The Penguin Odyssey

This is a fairly long blog post, for which we are almost sorry. We suggest you go now to fetch the beverage of your choice, and that you then return with sufficient resolve to read the story in its entirety.

In the wee hours of Oct. 25, 2014, two men set forth from Corliss, WV on a mission to retrieve and eventually restore a wooden sailing dinghy offered to Sewell Mountain Sailing Association by generous donors in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The boat is a Penguin, brilliantly designed by Phillip Rhodes and popular for racing since the first were built in 1939. It's a small boat, with a length overall of less than 12 feet and a broad beam of 4.67 feet, according to The Penguin's cat rig makes for a very fun, very stable boat with just one sail -- ideal for Sewell Mountain Sailing Association's beginners sailing classes on Corliss Pond.

The trip from Corliss to Owings, MD was uneventful, painted with the rich hues of autumn as car and trailer cruised from Rainelle, WV to Lexington, VA. The traffic on I-81 was predictably heavy, but we veered east on I-64 to Charlottesville and quickly left the traffic behind by taking U.S. 29 north to I-66 at Haymarket. Inbound to D.C., the bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-66 was about as frantic as you might imagine in a VW Beetle with an empty trailer in tow.

On this trip were Harbor Master Bob Richards and newly elected Vice Commodore Jeff Seager, neither of whom had a clue about the adventure awaiting them. We arrived in good time at our destination to meet Charlie and Cairn Krafft, who kindly invited us in before showing us the boat.

At this point, we had some pretty clear indications of just who our benefactors were. Suffice it to say that the powder room wall was decorated with three trophies won in Penguin class international competition. Other walls of their home bore national and international sailing honors from decades past and into the present. Some of those trophies belonged to their sons, all three of them now away at school.

I don't know for sure about Bob, who has known his share of world-class sailors, but I (Jeff) was profoundly humbled. And charmed, too, by their kindness and the generosity of their gift to Sewell Mountain Sailing Association.

Bob talked with Charlie for some time as they looked over the boat, while I had a sandwich and talked with Cairn about botany (her specialty) and about their interest in sailing Thistles as well as Penguins. We all soon ended up outside again, securing the boat and getting ready for the trip home. We grabbed a few pictures, thanked the Kraffts sincerely and hit the road.

So ... leaving out a few details, we had some car trouble and found ourselves stranded. It was late Saturday afternoon, about 20 minutes from the Kraffts' home on the way to the Washington beltway that would take us home. I reached quickly for my phone and sent a message to AAA, and a tow truck was enroute in a very short time. Bob was considering whether to tow the car and boat to a VW dealership or to the nearest AAA-certified garage. Cars and trucks whizzed by in a constant stream.

Then something amazing happened.

A car pulled over in front of the tow truck. Out jumped Charlie and Cairn Krafft, who were on their way to a dinner party with friends. Then they amazed us again by insisting that the car and boat be towed back to their house, where we could stay until Charlie could help us fix Bob's car the next morning.

I've seen my share of hospitality of the highest order (West Virginia is a friendly place), but never have I known people who would open their home to two scraggly old salts they just met that day.

Charlie and Cairn went on to their party while we watched their TV, ate their food and cleaned up the mess we'd made in the galley before burrowing down in beds usually occupied by two of their sons. And when we woke on Sunday morning, Charlie had a plan and all the tools needed to execute that plan.

As you might expect (because this story is so full of miracles already), that plan worked flawlessly. The car was fixed and we were on our way again before noon.

We'll return to Maryland to race that Penguin when she's restored, because we said we would, and in all likelihood we will lose to Charlie Krafft gloriously, with big fat smiles on our grateful faces.