Heritage of a Sea Witch
By Robby Coleman
First appeared in SAILING, November 1994
My name is Southern Cross. I'm the ninth in a family of ten teak sisters, and my genealogy runs far and wide. You can trace my origin back to the early 1930's, when a young designer named Hugh Angelman first sketched his vision of a perfect cruising boat on paper. Twenty-five years later, those line drawings sparked a yearning in the mind of Californian, Vern Landis, the way a lightening flash ignites a conflagration. Propelled by his desire, Landis and his wife, soon commissioned a small boat yard in mystic Hong Kong to build me. Robert Newton and Sons American Marine, seasoned shipwrights all, laid my keel in 1958. My birth had begun. Fine eastern metal workers forged my sturdy keelbolts in white-hot furnaces, and the copper in my heavy bronze chainplates originated deep in the bowels of Chinese mines. The spruce trees that form my rakish spars traveled thousands of sea miles from Alaska before they could be sculpted into the masts that carry my sails. The yacal trees, which have been so deftly crafted into my ribs, once grew two hundred feet tall in Malaysia, and the stout teak boards that line my hull were hauled by steamer from Thailand, and then carved and molded perfectly into my body and skin. I can still feel the shipwright's rough fingers gliding sensuously over my bare wood, searching for elusive imperfections till all were filed and sanded carefully away.
True sailmakers hand-sewed my heavy gaff-rigged mainsail, yankee, staysail, and mizzen in Southern California. Skillful machinists fabricated my Ford powerplant around the globe in Great Britain. These master craftsmen and more combined their vast talents to create a true ocean sailing yacht, a Seawitch. Mr. and Mrs. Landis often visited Hong Kong during my construction. They would come to the boat yard, survey the work, and confer with the shipwrights. They specified sturdy apitong for my stem, and yacal for my frames--only the finest boat building lumber for me. They wanted a strong blue-water boat, a vessel capable of withstanding the rigors of ocean travel, so they ordered my skin to be made of 1 and 3/8 inch solid teak planking. Thus, my hull is heavier than Mr. Angelman intended, but I carry less lead in my belly. Still, seven thousand pounds of pure virgin lead ensure my stability, and my lines are pure Seawitch.
Work progressed rapidly, and when I was nearly finished, I was carefully lifted aboard a huge freighter for shipment to California. We crossed the vast Pacific, a little ship on a big ship, to arrive in Newport Beach where I awaited final commissioning. When the time came to step my masts, my owners reverently placed a 1958 silver American dime in the maststep under my mainmast. It still rests there to this day. At last, the time arrived for launching. Ashore I was like a beached whale--lethargic, pinned to one spot, doomed to watch life pass by As Mrs. Landis broke a bottle of fine French champagne upon my proud bow and I slid gracefully into the harbor, I found freedom and joy.
I bobbed and swayed to heretofore unfelt rhythms. The open sea called, and I tugged and strained at the docklines, as if impatient to plow a path across the great oceans. On my maiden voyage, we raced a motorboat full of friends while they snapped pictures. The Landis's were aglow; I performed better then they ever imagined. Landis and his family sailed me whenever they could. He wore his pride--you could see it glisten in his eyes. He, his wife, and sons, kept me in tip top shape, polishing and painting, and we often raced in the light winds south of Pt. Conception. Together we competed in the 1963 Newport to Ensenada Race, and we won not only First in Class, but First Overall on corrected time! Life was safe, secure and happy for eight years in the little harbor till one gray November day.
Not all owners talk to their boats; mine never did tell me why they sold me. Maybe it was a job transfer or health problems. That sad day, Landis brought an uptown lady in high heels down to see me, and I guess she bought me as a birthday present for her young boyfriend. Landis quietly removed my cast-silver commissioning plate; he never stepped aboard again. Darkness loomed like an approaching storm. Fortunately, few memories remain from the following years. Although Landis had dutifully written instructions on my entire operation from the engine to the head to the windlass, my new owner never looked at them. He moved me to a teeming harbor near Los Angeles, where he decided to turn me into a "pirate ship." He painted my teak coachroof black and my main salon orange. Soon my unblemished teak doors were forest green, gaudy red curtains hung across my bronze ports, and my commode sparkled metallic gold like a harlot's costume jewelry. Not long thereafter, my water- pump froze solid so my engine would not run, and we never left the slip. Long grass and barnacles encrusted my shapely hull, soot and scum worse than graveyard dirt buried my teak decks. I waited in gloom.
