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Alameda yacht designer Carl Schumacher is used to looking at the world from more than one perspective. Some of that ability may stem from his growing up left-handed in a right-handed world, a condition which forces those affected to stretch their minds farther than their right-handed counterparts. For Schumacher, that training comes in handy, especially considering the vocation he's chosen for himself. Drawing pleasure boats is not a surefire way to fame and success, yet he has set a course for himself that may well end up there. At least he hopes so. "I was raised to believe that I should do the work I enjoy, try to be the best at it, and eventually the money would start coming in," he says.
For most of the five years he's been working independently, Carl's office was a small, dark, concrete room with one large window overlooking the Alameda waterfront. Recently, however, he moved a few hundred feet to the north into a bright, wood-panelled space, which is adorned with trophies, photographs, books and even a full-size El Toro dinghy. Though not significantly bigger, the new work area does exude a sense of moving up in the world. Indeed, with the successful Express 27, in full production and the winning custom designs of Summertime Dream and Wall Street Duck to his credit, Carl appears to be attaining his goals.
Bespectacled and mild mannered with a bushy brown mustache, Carl isn't one to stand out at a party or in the bar. In private, though, he's quite capable of carrying on animated conversation, jumping from his upbringing in Newport Beach to theories of hull shape to thoughts on working for big corporations. "Sometimes I think life would be easier if I saw everything in black or white and I just charged ahead with what I thought was right," he says. "My tendency is to see everybody's point of view. Oh well."
To many, Carl appears self effacing and almost shy, but it should also be pointed out that he is doing what many only dream about. At the age of 12 he began to realize he really wanted to draw boats for a living. Since then he hasn't wavered in that pursuit. There have been times when the whole idea seemed preposterous, but his own desire and the support of his wife and family have lit the way. John Wayne he isn't, but Gary Cooper will do just fine.
Being in, on and around boats has been part of Schumacher's life ever since his father built a 22-ft Bill Garden design in their Southern California backyard back in 1954. When he was eight, they moved to the developing waterfront community of Newport Beach. The family boat provided opportunities for outings between his dad's busy schedule as an airline pilot. At ten Carl started racing eight foot Sabot dinghies at the Balboa YC, graduating to the 15-ft Snipe later in high school.
There was more to boats than just sailing, though. "He was always tinkering," recalls Newport Beach racer and sailmaker Dave Ullman, who taught at the Balboa YC junior program. Carl started sketching boats at a young age and he used to build and race model sailboats with Ron Holder (who later designed the trailerable Holder 20). In fact, the drawing board Carl uses today was a Christmas present he received when he was 12. "I set it up in my room," he recalls, "and just started sketching."
Carl's father, Richard, no doubt influenced his son's choice of vocation. He had wanted to be an aeronautical engineer but didn't have the money to afford college at the time. Besides his commercial flying, Carl's dad designed and built model airplanes. He also spent his stopovers in Seattle visiting cruising boat designer Bill Garden, who took an interest in young Carl's enthusiasm for yacht design and sent him drawings. Not surprisingly, the youngster drew inspiration from Garden. He was also an avid fan of the legendary Olin Stephens and Nathaniel Herreshoff.
At 14, Carl entered his first design competition. Yachting magazine was looking for a three-man keelboat and Carl drew up plans for a boat he called the Olympic 30. The long, low hull with generous overhangs looked a lot like the Rhodes 33 he was crewing on at the time. The tendency to take ideas from existing boats is a theme which Carl has repeated over the years. "I'm more concerned with how a hull shape reacts than with its hydrodynamic form," he says. As a result, he's always made it a point to sail on as many different boats as possible to see how they perform under different conditions.
Another facet of design theory that Carl developed early was the preference for boats that ride easily in a seaway. One of the crucial ingredients needed for this characteristic is the deadrise, or the amount of V-shape in the forward part of the underwater hull shape. A boat with flat-forward sections (low deadrise) will pound more than a steeper V-section, which cuts into the waves more easily. Garden's designs and the meter boats are good examples of hulls with a lot of deadrise.
