, the garage roof had leaked, and over time, so had the tarp. The boat had about eight inches of brackish water in it, and my first thought was “dry rot”! The trailer tires were also flat, but miraculously took air after 45 years, and didn’t leak. I gathered up the foils, spars, and sails, hitched her up and drove her to a steep-sloped parking lot to get the water out. Joe told me that he didn’t believe in bailers and transom drains, so I had to bail her out for over 30 minutes with a coffee can and a sponge.
As the water went down, I began to notice the quality of workmanship that was hidden under the dirt and sludge, and it was amazing. All of the hull was high-quality mahogany plywood built on Sitka spruce runners and a white oak keel. The spars were also spruce and the rudder and dagger board were solid mahogany. The rub rail had been extended with mahogany and spruce laminated together, and Joe had built little cabinets under the rear seat, where I found his and his wife’s sailing gloves, still waiting for the next race. The level of detail was more understandable when Barbara told me that Joe had a long career as a lithographer for Hallmark and other companies. The best part was that Joe had sealed the boat with some type of strange vinyl-based varnish that only allowed minimal penetration of dry rot to the first layer of plywood. Windmill 1061 could be restored!
I towed the boat to the shop in mid-September and began the battle of removing layers of 50-year-old varnish. The vinyl varnish that saved the boat from dry rot now became my enemy. The vinyl base would not respond to stripper, and scraping knives had a tough time getting a bite. Sandpaper clogged up quickly with melted residue. 40 hours of scraping and sanding finally yielded a bare hull, spars, and foils ready for refinishing. As a preventative, I overlaid the keel seam with a four-inch wide strip of fiberglass mat and resin. The first swipe of new varnish caused the beautiful mahogany grain to jump out, and I knew all the work was going to be worth it. After four coats, some new flotation, and some updated hardware, she was gleaming and ready to launch.
On October 6th, Barbara and her daughter Brooke, brought Joe out to the lake to fulfill his wish. After reminiscing awhile and giving the boat careful inspection, he helped me with some of the rigging, and we held a ceremony to re-christen Windmill 1061 as “Leeward” in honor of his faithful wife and crew. Launching and rigging at the dock didn’t exactly go smoothly, but we got her to the starting line on time, turning several heads and getting thumbs-up signs as we went. Miraculously, the 47-year-old hull didn’t leak, and we managed to show Joe a mid-fleet finish in the first race. It was an emotional day for all of us, and Joe was very grateful. Barbara had given a lot of time and effort to make the event happen, and she was thrilled with the results. It was also a privilege and honor for me to bring some joy to this fine craftsman, veteran, and fellow Windmill sailor from days long ago.