One hot summer day in 1971 I felt new hands upon my hull and rigging. I hadn't felt that knowing touch since the days of my construction in Hong Kong, and I knew the tall man and his tiny wife could see my true spirit through the skunge on my decks. He dove into the water and probed my hull with a knife. Even with neglect I was still strong and sound--he could tell. He crawled into every cranny, and fooled around with my engine till it fired up. Life started anew. This couple in their early forties, the Corwins, were my salvation. They hauled me and scraped and painted my bottom and then moved me to King Harbor, near Long Beach. She spent months scraping and cleaning off the muck, peeling away the old black and orange paint. They acted like kids discovering buried treasure, as they bared my fine teak, too long hidden beneath layers of crud and paint. They sanded and scrubbed, polished and painted. Soon my topsides gleamed white below the pale Seawitch-blue trim and my teak taffrail glistened like exquisite hand-rubbed furniture. Within a few years I was rerigged and restored like new. Things got better still. Corwin, laboriously applied 24 karat sold gold leaf to my carved trailboards and to my name on the transom. His wife scrubbed and repainted my bilges and even the rust spots on my big diesel. How good to be cared for again. For a boat, especially a Seawitch, being tied to a dock is confinement, like corralling a wild mustang in a box canyon. The Corwins sensed my need to move. Together, we sailed to Catalina Island and back countless times, slicing the cool clear waves, flexing my sails and rigging, gaff reaching for the sky. Anchor down at The Isthmus or White's Cove, or tied to a mooring in Avalon Harbor, the Corwins basked in the admiring glances of other boaters who gazed in awe at the "gold-plated Angelman." Inside every cruiser beats the heart of a racer, and the Corwins tested me one year in another Newport to Ensenada race. I really showed off. Though we were one of the last boats to start, we finished first in our class, and ahead of many boats in faster classes. Southern California winds are often light to nonexistent. The beginning of this race was no different with hundreds of boats drifting on the glassy swells, trying to avoid knocking into each other. The breeze finally came, the lighter boats soon van- ished over the horizon, but by nightfall the wind freshened and soon began to howl. What a ball! We passed many boats hove-to in the dark.
While others suffered breakdowns and torn sails in the furious blow, I carried the Corwins in security, and they marveled at my speed and fine motion in the short, savage seas. The next day we rocked and swayed, snug in Ensenada harbor as many of the "faster" boats limped across the finish line. In winter of 1978, my cruising days finally began. The Corwins had spent the entire fall preparing me for the first of many trips to the pristine Sea of Cortez in Mexico. This was my first ocean voyage, and we harbor-hopped down the Pacific side of Baja, stopping in every cove from Cabo Colnet to Magdelena Bay. The cruising life is great -- shooshing down white-capped mountains of blue crystal, wood and water as one. Racing and frolicking with the porpoise and sea-lions, free as the albatross. Or swinging in a graceful arc on a deeply buried anchor, shielded from the surge by a craggy point, a rocky reef or bight of sand. New peoples, cultures, and vistas--sojourns in uncharted waters. Coursing the California Current or battling the steep, vicious seas of the infamous Sea of Cortez "Norther." To be unchained from the dock and society, that's "cruisin'," the life for me. The Corwins sailed me to Mexico and back seven times during the next twelve years; exciting adventures fill my log. One winter, 100 knot winds snapped my heavy anchor chain and blew me hundreds of miles out to sea. Another time, in southern California, Angie Dickinson and Cliff Robertson starred with me in the movie, "OVER- BOARD." I was even "made-up" to look like a sistership in Tahiti and for months I masqueraded as "Linda Lee." What fun! My stories are indeed legion. Stories go on, but chapters must end.
Boats demand attention and upkeep, and the time arrived in 1990 for the Corwins to pass this job on to someone else. They sold me to a couple of young dreamers named Coleman, friends they had met years before in Mexico. When Coleman received my log, he said, "One chapter ends, another begins." And so it does -- thanks to the Colemans, I have been reborn again, this time better than new, but that story is still unfolding.
I am a Seawitch; I belong to the sea, always will. Though I face the fate of all boats, the shipwrights in Hong Kong built me to last a hundred years or more, and as long as I have owners that care, my existence is assured. My body is a perfect blend of nature and man, wood and metal combined flawlessly by flesh and talent. My spirit is the spirit of all those who ply the awesome oceans of this whirling globe and I still have many ports to visit, many waters yet to cruise. When you look out to sea, look for me.
