Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Blue Bayou

{{Update: This winter Adam and I met a couple walking around Whittaker Yacht Club who had more knowledge of the "Blue Bayou." She was a fast racer, a J-36, and they'd come down before to check her out. Sadly, she is beyond repair. The man said she was fast and light -- light because her hull is balsa under fiberglass, so the spots where the fiberglass has been penetrated will quickly allow in moisture, which will wick throughout the hull. Probably already has. He said that the "Blue Bayou" was the first of these boats off the factory floor -- the flagship, if you will. I feel privileged to have seen her, even in this state.}}

It's a story of a boat, this boat.
From a distance, she looks okay. She was a fast boat, a racer, probably over forty feet. She skimmed the river water about a decade ago, winning races among multiple yacht/racing associations near Oriental. She was chosen "Boat of the Year" by the Neuse Yacht Racing Association four times (1998, '99, 2001, '02), in the spinnaker class. I found record of her participating in the Blackbeard Regatta in 2004, where spinnaker trouble seemed to plague her. Here's a little view of the racing that day:

But I could never find the Blue Bayou in that video, and her distinctive two-tone blue hull should stand out. Then I found this video of the ICRC Dragon's Breath Regatta in the same year, and THERE SHE IS!

This short video clearly spotlights the Blue Bayou. Her brilliant colors shine from far away. Her crew perch proudly on the deck. She's beautiful! And she was fast-as-blazes. Adam talked with his buddy Tom, who did quite a bit of sailing in Oriental over the years (and designs and builds his own sailboats). He crewed on Bayou and recalls her winning races from Oriental to Belhaven, and winning by miles.
Well. As you know, Adam and I bike out to Whittaker Marina nearly every day, stroll along the docks and look at the boats there. That's where I first saw the Blue Bayou. She is derelict, in nearly the worst shape of any boat there.
 Her color's faded.
 In several places along the dock-side, her fiberglass hull is worn raw and ragged by bashing into the dock during storms. No bumpers protect her, as with other boats nearby. She is savaged by the elements.

 Because we go often, we note that her hatch and companionway door are wide open, allowing rain into the cabin. This can't be good. Perhaps the owner is attempting to air her out? If so, he should come more often. There must be so much water inside, after the rains this past month.

 Adam noted that some really fine hardware is still on the boat, like these racing cleats.
 Really a beautiful cockpit. I'm saddened by her state of disrepair.
 A little video of her now:
This is a cautionary tale, I suppose. We might say, "It's only a boat, a possession. Things deteriorate. Que sera, sera!" Or more accurately, we might say that sailing life in Oriental has changed (and died down) quite a bit since thirty years ago, or even twelve years ago. The sailors who came here as middle aged men and women are now elderly or dead. They built up a beautiful sailing life and community that few younger families can afford to live in, in the same way. Back then, a single income, a second home in Oriental (which had cheap real estate then), a sailboat, a slip, yacht association and racing association dues -- all this was affordable. It must have been a beautiful time on the river!

Whittaker Marina, much as I love it, shows the wear and tear of years, as does this single boat. It's hard for me to watch a beautiful thing die. Something about beauty is divine, is of heaven, is it not? When the beautiful fades, sags, crumbles, dies, we are disheartened that even beauty doesn't live forever, as we know in our hearts that it should.

I wish I could see the Blue Bayou sail again, her spinnaker bulging with wind, her hull flashing in sunlight, her rigging strained with pressure, her sailors leaning as she heels, and loving every moment. Anyone out there care to resurrect a boat? I wish someone would!


  1. It does seem sad that the boat seems to have fallen into disrepair like that.

  2. Sad it is but it is not unusual. Cruising on the creeks and rivers of this area will show many other examples although most don't have the pedigree or history of Blue Bayou. Blue Bayou is a J36 racing sloop that successfully competed in many regattas for a couple decades in eastern North Carolina. Near the end of her racing days, she was still fast but the deterioration that affects everything on the planet had already begun it's natural duty. Her lightweight, which provided much of her performance potential was also a source of her downfall. Her core between the outer skins of fiberglass began to deteriorate beyond the level of reasonable repair. In the end, entropy always prevails with boats, as well as the people who love and sail them.

    Unless someone comes along who is willing to take on the substantial task of keeping a boat alive, this is the usual fate. Walking the docks of local marinas and more especially the grounds of boatyards, many examples of similar progression will be seen. The stories behind each one will be as different as they are alike.

  3. Blue by yu that is the next after jazz , jazz is still racing and winning she's racing round island of white this year 35 plus years old

    1. Norm, thanks for stopping by! I found a post you wrote about your Jazz, and I'm so glad she is still going strong!

  4. I saw this boat racing some regattas in Puerto Rico in the 80s or 90s nice boat sad to see it in bad shape....Capt.Andy captainandy69@gmail.com

  5. Blue Bayou and Dick won the St. Thomas International Regatta one year, way down here in the Caribbean. I currently own J 36 #53, Paladin, sailing it as a training boat with students from St. Croix. We were just dismasted Friday, in 30 kt winds, racing in the St. Thomas International Regatta. The hull is perfect, but the mast broke in several jagged pieces. We could not be towed to harbor without bringing the rig banging against the hull; we had to pull the pins and let it go. Is Blue Bayou's mast still around?

  6. Paladin, J 36 #53, was just dismasted in the St. Thomas International Regatta (U. S. Virgin Islands), a regatta Blue Bayou and Dick won some twenty years ago. I use Paladin as a training vessel for students. We train Saturday mornings, and participate in regattas in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. In 30 kt winds, a lower failed, then the backstay, and the mast broke in several jagged pieces on the way down. We had to pull the pins and let it go, as it was banging on the hull when we tried to head to the harbor in Charlotte Amalie. Is Blue Bayou's mast available?

  7. No one has made boats that were balsa cored under the waterline for quite some time, and for a reason. Thirty plus years of bumping things on the bottom now and again had created spider web cracks around the keel floor of Paladin. Water got into the balsa core and disintegrated it, it was just mush. The keel began swinging back and forth on the tacks, breaking the glass skins. We were sinking, keel falling off. Sailing back to St. Croix after winning our class in the BVI, we were running the bilge punp full time, and had crew filling 5 gallon buckets constantly. All through-hulls were closed.) $25,000 later, the keel floor had been rebuilt. That was just a piece of the bottom. Blue has fungus growing between the hull skins, at the deck joint. Water has gone all through her sides. She also bumps her bottom all day, as the tide comes in and out. Blue draws 6'6"; low tide is less than this, high tide more. Another boat doing the regattas the same year, Cheeky Rafiki, had the same problem, leaking constantly with all through-hulls closed. Google her.

  8. I got to sail on Blue Bayou one day back in 1996 or so. I was looking to purchase a J/36 at the time and drove down from Michigan. Dick and the crew took me out racing and the boat was amazing. He told me at that time that if I had to have a survey for a loan that Blue Bayou would fail due to moisture in the balsa core of the hull. Very sad to see the boat deteriorate but there is nothing affordable that could have been done to stop it.
    --Dan Montgomery


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