It’s a magnificent sight to see these big long ‘A’ boats race across the lake- their elegant lines, their speed, their enormous sails are a quintessential combination of superb design, and nautical prowess on board.
First built on White Bear Lake in the late 1800’s by a man named J.O. Johnson, with a radical design that allowed the boat to skim the surface of the water, versus plowing through it. Johnson was convinced that the displacement of much of sailboat design had too much resistance with the water.
It would take years and support from local enthusiasts to built the first one, and he named it the “Minnezitka.” It was essentially the very first monohull racing scow in the world.
Despite the naysayers, his radically different “dish-like” hull design proved to be the secret for speed, and he went on to become a huge success after winning his first race, by a very big long shot!
…”the Johnson Scow not only lapped the fleet, but was home with the sails down by the time the second place boat crossed the finish line.”
They teased him and called the boat “a slice of bread”, among other things.
But, he just kept on winning.
By 1904, he was in full production, and his boat works on the lake was the center of the world for inland sailers. He also built smaller versions, the “B”, and “C” designs, and years later, a few motorboats.
In the 30’s, a storm destroyed a lot of boats including most of the A boats on White Bear Lake at the time. Not enough survived for a fleet to be recognized.
In the decades following, the popularity of the A boats wained, and the A class did not officially race on the lake for over 50 years. Occasionally one or several would be spotted, but it wasn’t until 2004 that racing resumed, and now the fleet, at 13 A boats, is the largest in the world.
This is due in most part to the enthusiasm and support of a man named Fletcher Driscoll and his family, who have bought and restored these unique sailboats, generated interest, put crews together, building a camaraderie , and becoming the ‘father’ of the A fleet on White Bear Lake.
Thank you Fletcher!
You can read more about him here:
He began amassing his collection in 2000, with 4 boats by 2004. Very soon, everyone wanted to be a part of the excitement. Other sailors bitten by the ‘A’ bug hopped on board, and he quickly grew the fleet to its present level. Since racing resumed, interest has grown steadily, and the races attract a gallery of boats eager to watch, including the one I’m on…
And, it’s not hard to see why.
..Like watching a flutter of silent, magic birds!
I am very drawn to paint nautical subjects, and here is one in progress: