Generations of local families have charted a course to keep a racing tradition alive.

By Jeanne Shook
From the August 2019 issue

feature-sailing

In August 1932, as Lewes Beach resident George E. Davisson observed small boats sailing on Delaware Bay, an idea was born. The owner of a small sailboat himself, Maj. Davisson — as he was known — was eager for competition. Why not, he wondered, establish a sailing association to promote racing?

After consulting with fellow Lewes resident Marjorie F. Virden, the two arranged a gathering of other boating enthusiasts from the community and proposed the formation of a sailing club. The idea was well received, and within two weeks the Lewes Yacht Club was established and held its first race.

The competition was rooted in a time-honored practice.

 

“Racing on the Delaware dates back to when local captains competed, under sail, to be the first to reach an incoming ship, thus securing the job of taking the ship up the narrow, tortuous Delaware River, with its unpredictable shoals,” Lewes Yacht Club member Marjorie Miller wrote in the club’s 80th anniversary chronicle.

Since that time, generations of Cape Henlopen sailors have upheld the region’s unique sailing culture. Whether “in the blood” or acquired through efforts to allow greater access to the sport, a shared passion has animated and sustained participants in area sailing clubs, who mirror the competitive spirit of their predecessors.

Two such trailblazers were T. Rowland Marshall and D. Rodney Evans, renowned competitors and lifelong friends who raced the wind in their 17-foot Mobjacks every Sunday at the yacht club from 1934 until 2008. “To them, sailing was more than a pleasant way to spend Sunday afternoons. Racing connected them to Lewes’s heritage, rooted in its historic relationship with the water, challenging the elements,” says Miller in her historical account.

For Marshall, Evans and other boaters of that era, local racing was BYOB — bring your own boat. But for would-be sailors without boats, the two friends built an entire fleet of Sailfish in the 1950s. Constructed from DIY kits in Marshall’s garage, this rudimentary one-person wooden vessel consisted of a flat hull and a sail. Redesigned as a fiberglass boat with a “cockpit” for greater comfort and stability in 1952, the craft was rebranded the Sunfish.

Marshall’s daughter Connie (now Connie Miller) and neighbor Nick Carter learned to test the waters on a Sailfish when they were 8 and 10, respectively. Like many of their counterparts, they launched their racing careers at an early age and haven’t stopped since.

 

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