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Dave Wahle: Wyliecats Main Man


  • Dave Wahle: Wyliecats Main Man

    The Sailing Garbage Man

    $20.00 and hour and finished by 11:AM smelled good to Dave

    Big Dave Whale has been around a boat or two. And a a trash barrel or two. Were not talking about these newfangled jobs with wheels that the modern “ waste management technician” wheels out from the curb to the truck and presses a button and it does all the lifting. No siree-bob , we are talking old school, hoofing the big aluminum bin on the back , full and heavy, all morning and never miss a day.

    Because you love sailing.

    Dave has built more Wyliecats than anyone on the planet

    Conceived in Haight Ashbury in 1942, but born in Seattle, Dave’s Father Jack was a flight engineer for Pan Am, and as such the family moved where the work was. San Carlos California to Kaloom (Near Hong Kong) where he cut his teeth on Sampans and then Dragons in his tender pre-teen years. Dave came back to California in 1956, this time to stay. Palo Alto was Dave’s new home and his newest hobby was boat building. He convinced his dad to purchase a kit boat in the form of a Blue Jay and together they pieced the boat together in the garage. The closest body of water was Redwood Slough, where Dave would sail afternoons and weekends. Joining the Sequioa Yacht Club and the SBRA gave Dave an outlet and a way to check his mettle against other kids his age. He soon blew off other sports and focused just on sailing and another new hobby, surfing.

    By his senior year in high school in 1964, Dave had graduated to a Finn which he campaigned hard for 1 year, but when he moved to Santa Cruz on his own at age18, economics forced him to sell his boat. He worked for Jack O’Neil as a sailing instructor for several months but soon discovered he hated it. So he quit. Both sailing and teaching, and went back to surfing. He still needed money and found that working for the local sanitation district had its benefits. $20.00 an hour and you would be done by 10:30 to 11:AM everyday!

    Work in the morning, surf all afternoon fit Dave’s persona just fine. But the desire to sail still remained and when Commodore Tompkins asked Dave if he would like to go on a delivery, he didn’t hesitate. The 1st delivery was aboard an L 36 Named "Storm" up the California Coast. Dave was then asked to do a longer one by Mr Tompkins, this time from Hanalei to SF. The three weeks it took opened Daves eyes on the possibility of actually making a living at sailing. The garbage man job would always be there as a back up, not that they were offering extended vacation time off. So Dave improvised, and quit. “ Back then there were too many flakes and drunks working at the department, guys would show up to work then go straight to the bar when there shift was over, and be too hung over to show up the next day” Dave explains “ I didn’t drink and was reliable, so when I came back looking for work it was no problem getting rehired. This pattern would repeat itself for the next 25 years, with Dave quitting to do deliveries or other adventures and then returning back to his old job and getting rehired the next day.

    Dave had done a few other deliveries for the Commodore, including one aboard Kialoa from Keil Germany to Miami before starting his own delivery service, concentrating mostly on West Coast jobs, Bringing home race boats from Mexico becoming a favorite. He soon had enuf cash to buy a 3 acre lot in the hills of Soquel for a measly $10,000.00. He was becoming entrenched in Santa Cruz. He befriended Tom Wylie who was just beginning his career as a navel Architect in 1967 and helped him put together “NightingGale” a cold molded 24’ boat that Tom was building in Davenport, just up the road from Santa Cruz. He and Tom sailed the boat on SF Bay, and on Wednesday nights he was becoming a fixture at the SCYC Races. One of Dave’s sailing buddies at the time was Bill Lee, who was also venturing into the boat building arena, and was experimenting with a modified 30’ version of the 505’s they were sailing. That 1st project dubbed “Magic” was designed to race down hill, FAST. 30’ of balsa core, flat bottomed fun with 1,800 pounds of lead under it. Dave found his next calling and that was keel pouring. To which he still does to this day.

    Built in Bill Lee’s backyard, Magic became the 1st ultralight on the West Coast, Dave, Bill Lee, Karen Trapp and Bill McMurray entered her in the SC to SB race. Completing the race in just 26 hours and change “ We should been there a couple hours earlier, Dave recalls” But we over stood the finish. There was a haze covering the hills and we missed our turn” They had been pushing the boat hard, capsizing over and over, recovering and resetting in the 30 knot breeze and short swell “ We could have died, and kept anticipating the next crash would be our last, but the boat kept hanging in there,and so did we”

    Bill Lee went on to start a line of ultralights under the Santa Cruz name with the assistance of George Olsen, and Dave helping with keels in between projects. The next project was the 35’ “ Witchcraft” which continued the trend of light displacement and off wind performance. It's 1972 debut resulted in winning that years Mazatlan Race and set the mold for Chutzpah and Panache and the SC 33’s which followed. The next in the cue was a Merlin.

    Once again, the lead expert, Dave helped from the ground up as it were, but this time Dave was committed and helped as much as possible with the construction of the 68’ balsa core and E-glass sled, working along with Tom Carr. “When Bill decided to build her, I knew she was capable of getting to Honolulu faster than any previous boat, including Taberly’s Pen Duick.” Dave reminisces “ I actually wrote “Pen Duick 8Days, 13hours “ on the wall of the Chicken Coop to keep us focused on what our mission was”.