Pure Sea Witch
By Robby Coleman
First appeared in WoodenBoat, #147 with Profile of Hugh Angelman also written by Robby
Hugh Angelman's 35 foot Sea Witch ketch, drawn in 1937, is unequivocally his most popular boat design. He built the first "cruising auxiliary," SEA WITCH, for himself, but she sold before her launching the same year. Angelman immediately built another, kept her, and named her SEA ROVER.
Since the original boats were built at Wilmington Boat Works, they were given the moniker, "Wilbo Ketches." Nowadays they are known as either Sea Witches or simply the abbreviated "Witch." Angelman "schemed up" lots of boat designs, and he collaborated with many designers including, Nick Potter, Merle Davis, and Charlie Davies, but none of his creations achieved the recognition, acclaim, or desirability of the Angelman/Davies Sea Witch. The Sea Witch is the epitome of all that Angelman valued in a boat-seaworthiness and strength, seakindliness and comfort, and especially performance and beauty.
Approximately thirty "Witches" have been built over the years, in professional boat yards and in back yards, from Europe to the Far East, and it's doubtful that a stronger 35 foot boat exists. Angelman designed all his boats to withstand the rigors of ocean travel and the Sea Witch scantlings are truly heavy-duty. American Marine Sea Witches, for example, were built in Hong Kong with apitong backbone members, 1 3/8" teak planking on double flitch-sawn 1 ¾" yakal frames, and 3 ½" massive floors-all silicone-bronze fastened. The strength of these boats is well proven. LUA LAN, a teak Sea Witch, handily circumnavigated the globe, safely weathering all sea conditions including a terrible gale off the tip of South Africa. SOUTHERN CROSS has beaten her way up the infamous Baja California coast seven times, while other 'Witches, including SEA FORTH, SEA ROGUE and others successfully cruised the South Pacific. The original mahogany-planked SEA WITCH not only completed multiple
Transpac races-she took Second Place in 1949 and First Overall in 1951 -- she also circumnavigated the globe. SEA WITCH has sailed the seas for nearly 70 years and still carries her owners safely across the seas today.
Almost as important to Angelman as security was comfort afloat, so he designed his boats with both in mind. The 32-foot-waterline Sea Witch fits between waves well, and her wide-body, almost 14 foot beam gives extra stability. These add up to a fine, easy motion at sea, ideal for day after day of sailing. Angelman designed her galley for safe easy cooking whether underway or at anchor, and the capacious berths in the main cabin convert quickly into perfect sea-berths. Outside, the Sea Witch has extra wide decks that make deckwork a breeze, and her large sail area is divided into easily managed sails for short-handed traveling. The cockpit can be wet while pounding to windward, but it's perfect for the cruising lifestyle. The Sea Witch is a super comfortable cruising boat.
Beyond comfort, Hugh Angelman was a stickler for performance and beauty. He loved to sail, and the Sea Witch is certainly a good-sailing boat. Her rig allows up to six sails to be flown at once or in myriad combinations for all conditions. The powerful gaff main, along with lee surge created by the Sea Witch hull shape, drive the boat well upwind. However, she really shines
off the wind. This "fat" boat's performance is well evidenced by SEA WITCH's Transpac win in 1951 and SOUTHERN CROSS' First Overall in the 1963 Newport to Ensenada race. The Sea Witch lines performed perfectly under all conditions but one-Hawaii's Molokai Channel. Charlie Davies discovered during one Transpac that the steep short seas in the Molokai Channel caught SEA WITCH's forefoot, forcing her off the wind.
Many of Angelman's design ideas came from the China tea clippers he'd admired as a boy, especially the clipper bow with its deep forefoot. Thus, all the 'Witches" built at Wilmington, including the last one, GOLDEN HIND (1959), carried that original forefoot. The teak Sea Witches, however, and the backyard ones built after 1960, sported a redesigned cutaway forefoot that remedied the problem (see haul-out pictures.)
Angelman's love for the clipper ships carried over into his sail plans as well, and there is no better example than the Sea Witch. Her deeply steeved bowsprit, gaff rig, and raked spars, are not only functional, they are beautiful. So are the curvy taffrail, attractive tumblehome, classic Angelman transom, and dramatic sheer-all pure Sea Witch. Form and function in and out, beauty all around. Small wonder Hugh Angelman chose a Sea Witch for his personal boat.
(And when you are finished here, remember to click on the Sea Witch Website to the left for lots more info on these gorgeous vessels)
Aloha Yachts, Inc.