Designing a good shape, Carl explains, is a series of compromises. Boats with low deadrise, like the Jensen Marine Cal boats that Carl sailed on in Newport Beach, have good form stability. That means they resist tipping over because of the flatter bottom. Hulls with more deadrise tend to want to lay over, relying on the keel to keep them upright. Finding the right mix to produce a hull that rides easily and stays upright is the designer's job.
Carl's classroom for discovering the answers to these problems extended beyond his high school courses in drafting and mathematics. In the summers he worked in sail lofts and as a rigger, and of course he sailed as much as possible. He spent a great deal of time onboard a Cal 28 owned by Mike Hirsh, a successful marketing manager and former Lido 14 and Malibu outrigger champion. Also popular at the time were the Balboa YC's fleet races for the Rhodes 33's, including challenges against other clubs in California. "There wasn't as much emphasis on international sailing as there is now," he says. "For us it was a big deal to come up to San Francisco to sail against the St. Francis YC team!"
When it came time to choose a college, Carl faced a bit of a dilemma. While his grades in the subjects he liked were good, he wasn't as strong in other areas. Consequently the naval architecture programs at MIT, University of Michigan and Cal Berkeley were unavailable. He did score well on his Scholastic Aptitude Tests, though, and after a year at Orange Coast Junior College he enrolled at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo to pursue an architectural engineering degree. His parents tried to impress on Carl that yacht design might not be the best career choice, but given his father's predilection to overlap business and pleasure, it was a weak argument.
Carl campaigned a 22-ft Star boat during his college years, doing much of the repair and maintenance of the wooden hull himself. He sailed out of Santa Barbara and there became friends with boatbuilder Bill Gerard. The two joined forces for an Olympic effort in 1972, finishing tenth in the trials on San Francisco Bay.
While not as successful as Carl had hoped it might be, the Star experience taught him a good lesson. Before the Trials he and Gerard had been very fast with a particular mainsail. It wasn't the model many others were using, but they had confidence in it, which Carl points out is often more important than any other factor in sailboat racing. For some reason they sold the sail before the Trials and bought one of the more popular models. Of course it turned out to be slower.
"You don't monkey with a fast machine," Carl says now. "If you're going well, people will eventually come around to your way. The boats I'm designing now are different from what others are doing here in the States. From what I see in the magazines, mine are more like the French and German yachts which are doing well in Europe. They're easily driven with not too much sail area and they have a long waterline for their rating."
Chris Corlett, the, primary helmsman on Carl's 38-ft IOR racer Wall Street Duck for the past two very successful seasons, concurs with this notion. Chris also drove the 1983 SORC winner Scarlett O'Hara, designed by San Diego's Doug Peterson. He says the difference between the two boats is significant. "Scarlett is big in the ends and requires lots of power to push it around the course," he says. "The Duck has an easier feel on the helm and is easier to sail. Carl's boats definitely have their own style."
There were other ingredients required to create that style, and one of most important came after Carl graduated from college. With a low draft number staring him in the face, he chose to join the Navy Reserve which required six months active duty and five and half years of monthly meetings. There was a four-month wait for boot camp to start (during which, ironically, the draft was ended), and Carl devised a plan to spend it fruitfully. Through his friend Mike Hirsh, he arranged to take a crash course in boatbuilding at Jensen Marine in Costa Mesa.
"It was a great experience," he says. "I got to work in each of the shops and see exactly how a fiberglass boat was put together. I spent days laying up fiberglass with guys who didn't speak English. At lunch I would hear guys talk about their two week vacations and how they looked forward to their time off. In addition to the boatbuilding education, I also came away with a very strong feeling of not wanting to work for a big corporation!"
After his military stint (which further reinforced his disdain for large organizations), Carl set his sights on his next goal. Oakland's Gary Mull was enjoying great success at this time. His Ranger 37 Munequita had just won the 1973 SORC. The young college grad decided that's who he wanted to work for and he doggedly pursued his quarry. "I remember driving up from Newport Beach to have lunch with Gary and then driving back home the same day," he recalls. Finally Mull granted him a three-week trial run. He passed the test and spent the next four years at Mull's office.
