My friendship with Scott Graham started years ago at the gates of the San Diego Yacht club, when Scott took pity on a few jetlagged airline pilots and took us sailing. Since then we’ve spent many enjoyable days on his boat together, and talking about all manners of things—including a beautiful little Lightning he used to own. Whenever the subject came up, his eyes would be veiled with a dreamy look and nostalgia would flower his words about the second boat he had ever owned.
Scott grew up on Long Island and learned to sail before he knew his alphabet. His summers were spent lifeguarding and sailing on the Great South Bay. Scott bought his Lightning in the early seventies and named it after an America’s Cup winner Courageous. He loved sailing but eventually found surfing, too. This led to his separation from his beloved Lightning as he thought that a powerboat would get him to the waves faster. He’s regretted selling it ever since. Our conversations often would end with him commenting: I’ve meant to try to look the boat up for years. I wish I could find it.” He never saw Courageous again or knew anything of its fate after it left his parents’ driveway in 1977.
A few years later life took Scott to Webb Institute where he became a Naval Architect and then on to UC Berkeley for a MS in hydrodynamics. Little did he know that the name of his Lightning had been a good pmen—Scott eventually ended up working for Paul Cayard’s AmericaOne Challenge for the 2000 America’s Cup, the OneWorld Challenge for 2003, and he is now one of the Principal Designers for the Desafio Español 2007 Challenge for the 32nd America’s Cup. Despite his recent involvement with slightly bigger, faster boats, he’d really like to sail his old Lightning again someday.
My son and I were visiting Scott in early November, and as the little guy ran around playing with Scott’s sailing trophies, Scott went to find him a better toy. He returned with a beautiful wooden scale model of an aquamarine blue Lightning. Henrik was delighted and sailed the little boat around the living room floor. Once again we talked about the subject of the model, Scott’s old boat. I calculated that almost 30 years had passed since Scott last saw the boat, and with Christmas soon approaching an idea began to form.
I am a person who is always up for an interesting challenge and wanted to try and really surprise Scott. I am also a person who knows almost nothing about Lightnings, and I really didn’t have that much to go by. I knew the hull number had been 8501 and that the boat had been in East Islip, New York, in 1977. After several late nights spent on the computer I knew a bit more—that there were a lot of them and finding one specific boat was a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I tried to look it up New York State boat registry but had no success. I considered calling boat yards around Long Island and gave up when the names on the list exceeded several hundred. I sent some shot-in-the-dark emails to people advertising Lightnings for sale. All the replies I got were very friendly, but unsuccessful. I was fearing the worst—that it had long since been abandoned and was rotting away in someone’s back yard.
One seller suggested I look up the Lightning Class Association website, so that’s where I headed next. I sent off emails to the Class Office—a disheartening reply was that no record of hull number 8501 showed up in their books. However, they promised to keep looking. Next I signed up for the Lightning Woody chat group, and posted a message: “I’m looking for a Lightning number 8501 that belonged to a friend of mine on Long Island in the 70s. Can anyone help me?”
And help they could! Within 24 hours I had a reply from Robert Astrove; once again, no such hull number on their records, but he’d forward the message to some Lighting people on Long Island. Another day or so went by. Then I received a very detailed and wonderfully eloquent e-mail from Mr. Malcolm B. Hendry III. In addition to every technical detail on the boat, he also told me that he and his father had bought the boat in East Islip in 1977, and he thought that the hull number matched. It had been in beautiful condition. They had sailed it for about five years, and sold it in Mattituck, New York. He knew that after the boat left his hands at one point it had belonged to the Mayor of Greenport in Northeastern Long Island. He asked me about some details to verify that this indeed was the same boat, so now I had to get some more info out of my friend without ruining the surprise.
I emailed Scott and told him very innocently that I was taking an art class and needed a subject for my next painting: I had thought about painting that old Lightning of his. What color had it been? And the name? Any other details that would distinguish it from others? Scott happily obliged. I got back on the phone with Mr. Hendry, and he described the same white recessed cove stripe, transom flaps…and the name. “You know, the boat was named Courageous when we bought it”. I almost fell off my chair. It was
Scott’s boat! Malcolm thought that his brother Bruce had seen the boat somewhere recently and gave me his number. I dialed, and a woman answered. “Hello, my name is Laura Howard. I am calling for Bruce, please.” Silence, then a questioning “Yeeees?” Obviously a young female calling her husband needed to provide more detail. “I am calling about a sailboat I am looking for. I just spoke to his brother Malcolm. He told me to call.” She went to get her husband. “Bruce, there’s a young woman for you,” pause. “And she’s calling about a sailboat!”
Just like his brother, Bruce could recall the boat in great detail. Yes, he had seen it lately, too. It had been at a local boatyard about two or three years ago, in a state of disrepair with a keel plank missing. No idea whether it was still there. He promised to visit the boat yard the next week and find out. He said that a woman had also called about the boat’s history about eight months ago. She was the owner and had thought about restoring it. After profusely thanking him I hung up, elated. A sighting! Perhaps the boat wasn’t entirely lost in time.
I looked up boat yards in the area and called the one that sounded the most likely. I left a message that would have made anyone question my sanity and intentions, and waited. The following week I got a call. The manager at the yard was on the phone and said that they indeed had the boat, and the hull number matched. The boat was buried in a storage building with other boats around and above it, and all he could do was crawl to it to check the number. He proceeded to tell me that the boat was owned by a woman who “drifted through the yard off and on and had had some work done on the Lightning.” She had ordered the name Courageous to be lettered back on the boat. This mystery woman was difficult to get a hold of, but he promised to try. “I’ll probably have to write to her to get the message to her”, he said, “but give me until Christmas. If you haven’t heard from me, call me back.” So now all I could do was to wait and see if this mystery woman could be found, and if so, to see if she would part with Courageous like Scott had done almost thirty years ago.