After returning from Sail Oklahoma 2011, I posted a message on the Sail Oklahoma group saying that the sail I got aboard George Cunningham's Welsford designed Houdini, "Muritai", was the highlight of my trip. Don Workman also posted saying his ride on Muritai was the highlight of his trip as well. Jackie Monies (she and her husband Mike hosted Sail Oklahoma) responded wanting to know what it was that we liked so much about the Houdini. I started trying to think about the answer to that question and it seemed to be difficult to put into words.
Being a very green novice to sailing (a handful of times on my puddle duck, a ride on my friend John Richardson's Catlalina 22 and his Windrider 17), I don't have much to compare with. But there is something about John Welsford's designs that seems to leave me with the feeling that his boats are sailing even when they're sitting still. The curves and lines of his boats draw me to them and call me to climb in and get on the water. The Monies had their SCAMP and Jon Fisher had a Pathfinder, two other Welsford designed boats, at Sail Oklahoma as well. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to sail on those. Having grown up in the middle of the desert with not much water around, sailing was something I never really thought I would get to try. But I have always enjoyed looking at pictures of sailboats flying through the water. The ride on the Houdini was everything I dreamed that being on a sailboat in one of those pictures would be like.
George's trip to Sail Oklahoma was the first time he launched the boat since building it. So I had to wait for George to make a couple of shakedown sails before I got to take a ride on Muritai. We didn't really go all that far, but I loved every second of it. I'm not sure what the capacity of the Houdini is supposed to be, but with three of us on the boat it felt like the boat hardly noticed we were there. Being a catboat with a fairly wide beam, the Houdini may not be as fast as some other boats, but it sure felt fast while we were slicing through the waves. George may have thought I was nervous because I shifted to the other side of the boat several times when we changed tack and it heeled over. The boat came upright after I shifted over. I was assuming that was because George made some adjustments at the helm, but I don't know. A friend of mine had instructed me to shift to the other side whenever I changed tack in my puddle duck, of course my little puddle duck is a lot more sensitive to where you are in the boat. For some reason when Muritai was heeled over and my face was so close to the water, I had a really strong urge to just stick my hand down into the water and feel it flowing over my fingers. I resisted the urge, but I really enjoyed that feeling with the boat being heeled over and so close to the water.
Muritai heeled over at a pretty good angle, but never felt like it was going to go all the way over and capsize. The boat seemed alive to me, as though it wanted to gather more wind and go even faster. George never seemed to have any trouble tacking. The only trouble we had at all, was me handling the lines for the jib. The first couple of times I tried to pull the jib to the other side to change tack, the line got hung up on one of the cleats on the mast and George's wife Susan had to get it unstuck. George made some comments about possibly needing to move those cleats, but after a few times through the routine, I quit having trouble. So maybe it was just a matter of having a green sailor handling the jib that was causing the problem.
My greatest regret from Sail Oklahoma, and particularly from my ride on Muritai, was that I didn't take enough pictures and video when I should have. I didn't think to grab the video camera from my wife when I went for the sail on Muritai, so I have no video of the event. And somehow in the course of all my time there, I didn't manage to snap any photos of Muritai. George however was kind enough to email me a few pictures when I got home. I did take pictures and video of some of the other boats, but I realized when I got home that there were a number of boats that I really liked but failed to capture in any pictures or video. Probably because I was just too busy gawking at all of the different boats.
George did a wonderful job of building Muritai. I loved the lines, the spaciousness of the boat, and how stable she felt. For some reason the boat seemed a lot bigger when I got in, rather like the magical tents they had in the Harry Potter books, where a small looking tent suddenly had multiple rooms once they got inside. Not that drastic, but she did seem to have a lot of room. She is a beautiful boat and I think she does everything Welsford said he intended his designs to do. So I guess the answer to Jackie's question has two parts. I like the Houdini so much because it is appealing to the eye, and because it performs so well. But just saying those things doesn't do it justice. To me, George's Houdini, "Muritai", is a true inspirational work of art. Thank you George Cunningham, and thank you John Welsford.