Gary “Joe” Searl, my dad a few years after we started building our first sailboat together.

My earliest memories of sailing were not on the water, nor even near it, they were in our garage.

Pelican jig before the keel, chines, bottom and sides go on. (Not my photo)

The warm sunlight shone down through the open garage door, ending just behind our feet and then bouncing up into the ceiling to fill the room with soft abundant light. It was a Saturday morning, I was ten years old, and watching as my dad mixed phenolic resin powder with water to make a molasses like glue. I had never seen glue that you had to add water to make it harden, or one that was a deep brown like chocolate – it was fascinating.

Pelican hull – Not ours (not my photo), but you get the idea of where we were in the project.

We took the shaped wooden parts that we had cut and beveled in the shop at the local community college and spread the glue out thickly on each of the faces to be joined. As the clamps were added and compressed, the dark glue oozed out of the joint and was driven into the pores of the wood. More and more clamps were added to bend the wood and shape it onto the keel of our first boat. Then, Dad would pilot and counter sink holes for 1” brass screws, which he turned tightly, one by one, by hand. I can still remember the light on his arms and thinking how strong he was.

It was then, at the age of ten that I became connected to sailing. I knew the strength of a well-built boat because I had helped bend its wood into to a graceful form with my own hands. I had helped scarf, cut, chisel and sand its lines to minimize drag and helped paint it, install its cleats, gudgeons and pulleys on its rigging. I had poured a little bit if myself into our boat.

Ironically, we didn’t finish our first sailboat, a 12ft San Francisco Pelican. As the weeks went by my dad decided that it would be better to actually get out on the water rather than spend the summer building a boat in the garage. We sold it to another would-be sailor and purchased a finished version from a friend. I’m grateful for that, as it got me out on the water that summer. But I’m also thankful for the connections that were made in me to the heart of the vessel and not just its utility.

San Juan Islands, Photo Bruce Searl


My Dad, Gary “Joe” Searl, reading the morning paper at dock, Friday Harbor.

To me, each boat I sail, no matter the size or rig, is much more than a tool or a “thing” like a car or a house. They are almost alive. I have a sense of the hours of work that goes into creating their simple, elegant beauty. I have a connection to their birth and history. The drafting and lofting of lines, the jigging up the keel and chines, all create what is more than the stark utility of a sailboat – they create dreams. The bending, gluing, screwing, sanding and varnishing bring a sort of spirit to a vessel’s simple, elegant beauty. Each boat I’ve sailed connects me back to that garage, my dad and the dream of exploring the world together, with family and friends, in a ship wrought of our own hands.

It is to me, the very heart of sailing.

Fisherman’s Bay, Washington.


16 thoughts on “Heart of Sailing


      Hi Matt, I’m Eugene, Oregon, we keep the Innisfree on Fern Ridge Reservoir during the summers, but occasionally will bring it up to the San Juan’s. Send me a few photos and a little bio of you and your boat and I’ll do a feature post about you! I’ll be bringing the owners gallery from the original site into this new one soon, but I thought a blog post with more details about each boat and her owners would be fun… You could be the first if you are interested.


      Hello Matt!

      I’m in Eugene Oregon. We normally have the boat at Fern Ridge Reservoir but about every other summer we pull her up to the San Juan’s for a month or so of adventure.

      Nice to meet you!

      Please send me a couple photos of your boat and a little bio about it and yourself and I’ll post you in the fleet section if you like. Happy New Year!

  1. Mike and Mary Brower

    HI, just wondering if this site is still functional? If so we will send our pics and info regarding our newly purchased Kent Ranger 26. Thanks!


      Welcome to the fleet! I’ll send you a personal email with my email address. I look forward to learning and posting about your boat! Bruce


      Hi John,

      The Ranger 26 is a great cursing boat.

      She is strong, well crafted and over built for open water. She is rigged with stays and hardware like you would find on a good 30′ boat. In fact, two R26’s have sailed around the world. (that seems a bit extreme to me, but it’s nice to know you have a well built vessel underneath you no matter where you go).

      She has a thick hull, about 3/4″ of glass at the water line near the bow and a good 3/8ths to 1/2 everywhere else. She weighs more than your average 26′ boat, and has a shoal keel, so she is soft to the wind, both in heeling and in pointing, but if you add a couple hundred pounds of lead in the bilge area she will stiffen up nicely. (I’ve had ours out in 55knot gale force winds in a bay with sails reefed, rails down and felt very safe, if a little wind blown! 😉 There is a pretty strong weather helm as you get the rail down, but not un-manageable.

      She also doesn’t point nearly as bad as you might fear, as the drop down center board helps tremendously. So she handles almost like a fin keel, but you can go into shallow area without fear (she only draws 26″ with the board up!).

      Essentially, her construction is just like her looks… beautiful. I don’t think you could go wrong making a R26 your friend.

      Good luck and let us know if you join the fleet!


  2. Mike and Mary Brower

    Hello fellow sailors, I have been thinking of adding a tiller pilot to our Kent Ranger 26 and was hoping to get some feedback from any of you who have installed one. I singlehand frequently and was thinking about getting a Raymarine ST2000. Has anyone had experience with that model. Also interested in any other input you may have on self steering the Kent Ranger 26.
    My wife and I live in Montana but will be keeping the boat in the San Juan Islands year round. I would be interested in chatting with anyone who has a drifter or code 0 sail for their Kent Ranger. Would like to get your opinion on having one onboard.


      Steve, your ranger 26 might be a California Ranger, Different company than the Kent Washington Ranger 26 that only had about 70 hulls built.


  3. jerry McGoldrick

    I just pulled the trigger on a KR 26. Was looking at an Albin Vega when the Ranger came up. The hull is great shape the interior …… not so much. The prior owner did some mods that I can’t understand, but the rest of the boat is great. I would like to try to restore the interior with upgrades where I can. Does anyone have some detailed cabin photos? Mostly interested in The head and cabinets that are attached. Are there any replacement cabin parts available? Any Help would be much appreciated. Thanks Jerry


      Welcome to the fleet Jerry! 🙂
      I don’t have any photos of the interior, but others might be able to help you out with some. Good luck!

  4. Larry Knowles

    Hi Bruce,

    I know there have been many boats that have changed hands before and after you took over the website.

    Mine is one of them. I bought WESTWIND from Rob Bridges in September of 2014. I tried to update the data list on the Yahoo Groups site, many times, to no avail.

    Can you bring it over to your site, so that we can get it updated? Will you?

    Larry Knowles s/v WESTWIND (KR26 Hull ID RFB013701177) Camp Verde, AZ


      Sure, I’ve been very busy of late but I’ll have more time this fall to move and update things. Check back with me in a few weeks please. Bruce

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