Poignant Sketches of

The Shawnee Yacht Club


by John D. Armstrong

Commodore 1941-42


Compiled and recorded, 1981


                                When recording the origin and progressive history of an organization, it is normal procedure with most writers to set the scene, so to speak, first by placing the location geographically of the advent of this happening, secondly giving a thumbnail sketch of the participants and thirdly, attempting to recreate the conditions of the period of time the club was formed. This includes the area where it all took place, the activities and recreations of the individuals involved and the joys and desires of a few people who, in the face of heavy odds, persisted and tenaciously clung to the thought that collectively, many more benefits could be enjoyed by many more people.


So it was with the conception, the birth and growth in both numbers and stature of the Shawnee Yacht Club. Home port: Topeka, Kansas. Sailing water: Lake Shawnee. The story could start here.


However, in order to understand the importance of this endeavor in the minds of this staunch group of young enthusiasts and their total devotion to this new-found exhilarating activity, it is necessary to clear your mind of all conflicting issues of the 1980s and, if you will, think back to the 1930s. Now realizing that many readers of this account can't personally recall (because of their tender age) those times of depression and drought or the effect a bankrupt nation had on the individual family, there is no doubt you remember stories and incidents related to you by your parents or from printed material concerning that period.


On this basis, picture in your mind Topeka, Kansas, population approximately 60,000 souls. All business and shopping took place downtown and prices were very low. Coffee, for instance, was going for 19 cents per pound, milk was nine cents a quart and Doc Bonner's hamburgers, the best in town, were six for 25 cents! A new four-door Ford sedan was under $700 and stamps cost three cents each!


Looking back it seemed that winters were colder with abundant snow and sleet, but they were bearable and offered great opportunity for sporting fun!


Two favorites were bobsledding, six to eight friends aboard a sled pulled by a car, and ice skating on the quiet water in the back flows of the river or on West Lake in Gage Park. The summers were something else!


With a little effort a person might remember the last time it really rained hard and long was sometime around 1930. With Topeka located on the periphery of the greatest dustbowl known to man, second only to the Sahara, it was almost a daily occurrence for the sun to suddenly grow dim and that blistering hot, strong southwest, never-ceasing wind to deposit almost two-thirds of the topsoil from Trego County onto Topeka. For variety it could even be a heavy layer or rust red clay dust from Oklahoma. Regardless of its origin, it was a miserable condition to live with, and it continued until a low pressure moved in from the north and drove it south from this area. In between these storms the thermometer hovered near 100 degrees, often soaring to 114. The seers and soothsayers went through incredible gyrations in the vain attempt to make it rain, and many airplane flights were made over this desolate area seeding the clouds with "sure thing" chemicals, but rain it did not! The only moisture in the ground was from the accumulated winter snow, and it wasn't very far into the summer when this was drawn to the surface and evaporated by the relentless sun.


On top of these unchangeable and unnatural acts of God. Topeka was finally getting caught up in and feeling the tremendous impact of the Great Depression. The stock market broke late in 1929, and the eastern cities and industry ground to a halt. Many thousands of people were suddenly unemployed while city governments, state assisted agencies and the Red Cross set up bread lines to provide, if not a balanced diet, at least one meal a day. It was a year or two later that the real pinch was felt in Topeka. The only major industries here in those days were Bell Telephone Co. and the Santa Fe Railroad who, in order to economize, reduced the number of employees, and those fortunate enough to remain on the job received deep wage cuts. The reduction in wages was felt by the professional people as well, for without blue collar and white collar support the attorneys and doctors struggled.


In the middle and late 1930s the obstetrician's bill for the family addition was $50. Money at this point in time was a very rare item, but youth will triumph no matter what the circumstances! There were great dance bands roving the country, and the young single unemployed man could scrape together enough by cutting a few lawns to take his favorite girl dancing and enjoy a couple of spiked pale beers to set the mood.


We could rise above, at least temporarily, the everyday problems that confronted the youth of America. Of course, there was always golf to ease ones tensions, however, most of these players were indulging on their fathers' memberships, and this comprised a very small group.


The most adventuresome folk found solace in the fun and companionship of the Kaw River, discovering its secrets such as the never-ending shifting of the river bed. A good swimming hole one day could very well be a dry sand bar the next week. There was also the pure fun and pioneering spirit of making a full-day boat trip starting at Maple Hill or Valencia, Kansas, after being transported there by a friend with your flat bottomed river boat with all the gear, and hoping to be met that night at a point near the city water works. It was an autumn ritual to build two or three duck blinds on the more stable sand bars that were accessible from the shore without the necessity of a boat, just waders, in order to get your quota of ducks or geese the coming winter.


