The Harbor Report: The dawning of the age of fiberglass

This story is going to be a good ride, maybe even better than the third wave I caught in the 1991 Transpacific Yacht Race, or Transpac, approaching the finish off Diamond Head.

As the boat, a Santa Cruz 50 now named Flaca, dropped into the third consecutive wave and the shape of Ko Ko Head disappeared under the horizon from the huge wave, with sheets of water rising 12 feet on either side of the boat, a crew member shouted "26.6 knots," as we surfed down this tropical wave.

I thought to myself, "Go straight, go fast and don't touch the helm."

Now, what does this introduction have to do with this story? Absolutely nothing, it's just one of my fondest boating memories.

This week I met with Roger MacGregor at his boat manufacturing plant on Placentia Street Costa Mesa. I was there to discuss the history of building sailboats in Costa Mesa. While I was in Roger's office, I could not help but notice the excitement and inflection in his voice. And I thought to myself, this is Roger's third consecutive wave, this is one of his fondest boating memories, and while writing this I better "go straight, go fast and don't touch the helm".

I hope you stay onboard with me while I tell this three-part story and notice the relation between the fiberglass boating industry and today's economy.

All yachtsman understand that God created wooden boats and man created fiberglass. In June 1947, Wizard Boats Inc., of 2075 Harbor Blvd., started building laminated fiberglass plastic Boats. The company had 280 dealers throughout the world and made seven different sizes of power boats, which measured between 8-feet and 17-feet-long. Wizard Boats shipped 1,700 units in 1952.

I then found a July 1973 article from the Los Angeles Times. It was headlined "Million Boat Building Industry"' and was about fiberglass millionaires. In the article, the writer introduced W.D. (Bill) Schock, at age 52, as "The grizzled veteran of the new breed of fiberglass millionaires…."

While talking to Roger MacGregor it was my understanding that, at 24, Richard (Dick )Valdes started Columbia Yachts and started building the Columbia 29 from a Sparkman Stevens design. Dick was the second person to start building sailboats in Costa Mesa and, as Roger described it, this was the start of "The Wild West."

At about that time Roger MacGregor had produced a class project at Stanford Business School on how to put together a boat manufacturing business. Roger, who was working at the Ford Motor Co., had purchased a wooden Highlander Hull from W.D. Schock and started to build his first trailer able sailboat in his garage.

"I recall the first barrel of resin coming into town" Roger said.

At 38, he and his wife Mary Lou opened a little shop on 17th Street. While talking to Roger, we walked over to Laura (MacGregor) Sharp, who said: "We grew up sleeping in the back of the car while mom and dad built boats at night."

Then, after the company was building a boat every two weeks, Roger left his job and went to work full-time building sailboats.

"The harbor was full of wooden boats and those boat owners were our target market," Roger said.

Next to arrive was Jensen Marine's Cal Boats, and the list grew fast. McGlassen, Newport, Islander, Luhr's, Crysaliner, Hans Christian, Gil's Catamarans, Montgomery, Clipper, Pacifica, Aquarius, Westsail, Chapman 7 Kalligian, Ackerman, American, Dirmar & Donaldson, Duffield, Westerly, Bristol Channel Cutters, Willard. The list of support companies was even longer. As Roger said to me more than once "It was the Wild West."

Next week I am going to talk about saloon fights, the fires, beach parties, teamsters and the manager of a mold shop working from the saddle of his white horse.

So remember, "go straight, go fast and don't touch the helm" next week — the ride only gets better. I also need to give a big shout out to Mary Ellen Goddard at the Costa Mesa Historical Society. If you like this story, please stop by and leave a donation in the jar and thank her for me.

Before I go, I need to go over some Harbor News. The Baldwin Cup is being hosted by the Newport Harbor Yacht Club Thursday till Sunday. This is a fantastic Team Racing event sailed in Harbor 20s in front of the NHYC. This is a must-see and more information can be found at http://www.nhyc.org

In other harbor news, the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, the Newport Ocean Sailing Assn. and Visit Newport Inc. have announced an inaugural send-off fiesta on Sunday .ahead of the 64th annual Newport Beach to Ensenada International Yacht Race, affectionately called the "N2E." The fiesta, to take place from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Balboa Fun Zone and nautical museum, will features mariachi band performances, a fireboat escorting the race's 2009 and 2010 winners, and a "I want to be a Chihuahua" costumed dog parade. For more information, go to http://www.nosa.org.

LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.

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