by Larry Fisher
It’s often said that all boats are for sale, yet it was hard to believe the rumors we started to hear a few months ago. Could it possibly be true that Steve Scharf was preparing to part with Sirocco? For even in a town blessed with more than its share of special boats, Sirocco was a standout: beautiful, fast, meticulously maintained, and possessed of an esprit de corps that the rest of the fleet could only envy.
But after 10 years Steve has sold Sirocco to a wooden boat enthusiast in the south of France, where she will grace the vintage racing scene out of Marseilles. A fairy tale ending to a local love story? Well, sort of, Steve explains.
“I got his email out of the blue,” Steve says. “I was thinking about selling, but I wanted to do the first PTSA series, the Classic Mariners Regatta. But he wants the boat now.”
Steve says he was motivated to sell partly by the high cost of keeping Sirocco in top shape–like any high maintenance love she demands a lot of attention. But he also cited the changing shape of the Port Townsend fleet, which no longer features vintage racing boats of similar length and performance to Sirocco. “This is no longer a real wooden boat racing town,” he says. “Sirocco has no one to play with.”
For the record, Steve notes that Sparkle, a veteran of the local racing scene, and Pacifica, a pretty newcomer, do come out regularly, but both are significantly longer than Sirocco, and as any racer will testify, handicap racing is imperfect at best, an exercise in frustration more often than not. The real competition in Port Townsend now is among half a dozen Thunderbirds, the one boat with a lively one-design fleet here.
Sirocco herself was designed for one-design racing, back in the day. She is a Yankee class sloop, which was designed by W. Starling Burgess in 1937, in response to a competition to create a new American made 30-foot racer. Curiously, his identity was shrouded in secrecy for years, as the new Yankee One Design class association published various misleading reports, leading many an observer to assume the boat’s sleek lines could only have come from the pen of L. Francis Herreshoff, the legendary Wizard of Bristol. Actually, Herreshoff did play a role; he was one of the judges that awarded Burgess’ design the win.
As a purpose-built racer, the Yankee 30 has a bare-bones spartan interior, and Steve has kept Sirocco true to her origins, adding nothing to the boat that doesn’t help her go faster. But he has studiously updated and upgraded hardware and fittings over the years, losing the old bronze winches in favor of contemporary Harken gear, for example. He’s also felt free to experiment more liberally than many owners of classics do, at one point adding a fixed carbon fibre bow sprit to fly an asymmetric spinnaker, an innovation that cost him a drop in his PHRF rating from 185 to 150.
Through all the changes, Sirocco has raced twice a week or more, mostly within Townsend Bay, but also as far afield as the Victoria B.C.-based Swiftsure Regatta. “One year I did 50 races on Sirocco,” says Steve. “I think I’ve missed one Friday race in eight or ten years. And I let people take the boat out even when I’m not on it. Sometimes it’s out there racing when I don’t know it.”
Lisa Vizzini, co-owner of Port Townsend Rigging, campaigned Sirocco in Ed Barcott’s Wednesday night series for many years, and also gave sailing lessons to the young daughters of employees at Steve’s Uptown Dental practice. “He bought that boat, and I didn’t even know him very well,” Lisa recalls. “Within a short time he basically just offered me the boat, and said take her out whenever you want. One year we had an all female crew, and he cultivated that. He found the women, and put everybody on the boat. How welcoming and generous he’s been is very important to me.”
Curiously, Steve has usually not driven Sirocco himself, preferring to do bow or other positions. Over the years, he’s had a great array of local drivers on board, including Stig Osterberg, Daubie Daubenberger, and Piper Dunlap. Most recently Jon Piskula has been the one with his hand on the tiller.
“Sirocco’s a great boat to drive in a blow because she’s just so balanced,” Piskula says. “You can feather through the puffs and keep rolling. And Steve is so good about letting people use the boat, come on the boat and being a gracious host all the time, supplying food and fun. It’s just wonderful. Besides the boat has always been meticulously maintained. He’s always looking for suggestions to make her better.”
One factor that influenced Steve’s decision to sell Sirocco to the buyer in Marseilles was the video’s he sent of his previous wooden boat, a vintage Cal 32, racing in the Mediterranean. “I think the Frenchman is a true passionate believer in wooden boats, and he’s going to make Sirocco perfect. I think Scirocco has a chance to start winning again.”
Come out this Friday night, May 9, for your last chance to see Sirocco win again here.