At this point the national political scene was in complete chaos. The Republicans had been in the White House since 1921 and with no one else to blame for the depression and the drought, the people of the United States were more than ready for a change. And so be it! In 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt won the election by an overwhelming majority over Herbert C. Hoover, and one of the first things he did was to declare a moratorium on all banks. Their front doors were padlocked. Many banks, of course, never reopened due to lack of assets.


This not only meant that thousands of people lost as many dollars, most of it their life savings, but it was an effective way to get the nation' attention! The many programs the President was to get enacted in the future met with the populaces approval whether or not they worked. He wrangled control of the almost totally Democratic Congress and created a great number of bureaus and agencies to initiate programs that would put people back to work; programs supported by tax money amounting into the billions of dollars. He was the originator of the deficit budget.


One of the first programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps, was intended to take young men off the streets and out of the bread lines and place them in camps throughout the country for the purpose of cleaning up the forested areas and waterways…really not a bad idea!


Another program was the National Recovery Administration which guaranteed all workers in the private sector a wage of not less than $14.00 per week. A bureau of great importance not only to the country but to this particular location was the Works Projects Administration. The activities of this bureau and the money appropriated by Congress for its use was to be spent on the administration, engineering and construction of large projects such as new roads, buildings intended for government use and the locating and construction of dams. All of these projects, particularly the dams, were to be of great value to the communities after completion. The most important purpose in the placement of the dams was to control flooding of lower lands downstream as well as to provide enjoyment and recreation for the public made possible by the formation of a relatively large body of water.


Naturally, all Congressmen wanted a slice of this federally financed pie in their own communities, and after the pros and cons were weighted with the aid of surveys made by WPA engineers, the way was cleared to build a dam near Topeka. The dam would provide jobs for several hundred men at a wage that would maintain a family and offer security for a prolonged period. The site chosen was about six miles southeast of the city in a valley cut by a small stream known as Deer Creek.


With normal rainfall, the creek ran full of water, and in extremely wet periods it ran rampant, spreading over large areas of farm land. However, at this point in 1935 Deer Creek had been bone dry for years, its many springs dried up and the valley parched in the summer heat.


The dam site would run east west and be placed just south of 29th Street. If all went well, the impounded water forming Lake Shawnee would back up almost to 45th Street. The land within this area was owned by about seven individuals, and late in 1935 the acquisition of this property was started. By May, 1936, all the land deeds were secured and construction began.


After building the work force to the full complement, the whole area fairly crawled with workmen, most of the labor being done by hand. The true purpose was to give the people work and not to set any construction records. Although the dam required the largest work force by far, there were road-building crews at work all through the lake bed cutting down trees, stripping off limbs and securing all this to the ground by using large spikes driven by sledge hammers, and a network of heavy wire was woven over the felled trees and wrapped around the spikes.


According to the fish and game experts this would provide excellent cover and a refuge for the fish. Fishing was to be the most important use of the lake after completion since the only boats in the area were propelled by oars and used by fishermen.


As the project dragged on and on, speculation and doubt were brewing in the minds of the citizens. Countless numbers of people swore they would be willing to drink all the water back up in this dry creek bed. There were those who could imagine a pretty lake and park for picnics and family outings, and all true fishermen were certain the lake was being built just for them. But to another group of enthusiasts, theirs was a different and glorious vision! In their collective minds eye that creek bed was water-filled, sun sparkling off the white foam of each cresting wave, and slicing gracefully through those waves they could envision a sleek, beautifully-formed hull propelled by the bulging beauty of snow white sails reaching skyward! Although there were pitfalls along the way, this dream was later realized and actually made possible by the admirable leadership and guidance of the Shawnee Yacht Club.


There are
strange things done in the Kansas sun

By the men who
are bent on sailing

The watery trail
holds unbelievable

That come out
in protest railing.

