Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tales of the Clara Brown

One of our Architectural Historians (Left)
 enjoying an afternoon at sail on the
Clara Brownwith current owner Pierre Wallinder (right)
When a few of us here at Preservation Studios got to sail on the Clara Brown back in June, it was easy to see why the current owner was so passionate about her. Additionally, it was immediately clear that such a beautiful and well maintained vessel should be recognized as the historic work of art that she was. When the New York State Historic Preservation Office approved our nomination in September, we were extremely excited.

What we didn't realize, though we should have, was that we weren't the first to be enchanted by her, and that in the last 60 years, many people would have had wonderful experiences with her. Over the last few days, several of these stories have emerged, elucidating a little more about the early days of Clara Brown's voyage to Buffalo, about some of her dark times, and about a few of the adventures she had along the way.

By Rosco Ross:
I was friends with Kenny Schubert, who bought the Clara Brown in the early 80's. It had been sitting beside a barn in Little Valley for years. The hull had some dry rot in many places as well as other areas that needed work. It took a couple of years restoration before it went into the water. Kenny lived on east river (Grand Island) and the CB was birthed in front of his house. Our first trip out on Lake Erie was quite an adventure. The wind got stronger and the waves bigger than expected. The seams in the hull had not yet swelled sufficiently and the flexing of the hull had a substantial amount of water coming in. The bilge began filling up with water. We fired the engine and the bilge pump was able to keep up with the incoming water. After that, she sailed fine. The CB was a fast boat and a lot of fun throughout the years. I seem to recall her being described as a racing weekender and was #50 in a book of Alden's designs. I am very pleased that she found a good home and caretaker. I have many good memories and am sure that she will provide many to those who sail on her in the future.

By Mark (thank you for the spelling correction!):
Hi, My name is Mark and I too was a friend and neighbor of Kenny SHOBERT of Grand Island, NY. I can add a bit more history of CB. My brother who resided near Henderson Harbor along Lake Ontario, told Kenny about her. She had been sitting outside for many years at the Marina there. But Kenny saw the potential in her and bought her on the spot. That was the easy part. He then rented a flatbed tractor trailer and he and I transported her to his friend Larry's boat restoration business in Little Valley, NY. There she underwent a major restoration and finally made her way to the Niagara River where she was berthed for many years. Kenny loved to sail her on the River but because of the current, longed for a berth in Buffalo. He eventually found a berth not far from where she is at home now. She is certainly at home on Lake Erie as everyone is now discovering. I can remember one scary trip one November day. Another neighbor offered to tow the CB to the marina where he stored her for the winter. In between his dock and the marina, stood the South Grand Island Bridges. Kenny's young son accompanied him on the CB while it was being towed. By the time they got to the GI Bridges, it was dark. Unfortunately the bridges were undergoing repairs at the time and heavy cables were strung below the bridges to hold up nets to catch workers if they fell. And there were no lights on the cables. The tow boat easily cleared the cables but the mast of CB did not. Moments before they hit the cable, Kenny's son went down below. The mast came crashing down exactly where his son had been sitting in the cockpit. Kenny's memory lives on with the CB. Thank you all for what you've done. Long live the Clara Brown! Thanks, Mark.

By Jim Hassan: 
My name is Jim Hassan-Mark's brother and I too grew up on Grand Island-East River Rd-and was Kenny Shobert's neighbor. I discovered the Clara Brown at Chinook Harbor Marina in Fairhaven NY (Little Sodus Bay)off Lake Ontario where I kept my sailboat-a C&C 27. I was impressed by the Clara Brown-fine lines-looked like a real good boat except she was in a bad way and needed to be rescued. She was up on blocks in the yard and had been there for several years uncovered. The plastic tarp that covered her at one time was in tatters and she had been exposed for too many harsh NY winters. The hull had numerous areas of rot and a couple of hull planks were rotted through. I immediately thought of my friend Kenny Schobert who had already restored a wooden sailboat and called him. I explained to Kenny that the Clara Brown was in need of a lot of work but that she was a classic boat and that the work would be worth it. Kenny drove out a few days later and bought her on the spot and had her loaded and trucked to Western NY. It took him a couple of years of work to get her seaworthy enough to launch her. As with wooden boats she was in need of constant maintenance and she consummed his time. Kenny really loved that boat and spent much of his spare time either sailing her or working on her. If Kenny Shobert had not shown an interest in the Clara Brown she would have probably died a slow death in that Fairhaven boat yard and would have been lost forever.

Thank you all for sharing your stories about this truly amazing vessel. Not only does it help broaden the history, but it shows that without the love and care Mr. Shobert showed her, just a decade or two after her construction, none of us would have been able to experience the joy of sailing on her over the years that followed

For more on the Clara Brown, be sure to check out our three-part series on her history, current use, and future.  We hope to continue hearing stories from the many people who have been impacted by this great sailboat, posted either in the comments, or e-mailed to

Written by Derek King, an Architectural Historian at Preservation Studios

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