The exposure to an established naval architect's office proved to be another valuable learning experience. "I found out how to keep records, how to acquire clients, how to make calculations and keep them organized," he says. "I was also exposed to the politics of both the rating rules and sailboat racing in general." In addition, Carl took on many decision-making responsibilities while Mull was traveling.
By 1976, though, the urge to try out his own wings became uppermost. Carl also disagreed with the then current Mull philosophy of heavy boats with big rigs and pinched sterns. So he moved his drawing board to the laundry room of his house and set up shop. Carl Schumacher, N.A. Being honest, forthright and knowledgable about boats, he figured the world would beat a path to his door.
He was wrong. His phone remained deafeningly quiet. Work in the form of building half models of boats and some consulting work for Dick Denay of the Yacht House in Alameda was sporadic. Carl's confidence began to melt like an ice cube and as things worsened it seeped into the floor heading south. He drew great strength from his wife Marilyn, whom he had married in 1973. "She supported the philosophy that if I wanted to be a designer, then that's what I should do," he says. Marilyn's faith in the principles of Christian Science (a religion Carl adopted himself a couple of years ago) were a valuable asset, as was the income she generated from teaching flying lessons.
Carl kept plugging away. In 1977 he was one of four winners in a Cruising World magazine design contest, and the following year he received honorable mention. He was also sailing a lot on the Tartan 41 Blitz and Chick Leson's Peterson 42 Incredible. But still no design commissions. Carl hit bottom after submitting some drawings to Islander Yachts for a production boat, only to have them choose Doug Peterson for the commission "because he was internationally known".
In the fall of 1978 Carl knew there was only one avenue left. Realizing he wasn't adept at socializing or blowing his own horn - "I was taught not to brag" - he realized he'd have to make his own boat of his own design and get people's attention by winning some races. Originally he had a 30-footer in mind, but it would cost too much to campaign. The next choice was a 26-ft Quarter Tonner, the concept of which didn't thrill him. "I had done a Farallones race in the Mull Quarter Tonner Spread Eagle," he says. "It was one of the wettest, most uncomfortable experiences of my life!" The economics of the situation prevailed, however.
Carl borrowed most of the $20,000 he figured he would need for the boat from his mother. It was twice as much as he had ever earned in a year up to that point. Finding a builder wasn't easy either, but he struck a great deal with Long Beach's Dennis Choate that left him enough cash to buy sails, hardware and rigging. The hull, deck and keel were delivered at the beginning of May, 1979, just six weeks before the Quarter Ton North Americans scheduled for San Francisco Bay.
"It was good to have a short-term goal," he says now. "I felt a great responsibility, first to prove that I wasn't wasting my mother's money and also to show that my design ideas would work." Working almost nonstop, Carl put the boat together, aided considerably by his friend, Scott Owen, and his brother-in-law, Steve Chidester, both of whom were enlisted to sail the boat as well. Carl had grown quite close to his sister, Sally, after the accidental death of their father in 1973, and Steve and Carl were mountain climbing buddies. On June 1st, they launched Summertime Dream.
Carl still required a fourth to round out his crew. He realized he needed to win the North Americans and recruiting a great sailor could make the crucial difference. After finding out Chris Corlett and Chris Boome were unavailable, he approached sailmaker Dee Smith. "I knew I wasn't too good at starting and I had choked at major regattas before," recalls Carl, "and Dee is very good at those two aspects. But he needed a test ride before he'd say yes. We took him out before a Friday night race on the Oakland Estuary and after reaching out and back a couple of hundred yards he said simply that we were going to win the North Americans. That was the nicest thing I'd heard in a long time."
Smith was right. They won the first race, leading at every mark. Carl's sighs of relief were audible at each buoy. In fact they won every race. Summertime Dream, with its light, easily driven, simple hull that was fun to sail, turned out to be a roaring success. In five short races, Carl had showed that his ideas were credible. "It really was the turning point," he says.
