Stew Sill Jr. as I remember it. by Bill VanGee

Stew was some 12 years older than me and while we both grew up in Sodus Point, there is a substantial gap of what I actually remember as fact and what I remember because I heard all of the stories as told by the “old guys”. Some may be factual, some may be a stretch.

When I first came on the scene I had just completed a 4 year stint in the USAF and had that first summer of 1970 with nothing to do. I was in short order, drafted to crew for George Sibley on the 8 metre racing sloop “Thisbe”. While I didn’t know that much about sailing, I was young and strong with an ample amount of spare time so that I could help work on the boat and pretty much always be available to help sail the boat to the next port on the lake for the start of the next race. She was a 50’ boat with no engine so getting from one place to another, was quite time consuming. I loved it! And because George was pretty much financially challenged with ownership responsibilities, we did all repairs and upkeep on the boat ourselves. Needless to say, I became a quick learner and because George stored “Thisbe “at Sill’s Marina I was able to get advice and help from Stew Sill as we endeavored to keep the old girl afloat. At the end of my first sailing season, I went off to college.

Spring 1971 arrives and I’m around the boat yard helping George with the usual spring projects needed to keep a 50’ wooden boat sea worthy. Stew realizes that I’m a college student in need of summer employment and offers to put me on his yard crew. This is a great deal for me. Not only will I be able to be around all of the boats and racing activities that I have come to love, Stew is now going to pay me to be here! And as an added bonus, he actually takes on the task of teaching about all of the different boat systems and procedures involved with keeping the customer boats repaired and ship shape.

Back in 1971, Stew was sailing the “R” class boat “Kathea II”. She was 39’ long and had about 18” of free board to the water and she was one of the top racing sloops on Lake Ontario and Sodus Bay. She was in Bristol shape and Stew did everything he could to keep her that way. Story has it that he had purchased her from Bob Dodge for $250.00 and a row boat. Only catch was she was lying on the bottom of the yacht club mooring area and was in a condition that justified the $250.00 purchase price. Stew raised her (remember, his dad had a marine construction business with barges and cranes) and moved her into the shop at the marina and began what turned into a multiyear project of restoring and up grading. While most of this type of work was new to Stew, he dove in and removed the 10,000 lb lead keel, the deck and cabin and much of the planking and framing of this 1930’s wooden sail boat. What he didn’t know how to do, he talked with other ship’s carpenters for advice and taught himself everything else he needed to do. He learned to cut and fit hull planking, to steam oak hull frames and to challenge his carpentry skills in ways he didn’t yet know existed. In the end he had a spectacularly beautiful race boat that was ready and willing to take on all comers. One of my first jobs working at the marina was to help keep “Kathea II” looking like the day she was launched and that meant sanding and painting everything from the bottom of the lead to the top of the cabin. And for the hull, which was red, it meant having to sand and prep for paint, a minimum of 4 times each spring in order to get the proper paint coverage (Red paint has very little pigment). I sanded and Stew did the actual painting. He was a great brush painter and always a stickler for detail. Everything had to be right and look right from the keel fairing to the cabin top paint.