    Merlin was splashed in February 1977 and faced an uphill battle from the start. Resistance from the Trans Pac race committee, which Dave indicates “Didn’t really want ultralights mucking things up in the Transpac”. They had sent their race safety inspector up to certify Merlin for the upcoming Trans Pac and one of the requirements was she needed to be able to motor at hull speed. The date was set and when Hays McClellan arrived for the test, a winter storm had closed off the harbor entrance. Dave was given the task as driver that day and did his best to improvise. “After casting off the lines, I gunned her and was doing 8 knots by the time we hit the gas docks, more than adequate, we hit the 9 knot mark and put her in neutral and coasted to the harbor edge. We then slid into reverse and gunned her backwards down the channel hitting hull speed again, and at the slip entrance spun the helm over and she turned on a dime and backed right into the slip” Dave recalls “ I had backed her down before and knew what she was capable of, but the inspector had no idea and nearly fell off in the process. Anyways, we passed and we were good to go”

    At the Helm of Merlin 77 Transpac

    The 1977 voyage was one for the books and Merlin had company seeking the record. Drifter, a slightly larger version with a little extra length wider girth had been purpose built for the same purpose as Merlin and owned by a Southern California Car Dealer Harry Molocho. Merlin's crew list was Dave, Bill Lee, Harvey Kilpatrick, Bob Larson, Phil Vandenburg, Don Snyder, Rob Wade and Jack Halterman. They installed the 1st ever rotating watch system with 3 on and one exiting and one entering every hour. “ We knew the chaos with a whole crew exiting at the same time and the boat would lose speed while the transition occurred” Dave explains” And the driver was limited to ½ hour to avoid fatigue” It was during this voyage that another memorable happenstance occurred, “The Cosmic Flush”

    “ We were sailing with a full spinnaker and a blooper” recalls Dave “ Doing 18 knots in 25 knots of wind, Phil had gone forward to get the blooper, and was in the process of gathering it when we buried the bow and a 2 foot wall of water came charging down the deck, taking Phil and the blooper right through the open main hatch, Phil end up suspended, dangling from his lifeline inside the v-berth right above the 200 gallons or so of water that came in with him”. As they approached the Islands on day 7 the mood on Merlin had turned sour. Drifter had just radioed in with a reported 60 mile lead. “ I called bullshit” Dave says, “ There was no way that boat was sailing fast down wind than we were” Dave was right, and the crew continued to push. 4 hours from the finish, they spotted Drifter 2 miles back and Dave calls for a full tilt match race to the finish. Merlin goes on to win and break the record by two hours, but just 17 minutes ahead of Drifter. The record would stand for 20 years.

    Dave current digs, the Watsonville shop which produces everything from the Stacy to the
    65' Derek M Baylis

    Dave’s enthusiasm for boat building had begun to grow, and he reunited with Tom Wylie on several projects including Hawkeye, Animal Farm, Wild Flower and the Maxi Mora Mooshadow which Dave indicates was a “ Pure raceboat with a flush deck that looked like a Nascar truck” The campaign the boat in the early 80’s racing in simultaneous ocean events, the Danforth Series in Northern California and the Whitney Series in Southern California. We would race in one even then sail her back to the other event, race her, then turn around and sail back again. They won the Danforth Series in their Divison but had to settle for second in the Whitney due to conflict when both series raced on same weekend”

    By the 80’s the ¾ toners were all the rage and Dave and Tom built two radical 30’ cold molded boat named "Duece and Legacy" which were dubbed the Gemini Twins and capped it off with a well known boat, The 40’ Fractional rigged "Lois Lane" owned by the Erkelins family, which by some account could have out performed IMP if it had a program matching the famous Ron Holland Design. Dave’s interest in these projects was two fold, it helped pay the bills and he would get to sail them” That’s what it was all about for me” Says Dave” Getting to play with the great designs was so much fun”

    Tom and Dave on DMB

    By 1992 They shifted gears and began building the 1st in a series of freestanding wishbone rigs including ranging from the Wylie 17 to the Wylecat 65’s. Tom had been driving home one afternoon and noticed a slew of boat sailing with just the main up and he got to thinking. Thoughts that led to “ Mustang Sally”,

    The Wylecat 30 prototype was built in Toms back yard in Canyon, the little enclave just over the hill from Oakland. In 1992 Dave transported the mold from Mustang to a new shop in Watsonville California, did a few modifications and began to produce the 1st in a series of cat rigged sailboats, the WylieCat 30.

    The Stacy, named after Derek’s wife is steady and study and light

    Nearly 2 decades later, Dave and crew have pumped out dozens of boats from the modest shop, mostly the 30’s, but also Wylecats in the 39’ 44’ 48’ and 65’ foot range. The 65’ Derek M Baylis, has been utilized by Sea Life Conservancy for the past 5 years as a modern research vessel with great success

    Drawing of the Derek M Baylis

    Currently a 40’ cat rigged version of the Derek is under construction at the Watsonville shop, a “Modern Sailing Work Boat” that Dave hopes will become the standard for research, touring and fishing. For now, it’s all about cats says Dave, who’s entering the twilight of his boat building career. He’s cutback on the hours at the shop, no longer performs as Race Manager at the Santa Cruz Yacht Club and looking back at his youth and his days as the garbage man where many a dog scared the crap out of him, and now seeing the opportunity to rest and relax and enjoy the purr of contentment while overlooking his orchard and petting his kittys.

    Wyliecat Performance Yachts
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