Bay Reflection
West River Sailing:
Bill Heintz's Short History
with M.L. Faunce

Bill Heintz recently remarked that he wasn't much interested in history. "That's all in the past," he said. But mention sailing on the West River, and his interest in local history comes alive.

Heintz's own history goes back a ways. At 90, he's seen the Bay winds blow through the West River and the sails of more than 20 boats he sailed, built or both. He began sailing at about six years old off Cedar Point - also known as Wagner Point in honor of his grandfather.

Hear the rest of the story in Heintz's own words.


When I was a late teenager, 18 or 19, we formed a group over at Shady Side called the Double ODYC. It stood for Our Own Damn Yacht Club. We held a regatta with such stellar events as "bang-and-go-back motor boat race," which meant that all the boats started out, and, when a gun was fired, we would go back. We had a dog race where we put the dogs out on a barge in the creek and all the kids would cheer. We had fun in those days.

Then our elders said the Double ODYC was not a very good name, so they persuaded us to change the name to the West River Sailing Club. That's how the West River Sailing Club started. When the club needed a place, I found a place in Galesville. An old colored man had lived there by right to live there until he died.

The club developed several classes of racing boats. Chesapeake 20 is one and Penguin another.


How Penguins Came to Be

We had been reading about the frost-bite sailing on the Long Island Sound [Soon we were looking for a design for a boat we could race.]

Naval architect Phil Rhodes had a plan that we decided we could build out of plywood. So we bought 12 sets of plans. We bought the spruce, and in my basement I had a jigsaw and we cut out the ribs for 12 boats. My wife May said, "You plan to sail these boats in the winter, so why not call them Penguins?"

The second year, we raced them at the President's Cup Regatta. Herb Stone, who was editor of Yachting magazine, was an honorary chairman. "You know there isn't a national class of dinghies that amateurs can build," I said. At that time, Yachting was in great competition with Rudder magazine, which was promoting the Snipe class.

Yachting did a very nice article with pictures and a drawing of the boat, and they were swamped with inquiries. Then Stone called me and said, "Yachting will buy the plans from Rhodes. You fellas print up the plans full size (because he knew I had a lithograph business), and we'll sell the plans till we get our money back. Then the plans will belong to the Penguin class."

There are more than 10,000 today, all over the world.


Albatross Beats a Batteau

In the 1930s, the boys from Herring Bay had a 20-foot batteau, a V-bottom boat. How the French name became prominent among a bunch of local people in Maryland, I'll never know. But everyone called a rowboat a batteau. The boys from Herring Bay had this batteau rigged like a log canoe with three sails. They called it Lucky Strike.

Master boat builder Dick Hartge, who was a member of that first sailing club and my best friend, built a boat called the Albatross. In the match race, the Albatross defeated the Lucky Strike and then everybody wanted an Albatross. So Dick built as many as 12 and they became a one-design class sailing during the 1930s and '40s. I don't think any are in existence any more.


Chesapeake 20 Over Vanity

There were other classes of boat after the Albatross. We had this regatta every Labor Day. The feature race was the free-for-all. They were 20-footers mostly, and the boys from Herring Bay and Osmond Owings and his friend John Gregory built a round-bottom 20-footer. That was Vanity, and Vanity defeated all the boats.

So Dick Hartge tried to build a round-bottom boat to beat Vanity. Among them was a boat called The Mermaid with a very wide transom, and another called Wings, a double ender. None of them could beat Vanity.

Then he built the Ranger, and it was competitive. So a number of these round-bottom boats were built, and a number are still in existence today. In fact, they had one of them molded and are making them in fiberglass.

So the 20-foot class, what's called the Chesapeake 20, is still a flourishing class in West River. They have races for the Chesapeake 20 all over the Bay.


Obsessed by Boats

I had a Chesapeake 20 called Windward a few years and did pretty well with it and won some trophies. Then I sold it and bought a Thistle. I have had 20 sailboats. And I spent two years building a 25-foot powerboat with a cabin on it. It was a hobby, really. And kind of an obsession.


Editor's notes: See Heintz's model of his 1938 Albatross MayDic Sunday afternoons through Ocober. at the Captain Salem Avery House Museum. Vanity now resides at the museum. Son Dick Heintz, who grew up sailing from the time he was four years old, now races a Henderson 30 and manages Williams & Heintz Map Corporation in Capitol Heights, printer of the chartbook, Maryland Cruising Guide.

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Volume VI Number 40
October 8-14, 1998
New Bay Times