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.