The phone started to ring. Design commissions began to come his way. He did a two-man trapeze keelboat for Jack Sheldon's Pyramid Yachts in San Leandro, followed by the Pyramid 30 racer/cruiser. He didn't really hit it big, though, until teaming up with Santa Cruz's Terry Alsberg in 1980. Terry had been building Moore 24s but decided he wanted to start his own shop. He talked to Carl and, once again, Doug Peterson about a design for a 27-footer. This time Carl got the nod, though, because Terry found Peterson "was always off in Europe whenever he called".
The result of Terry's and Carl's collaboration was the highly successful Express 27, of which 85 have now been built. "Royalties from production boats are really where it's at for a designer," admits Carl, "because more people can afford them than custom one offs." Other production models have followed, although none have been, as yet, so successful. The Choate 30, the Capo 26 and 30 and the new Express 37 all originated on Carl's drawing board.
Even though royalties admittedly contribute more to the bottom line, Carl still hungers for the IOR custom one off that will knock the world dead. His old sailing teacher, Dave Ullman, knows the feeling. "Designing boats, like making sails," he says, "is a funny business. You can make more money locally, but we all want to be stars. Carl's designs are world class, but his client list isn't yet. It takes the right customer, one who's willing to take a chance on getting something a little better than what everybody else is offering."
Carl's best effort in this direction so far has been the 38-ft Wall Street Duck, built for Tiburon's Jim Robinson. In 1982 Robinson had plans to move up from a J/24 to a 45-ft IOR machine, but then decided something a little smaller might be better. Dee Smith and Chris Corlett, who were working with him, didn't think Carl was ready for the bigger boat, but called him when Jim decided on something that could win him the Danforth and Stone Cup series here on the Bay and also do well in the TransPac. They also consulted with - who else? - Doug Peterson, but Robinson was willing to take a calculated gamble on the Alamedan.
The Duck represents an extension of the same concepts that went into Summertime Dream, except the stern is a bit more pinched in for a rating advantage. The boat has proven itself to be dynamite, winning the Stone Cup twice, the Danforth Series twice, the Big Daddy regatta and the San Francisco Challenge Cup match race earlier this spring. A broken rudder in the 1983 TransPac quashed any hopes of doing well there, but they were moving up rapidly in their class standings when the mishap occurred.
"Why can't people see that the Duck is killing the competition?" Carl asks with some frustration. There is talk of a bigger IOR yacht for a local owner, but once again the hordes are not beating down the doors. One project that might have put Carl into the big leagues was a 51-footer he drew for a San Diego client last year. The money for the boat was unfortunately the victim of a foreign exchange pyramid scheme that collapsed and in February the project was abandoned.
Waiting for his next break is not a new pastime for Carl, and he keeps plugging away as he has always done. He's working on a new 35-footer for Colin Case (who owned the Pyramid 30 Felony and now has the Schumacher 30 Second Offense. Will the new one be called Capital Punishment?) and a possible Express 23 for Terry Alsberg. He also did considerable rating work on John Arens' Frers 51 Tomahawk, recent winner of the Big Boat Series, and is now helping out on Monte Livingston's Peterson 55 Checkmate as well.
Even though he professes bafflement at his slow ascent in the world of yacht design, the truth may be that the slow ripening of his fruits will add to their sweetness when picked. The boats he has designed have all been good; he has no turkeys to his credits. His local reputation is enviable, and he's known for his commitment to delivering a quality product to the customer's specifications. Jim Robinson likes to point out that one of the reasons Wall Street Duck does so well is that it's not racing against any other Schumacher designs! Skipper Corlett likewise praises Carl. "I consider him an untapped resource," he says. "He's an undiscovered commodity waiting for someone to capitalize on."
That's not bad for a local hero. Not bad at all.
latitude 38 - svc
|This story first appeared in the December 1984 issue of Latitude 38. To order a reprint (complete with photos in photocopied black & white), use the subscription order form, and specify the Carl Schumacher feature in the 12/84 issue, or just drop us a note with a check for $7 to Latitude 38, Attn: Back Issues, 15 Locust Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941.|