BAR HARBOR — The sailors who steward the Northeast Harbor fleet of International One Design sailboats are fortunate to have a master wooden spar builder right up the road.
The other fleets of this classic racing boat have switched to aluminum masts, but Northeast Harbor has held to the tradition of square, hollow spars made of Sitka spruce. Before World War II, all of the spars were made in Europe. For many years after the war, Kretzer Boat Works in City Island, N.Y., was the only approved supplier.
So when Gosling’s mast broke just above the deck earlier this summer, her owner called up Jim Elk at Elk Spar and Boat Shop in Bar Harbor and asked him to build a replacement.
The fleet’s owners collectively decided, with the IOD World Championship regatta coming up Aug. 20-25, it would be good to have a spare mast available. So Elk has built two of the masts in just a few weeks.
The keel-stepped masts stand 42 feet above the deck, 45 feet overall. “The bottom section from the step is a solid block that goes up about 10 feet,” Elk said. “The rest is hollow.”
He joined several shorter pieces of lumber with a traditional technique called a “scarf” to make those lengths. “I used to get 40-foot pieces of lumber, but they’re hard to deal with,” he said. The Sitka spruce is “clear, vertical grain wood. So if you varnish it, it will never move.”
Gluing the pieces together on the spar bench in his Norway Drive shop, Elk was assisted by his son Kevin and “all the clamps I have.”
The long spars also require some tricky maneuvering out windows and doors.
The design includes a track for the bolt rope on the luff of the sail to ride, called “the feathers.” The mast is tapered on the sides and forward edge, but the aft face is a straight line – that is, until the skipper cranks on the backstay to adjust the sail shape.
“They’re quite bendy,” he said.
Elk said the Northeast Harbor fleet has held several votes on whether to switch to aluminum or carbon fiber masts. He has repaired or replaced other masts in the fleet in the past. They tend to crack right above the deck. The fleet has experimented with carbon fiber masts, but for now, they are sticking with spruce.
IOD World Championships
The World Championships get underway Sunday afternoon with a practice race and welcome reception. Racing is planned for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. John Roberts is the chair of the event and Northeast Harbor IOD Class captain. He was the winner of the North American Championship for the class, held here last year. Last year’s World Champion was Charlie Van Voorhis of the Fishers Island, N.Y.-yacht club.
Fleet Director Fran Charles said about 20 crews will race in the event, from Norway, Sweden, Nova Scotia and Bermuda.
“Northeast Harbor has the largest fleet of IODs in the world,” Charles said earlier this summer. “Everyone leaves their boat at home and uses our boats and rotates boats after every race.”
Many of the Northeast Harbor boats date from the original 1938 delivery from Norway. That’s just two years after the very first boats of the class were delivered to City Island, N.Y.
“It’s the time, effort and thoughtfulness which has kept this the finest one-design class in the world,” one skipper was quoted as saying in a 1964 issue of “Motor Boating” magazine.
Northeast Harbor hosted the Worlds in 1982, 1988, 1994, 2003 and 2010. After this year, they’re on the schedule again for 2027.