Lubbers and
fishermen have seen
beautiful sights,

But the most
thrilling they ever did

Was the entire
fleet under full head
of sail

Plying the
waters of old Lake


Finally in 1940 the construction was completed, and through the fall and winter, then early spring of 1941, there lay this bare, dry monument to the New Deal. With late spring and early summer came a few light rain showers adding to the snow melt and forming a body of water that covered perhaps ten acres backing up from the dam to about half the distance to the original swimming beach. It was rather shallow, the water not quite topping all the corn stalks from the previous year's planting, and the surface was barely visible, being covered like a blanket with fishing boats anchored side by side.


At this dramatic moment in history three sailboats appeared and were launched. Two were 12- foot plywood cat-rigged boats built from plans in the monthly magazine "How to Build 20 Boats." One was owned and built by Harry Olds, the other by a fellow Bell Telephone employee, Weldon Skidmore. The third sailboat trailed in was owned by Tom McGinnis who purchased it in Horton, Kansas. It had been sailed on the Rock Island Railroad Lake in that city but had been out of water for nearly five years! The boat measured 21 feet in length with a 19 foot waterline, six foot beam and very low freeboard.


It carried about 200 feet of canvas in the mainsail and jib, and was one of the original "Bug" class which later evolved into the Star, a very famous racing class. It took many hands to rig this boat for sailing, and since the hands were all thumbs from lack of experience, it took plenty of time and patience. When it finally appeared ready for take-off, Tom, at the helm with his crew of eight, began threading his way through and around the fishing boats.


Suddenly the boat came to a jolting halt! It didn't take long to determine that the six-foot-deep centerboard was soundly driven into the clay lake bottom. To free this monster required a lot of heaving and heavy work because it was stuck fast, and the effort was accompanied by verbal abuse from angry fishermen who felt the noisy thrashing about adversely affected their sport.


By the time the board was cleared, the boat, to the chagrin of the crew, sank! Although Tom emphasized before launching that the 20-foot-long wide-open seams, five years out of water, would swell and close when wet, those bone-dry planks failed to respond and there it sat ... dead in the water with deck awash.


Well, this was the start of a long line of strange and sometimes amusing happenings on this newly formed lake, and as the summer wore on more sailors appeared. Lewis Rake completed his 14-foot plywood boat "Stingaree" from the handy Fawcett publication, and others of all shapes and kinds came rolling out of garages and were launched in Lake Shawnee.


By the end of the summer, not much water had been added to the lake, but a tremendous amount of enthusiasm had been generated. A few sailors were in favor of forming a club to bind the group together by rules to strengthen the representation of all the sailing enthusiasts instead of breaking off into splinter groups with no purpose or objective.


There was strong opposition to this idea, but in the fall of 1941 six of the many sailors invited met at the home of the author, and the meeting was called to order. Present along with the author were Lewis Rake, Tom McGinnis, John H. Sticher, Weldon Skidmore and Harold Duff.


It was unanimously agreed to organize a club, and it would be named the Shawnee Yacht Club. Many subjects and facets were discussed, and it was generally agreed that a larger and more representative group should be assembled before writing a constitution and a set of by-laws. The meeting was later adjourned after electing a set of officers even though it was not yet a bonafide club.


The temporary officers were Commodore John D. Armstrong, Vice Commodore Lewis Rake, and Recorder Tom McGinnis. At adjournment of that First meeting each was charged with the responsibility of convincing as many people as possible of the necessity of the club and urging their participation.


By the end of the third meeting, a representative group was brought together and the Shawnee Yacht Club was formed. Tom McGinnis and Bill Schwartz were charged with the responsibility of writing the constitution and by-laws which were to be presented at the fourth meeting, to be held early in 1942.


Well, much to the surprise and joy of all boaters and fishermen alike, there was an abundance of snow during the winter of '41 and '42 causing a healthy run-off, with torrential rains in the spring. Only these early members can recall the absolute thrill of watching that lake grow daily in size until if finally bulged over into the spillway, cascading down the concrete walls and rocks, roaring like a mighty falls and flowing peacefully on down to the Kaw River with the old banks of Deer Creek.


As the lake rose, enthusiasm bounded! Boats of all types appeared and were launched, some large high-horsepower motor boats, hundreds of partially decked 14-foot motor boats with outboard engines ranging from 5 to 50 hp, and dozens of prefabricated small boat houses moved to the lake and were moored side by side along the south shore of the large east bay area.


More sailboats were appearing and, after discussions within the yacht club that one-design boats were an advantage, Snipes soon arrived on the scene.


