It has been my pleasure to have owned several very nice sailboats -- and to have crewed on dozens more. Yet in all these years, I have never found any as appealing and enjoyable as the Kettenburg K38 Auxillary Sloop. That is not to say that other boats are not well found and a joy to sail - for clearly they are. Still, for me, the exquisite beauty of the K38 lines, its ideal size, its incredible feel of balance and speed, its sleek, narrow hull, its meticulous craftsmanship in wood and its silent, easy motion in a seaway combine to make it superior to all other yachts for sailing in Southern California waters. In fact, I believe it is about as close to perfection as human genius can get.
My K38 was the 34th out of 40 to be built in her class and has quite a pedigree. She was christened "REWARD" when launched in May of 1956 at the Kettenburg Boat Works in San Diego. She began life as a "ladies offshore racing yacht". Her first owner was NATALIE BREDIN - an heir to the Aetna Insurance Company fortune. The sale was negotiated by the most famous woman racing champion in Southern California - PEGGY SLATER who was then also the Kettenburg representative from Dana Point to Santa Barbara. In intervening years, REWARD has given thousands of days and nights of matchless sailing to nearly a dozen owners that have included physicians, lawyers, electricians, naval officers and racing yachtsmen.
Her hull and rig are in outstanding condition. Miraculously, the perils of aging have been either contained or overcome with regular maintenance by all her owners. The majority of annual haul-outs have been done at Kettenburg Boat Works. Since buying her in 1991, I have enjoyed restoring her to her original 1956 appearance. I have also gained a new appreciation for the enduring qualities of a wood hull when it is properly cared for. In 1993, after completely sanding to bare wood REWARD's exterior, I was amazed to find her douglas fir keel to be in perfect condition. I asked my shipwright, "When will such wood begin to disintegrate or loose its strength - if it is kept preserved and uninjured?" He beamed and said, "Never!" --- and he's right!
Below decks, the K38 is the epitome of practical accomodation and straightforward nautical charm. In happy contrast to most boat show monstrosities, or the obsession of many to make yacht interiors look like gadget-bedecked motorhomes or -- space stations, the K38 is pleasantly sparce in appointments and instrumentation. Still, she has all that a good sailor really needs to cruise or race in California coastal waters in safety and comfort. The beauty of the natural finish on the white oak ribs and honduras mahogany planks and custom molded cabin tops is a joy to the eyes. The pullman sink in the head is a delight. On deck, one sees top-of-the-line quality in the beautifully engineered roller reefing of the mainsail boom, the tapered stanchions, teardrop cleats, monel bow-pulpit and merriman blocks.
Some say that boats are living things and perhaps they are. In any case, I get the sense from REWARD that she is always eager to get underway. She will gladly take any breeze, but give her as little as four knots out of the West and she is ready to go. Just disconnect her shore services, take in the fenders, raise her main and jib, and cast off her lines. Instantly she comes to life and drifts out of her upwind slip at NTC Marina. Now, backwind her jib and she'll swing her bow seaward. Set her sails for a starboard beam reach, give her a little helm and she will silently glide out of the Harbor Island inlet at three knots. As she crosses the Kettenburg Channel and the wind picks up to eight knots, she will spring to hull speed. The mischievious waves from large power vessels, the "willy-waws" in the lee of Point Loma and the doldrums that lurk around Ballast Point are overcome with carefree ease as she points her long, patrician nose toward the open sea. Within 40 minutes, she has made the 3.5 mile transit out of San Diego Bay.
Once clear of Point Loma, REWARD'S graceful motion achieves perfection as she feels the gentle rise and fall of the Pacific Ocean swell under her keel. At sea, with a bone in her teeth, her course and watch are set for the best in Southern Califomia sailing. Do you want to go to the Coronados? -- she'll take you there by midafternoon -- or to Dana Point by evening -or out around San Clemente Island and back in two days -- or (if you have the provisions and time) to Tahiti in 30 days.
Is it any wonder that K38 owners are so passionate about their boats? Their pride of ownership comes from both a love for the class and an enduring admiration for GEORGE and PAUL KETTENBURG. They know they are sailing in the finest and most famous racing yachts ever designed and produced on the West Coast. The public has always loved them. Even hightech yachtsmen in sophisticated "plastic" wonders of today enthusiastically call out -"Hey! she looks great!" as they sight her underway. There used to be a saying that if a K38 was astern of you on the same course - beating or on a reach, and you could read the logo on her mainsail, she would overtake you! They still do it today. They are fast!
I predict, that the renewed admiration and popularity of the Kettenburg boats - PC, PCC, K3S, K40, K50, K43 and K41, will grow as the years go on. At present, their prices are still quite reasonable -- even including those in bristol condition. However, as their incredible qualities are rediscovered, fewer owners will be willing to sell them and prospective owners wanting to buy one will increase - as will demand. The same trend has occurred on the East Coast with the Concordia yawls.
According to the State of California, I own the K38 REWARD but in a larger sense, she belongs to Califomia's yachting nobility. The proof is in her popularity and the likelihood that REWARD will outlast me. In fact, if given regular maintenance which includes modem wood preservation technology, she may very well live through the next century. Indeed, it is not outrageous to imagine that REWARD and other fine Kettenburg boats will be sailed and admired by Califomians yet unborn in the Yesteryear Regatta of 2095 and beyond. These beautiful all-wood yachts evolved from GEORGE KETTENBURG'S fabulous design of the 32-foot PC and 47-foot PCC as skillfully modifed into a 38-foot version by PAUL KETTENBURG. The goal was to produce a racing/cruising sloop that could be easily handled by a husband and wife. It succeeded so well that orders came flowing in even before the first one was completed or advertised.
Today, these stunning yachts are neither oldfashioned nor obsolete --- they're timeless! They 're still recognized as the "Aristocrats of sail" on the Pacific Coast. Like the violin, or a Queen Ann highboy, they abide as supreme examples of successful design and the heart's sense of functional beauty.
Recently I took three high-tech racing yachtsmen out in REWARD. They were astounded at her speed, pointing qualities and responsive helm. A woman passenger remarked, "---and when she hits a wave, there is almost no banging ---and below decks a wooden hull is so quiet "! Even at her dock at the NTC Marina, surrounded by fiberglass boats, she is strikingly beautiful and draws admirers.
In May of next year, to celebrate her 40th birthday, REWARD will be relaunched with ceremonial band, yachting dignitaries and city leaders at the Wooden Boat Festival. It's the very least we can do to honor this incredible boat. What a lady! What a past! -- What a future! One can only suspect that her happy owners in the next century will find the joys of sailing her just as marvelous as we did in this one.