pirate turnbuckle

The turnbuckle on the Pirate, once skippered by Matt Walsh.

There is something magical and lucky about the day fishing boat Matt Walsh.

Long Beach Yacht Club angler Jim Pinkman would book the wooden hull boat months in advance for the club’s annual kids fishing trip because it was almost guaranteed that every child would experience the thrill of a fish tugging on a line, and the excitement of reeling it in.

Belmont Shore resident Jim Wood said, “I always caught fish on board Matt Walsh; it was like going to Disneyland.”

Wood went on to share stories of his days at Lowell Elementary when his dad would take him out of school just before lunchtime and take him to Long Beach’s Pierpoint Landing in time to get on the half day fishing boat. Some mornings his dad would start the day in the “Don’t tell Mom” mode and drop Jimmy off for morning fishing.

Today the boat sails out of Marina Del Rey and hopefully no Lowell students are ditching school to fish on her. But the question remains — who is this fellow Matt Walsh?

Turns out Walsh is a pretty big deal in the yacht and sailing world and especially in our local waters.

Last week, I went to Seattle to the Center for Wooden Boats to see one of the most famous sailboats that Walsh raced on, a 40-foot wooden R-boat named Pirate.

The boat is the crown jewel of the Center’s collection of boats. One of the other boats docked on the same mini marina was “Nonchalant," a beautiful 50-foot motor yacht. She was built for William Boeing (yes-that Boeing) in 1927.

Pirate was built in 1926 for Tom Lee, son of Los Angeles Cadillac dealer and broadcasting mogul Don Lee, as a reward for winning the Pacific Coast Star Championship in 1925. The boat will celebrate her 95th “berthday” this week and will be competing in a Puget Sound regatta.

In the 1930s, under Matt Walsh’s watch, new sails were ordered for Pirate. He ordered a green jib and on the mainsail he commissioned an artist to draw a cartoon pirate character complete with sword, hat and sash. Walsh was a trailblazer when it came to bold designs on sails, his 45-footer Thorobred, had a horse head silhouette painted on her main.

Other sailors could spot Walsh easily on the water in his 60-year racing career — he always wore suspenders, a black fedora and sported a walrus mustache.

Walsh helped inaugurate the first Midwinter Regatta. West Coast sailors encouraged eastern sailors to bring their boats to California for a series of races that featured Six Meter, Eight Meter, "R" and Starboats. Free shipping was arranged with cargo ship lines and Pirate was shipped to Long Beach from Seattle.

As a boat builder, Walsh built the keel for Islander, the boat which Harry Pidgeon sailed around the world.

In 1934, Walsh designed Common Sense III, which always will be the smallest boat to ever sail the Transpac.

Despite her size, Common Sense III was the second boat around Catalina in the biannual race and led only by the 61-foot schooner Manuiwa . Half way across she was dismasted and ended up taking 18½ days to finish last under jury rig. Following the race, the officers of the Transpac Y.C. added a rule limiting entries to vessels 30 feet overall and longer.

Walsh won the San Francisco Perpetual Challenge Cup on 1923 with the R-boat California, which he also built. Only recently in 2014 and in 2015 did another Long Beach sailor, Dustin Durant win the San Francisco Perpetual Challenge Cup.

One of my favorite Walsh quotes appeared in a 1958 Press-Telegram story, “Whatever you learn in life that others seek to know, tell them but (in your own interest) you leave a link of the chain out.”

Matt Walsh died at age 94 . He never flew a protest flag and I have serious doubt he was ever skunked after a day of fishing.

If you have a fisherman’s tale or a sea story to share, email me at Jo@JoVenture,com.

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