By late 1942 there were four new Snipes under construction by Russ Chezum, Lewis Rake and his brother, John Gorbutt and the author. In the summer of 1942 Wynn Fazel launched his Dunphy- built Snipe, and in mid-summer John Stitcher, skipper of the Sea Scouts, replacing H. Olds who went into the Navy, launched a factory-built Snipe belonging to Mr. Smithmeyer who donated the boat to the scouts for their troop ship.


Here something needs to be said about the Grand Old Man of the Yacht Club. Wynn Fazel, who had sailed for many years on Lake Quivera near Kansas City, moved his boat to Topeka when the lake filled. Wynn was probably in his early 60s when he came here, a taciturn man of slight build, thin and raw boned with a handsomely lined, leather-tanned face. He always wore a slouch canvas brim hat turned down all around, and smoke a pipe incessantly.


Even a heavy rain could not drive that pipe from his mouth; he merely turned it upside down to keep it alive. His clothes were peppered with small burn holes.


Wynn was a good, safe sailor who got the most from his boat, and he not only led the way toward a large Snipe fleet but was also an excellent example of a truly good sportsman.


Known to the club members as the "Ancient Mariner," he was highly respected. He was the art director for Capper Publications and a well-known oil painter whose works were exhibited in many art galleries throughout the midwest as well as in several one-man shows, Wynn and his wife were very kind, gentle people and a joy to know.


The first inland scow on the lake was one built of wood and owned by Dr. Lilly who moved to Topeka from out of state. This strange hull design fascinated the novice sailors here, and with Dr. Lilly's skill the scow outran all other boats on the lake.


This boat met a grisly end when it broke loose form its moorings during a heavy squall and was destroyed on the rock rip-rap on the northeast shore. Needless to say, all boat owners beefed up their moorings and kept a close watch on how their boats were secured.


During that summer Bill Schwartz brought in his new factory-built Lightning and, being a skilled sailor, he was able to demonstrate the advantages of this class. It was soon evident that the club members were being committed to the two one-design boats, Snipes and Lightnings, for at least a few years.


Everyone enjoyed the races held through the summer and early fall of 1943 even thought the starting procedure was a little haphazard and the handicapping left much to be desired. There were no Portsmouth numbers in evidence then, and as winter approached the storage problems consumed everyone's time. The feelings are strong that a set of racing rules, proper starting procedure and an equitable handicapping formula must be resolved by launching time in the spring of 1944.


Club officers elected at the November meeting were Commodore Gray Levitt, Vice Commodore Russ Chezum and Recorder and Treasurer Howard Naylor. They were to serve out the year of 1943 and through 1944.


The treasurer's report closing out the 1942-43 terms of office showed a bank balance for the club of $22.63 and a membership of 28.


Under the able leadership of the new officers and the assistance of a few committee members such as Lewis Rake, John Stitcher and Russ Chezum, a set of racing rules was adopted and a handicap procedure accepted. These, of course, were revised many times over the years, but it was a solid beginning for the club.


In addition to the many races held through the summer, everyone enjoyed the parties and picnics that accompanied the sport. New boats continued to show up, and one in particular wasunusual.


Leonard Dees, owner of Kansas Sheet Metal Co., designed and built an all-galvanized iron sailboat in his shop, which, remarkably, had rounded free-flowing lines. All seams were riveted and soldered for tightness and it was, without a doubt, the driest bilge on the lake.


It didn't leak a tear and, though it wasn't too fast, it was a fun knockabout sailor and was very seaworthy.


In a brisk medium wind and choppy water the sound in the cockpit was just a few decibels below that of a riveting crew!


This was recalled often in later years when Randy Adams would come about in his C-Scow, and one could detect the clanking sound of metal against metal.


Strangely enough, the hull of his C boat was made of fiberglass.


If memory serves correctly this was also the year that during a race near the west shore just south of shelterhouse #1, John and Doris Gorbutt in his Snipe passed the Sea Scout boat and were about 100 yards ahead. John was running before a good wind, somewhere around 18 to 20 mph, and sailing wing and wing. With the whisker pole set, the boat was almost at the planing stage. Now, here it must be pointed out that while John’s demeanor is calm and collected, at a time like that he was wound up like a clock spring inside. So intent on getting absolutely the maximum amount of speed out of his boat, he forgot (and Doris, bless her, didn't know) to keep the bow up and give the Snipe her freedom. For some reason the crew weight was too far forward and the boat suddenly dipped, a heavy wave washed over the foredeck and, while firmly holding the tiller and mainsheet, he sailed her under, head first. Just as the Sea Scout boat passed, John and Doris were sitting in waist deep water!


