The Story of the San Francisco Bird Boats   

by Terry Norton

In the beginning, fear turned to windward in the hearts of San Francisco Bay’s yachtsmen, and the name of the fear was golf. The year was 1919-seventy-five years before Tiger Woods’ nailed his first 323 yard drive in the ’97 Masters. Young men, just returned from World War I, were struggling to readjust to civilian life, scuffling to survive financially in the post war depression. Interest in yachting waned as less expensive pastimes-­driving to the country in a Model T Ford or swinging a nine iron—lured one time avid sailors off the Bay.

“Many half-hearted or has been yachters go around moaning and groaning that yachting ain’t what it used to be, claiming that automobiling, golf or some other goldern sport takes all of people’s attention,” wrote Larry Knight of the Aeolian Yacht Club at the time, “(Yachting) started with Noah and. . . ( I ) can’t foresee the finish.”

The 1919 yachting hierarchy, the Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association, shared Knight’s concerns and set sail a course of action. The PICYA formed the “S” Class Syndicate, a committee of representatives of all six Bay Area Yacht Clubs, to renew interest in yachting, racing, and inter-club competition. The Syndicate came back with historical questions: How about designing an affordable, swift, racing cruiser that can charge through the blustery, choppy conditions of the San Francisco Bay with the confidence of a freighter? A boat that can fly across the foam topped waves like, say, a bird?

Fred Brewer, a naval architect with Sausalito’s Madden & Lewis Yard, drew up sketches of a small but heavy, raised deck sloop, able to handle San Francisco’s notorious blowing winds and churning Bay water. Thus, seventeen years before the first automobile crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, the concept of the West Coast’s first one-design Class was hatched, and a San Francisco sailing legend emerged—the San Francisco Bird Boats. The fight to win golfers back to the tack had begun.