These were years filled with great fun and many strange and funny happenings.


A very embarrassing situation occurred during one race when the author, swinging far too wide at the northeast buoy, the reaching mark, got caught in the eye of the wind and, before regaining enough way for the rudder to be effective, realized that the Snipe had drifted sideways, straddling the submerged rock wall surrounding the bathing beach.


The wall had remained intact but because it was built on a new fill, it simply slid out of position and stood upright about 12 inches below the surface.


The entire fleet, of course, sailed past looking amused, and the spectators on shore enjoyed the scene. It was impossible to make the boat go backward by raising the daggerboard, and there was no point in removing the rudder since the weight of the crew held the boat fast atop the rock wall. The only solution was to drop the sails and wait to be rescued by unloading into the rescue boat, then tow the Snipe back to the dock. That was not an enjoyable race, but provided a good laugh for the day. From that time on, the rock wall was accorded a proper respect and given wide berth.


The sailing came to a close after a great season, and the members discussed in depth the revisions needed in the point racing and handicapping. The Snipe fleet had been formed and plans to register the Lightning fleet were underway. Much concern was shown to the relationship of the class fleets to the Shawnee Yacht Club. At this point the actual minutes of the November 8, 1944 meeting should be brought out.


"While all members present agreed on the desirability of strictly class competition on Lake Shawnee, it was also unquestionably recognized that the identity of the Shawnee Yacht Club must not, under any circumstances, become eclipsed."


That is the core of the tradition passed on through the years that has maintained this organization on the high level it is today.


The new officers elected to guide the club through the 1945 season were Commodore Lewis Rake, Vice Commodore V. Guyer, Recorder and Treasurer Tom McGinnis. By the end of 1944 membership increased to 39 and the treasury showed a balance of $24.54


These new officers were able men who set to work refining the rules and handicap formula. At this time the Motor Boat Club had grown considerably and taken up residence at the east end of the bay. On their way to and from the main body of the lake it was necessary to pass the Yacht Club harbor. Under the guidance of Lou Rake the moorings had been changed into staggered rows with sufficient space between boats to allow them to swing freely with the wind without danger of collision. Even though it was clearly understood that both clubs would have to live together at the lake, the idea remained in the minds of a few power boaters that sailboats were supposed to be swamped with great crashing stern waves created by the sharp turn of a high powered boat. It was not uncommon to see a power boat run the slalom through the moored fleet using the boats as markers of the course. These acts were committed by just a small group of power boaters and certainly not the average who were careful on the water and friendly.


This situation and the need for more dock facilities and some type of clubhouse resulted in many hours of appointments at the office of the County Commissioners defending the position of the Yacht Club and at the same time requesting more consideration.


The effort often seemed hopeless, but two of the commissioners were good friends of our club, and most of the resultant decisions, though requiring time and tact, were made in favor of the Yacht Club. It also became obvious that some time in the future the club would be forced to move into a protected bay of its own and vacate the main thoroughfare of the Motor Boat Club.


In reconstructing the early stages of building the lake, reference was made to the trees that were cut down and staked to the ground for fish cover. Well, a sufficient amount of time had passed for the stakes and wire to deteriorate rapidly from corrosion and decomposition, and a dangerous situation was created. Several boats were struck from underneath as a tree soared upwards from its fastenings on the bottom, and some cases damage was caused to the boat. It was not uncommon to have one pop up at your side or in front of the boat while sailing!


When one of these was spotted, the sailor would, if he possibly could handle the tree, tow it to the bank where it could be secured, This condition lasted quite a while since there were many trees in that valley.


This was as much a judgment error as the one made regarding the 37th Street bridge across Deer Creek. That was a steel bridge with the superstructure above the deck setting on concrete approaches at each end. The residents on the east side of the lake opposed the closing of the 37th Street bridge, but could not prevent it.


However, they persuaded the county engineers to leave the bridge in place until it became necessary to remove it. The engineers agreed and stated that there would be plenty of time for its removal before any water backed up that far, but they were totally surprised when the bridge went quickly under water where it is still, today, standing intact on its piers under some 30 feet of water.


The construction of new boats continued. Occasionally a Snipe sold his boat to a new member and started building a Lightning. This helped increase the number of boats on the lake along with the new factory boats that were appearing. The war had gone on so long that good materials were getting harder to obtain, but there was a salvage yard in North Topeka owned by Mr. Dietrich who bought surplus and damaged war material. He received hundreds of oxygen tanks, hemispherical on each end, 14" in diameter and about 30" long.


For 50 cents apiece a boat owner could buy a new all stainless steel mooring buoy! The yard also received several wrecked airplanes which provided hundreds of feet of stainless steel 1/8" cable, turnbuckles, clevises, pulley sheaves, pins, shackles and many other useful items for the boat builder for $1.50 per bucketful.


A great deal had been accomplished by the end of the sailing season, and it was again time for the election of officers. The treasurers report showed a balance of $23.09 and the membership remained around 40. The meeting in November, 1945, was the usual summing up of a very good sailing season, and the new officers elected were Commodore Bill Schwartz, Vice Commodore and Recorder John D. Armstrong. By the February, 1946 meeting, the Commodore had made great plans for the coming season. We appointed a committee to start the survey on moving the Yacht Club from its present site to the secluded and sheltered bay just south of 37th Street.


The Lake Superintendent's rock home had been built at the opening of that bay, and the area showed promise of an ideal base for the sailboats. Also at this meeting a motion was made and seconded to raise the dues per year from $1.00 per member to $5.00. This was overwhelmingly voted down. However, another motion to increase the dues to $3.00 per annual membership was carried.


By this time the majority of the skippers felt they were now good enough to challenge other sailing clubs in the midwest, and the Shawnee Snipe fleet accepted a bid to the Wichita regatta on June 29 and 30. Five Snipes and 20 people represented Topeka at that regatta, and final plans were made for holding the first regatta here at Lake Shawnee on July 20 and 21.


June 29, 1946 proved to be an average summer day in Kansas. The temperature was over 100 degrees and, after towing a Snipe from Topeka to Wichita, everyone felt a little wrung out. In those days before the turnpike, it took at least five hours of fast, steady driving on two lane roads to reach Wichita, and towing a boat slowed the pace considerably, besides the discomfort of having no air conditioning in cars.


The boats were launched and the preparatory signal was given to the 19 boats in the fleet. The wind was zero and the lake a giant mirror. Not a ripple moved the surface. The fleet finally drifted across the starting line and, in fact, drifted once around a triangular curse in the most scattered, helter-skelter manner ever witnessed by a sailor.


The race started at 1 p.m. and the last boat finished four and a half hours later. Without a breeze at any time it was not a race but an endurance test with everyone too proud to quit.


That dead afternoon race was followed that evening by a pleasant dinner party which allowed the Topeka sailors who were new in this sport a chance to discuss in depth the finer points of Snipe construction and the art of sailing one. The Wichita people imparted expert knowledge and answered questions such as whether the mast should be raked forward or aft, and whether sails should be carried high or low. Topekans appreciated the advice and listened closely.


It was proven in later years how keen the competition was within the Wichita fleet because they produced the phenomenal sailor, Ted Wells, who won three national championships, one western hemisphere championship and two world championship titles.


The Sunday and final race day was planned with two races. One was to begin at 10 a.m. with the other to start right after a quick lunch. Everyone arrived at the lake with the exact same wind conditions as the day before. The sun was almost unbearable as it relentlessly beat down on the tenacious sailors who were once again drifting around the course. Eventually, that race was finished and the entire Wichita fleet outdrifted the Topeka fleet.


The third and final drifting contest got underway in the same manner as the first two, but shortly after the start a heavy cover of clouds moved in from the west. With the sun gradually growing dim, it seemed even hotter and more oppressive, then suddenly, much to the joy and relief of the sailors, a cool, fresh wind came across the lake. This is the time when the skipper's ability begins to show, except this wind rapidly increased in velocity, and it was soon obvious that all were caught in a violent summer squall.


John Gorbutt and one other boat quickly turned back and made it to the dock as the screaming blow reached its peak velocity of 75 mph.


The remaining boats capsized and were jammed against a mud bank. One of the Topeka Snipes had its mast driven like a spike at least four feet into the mud. A boat from Tulsa was blown into a clump of trees at the lake's edge and both the jib and mainsail were torn to shreds.


Lightning struck another boat from Tulsa, paralyzing the crew member from the waist down, but it was later learned that he had regained the ability to walk.


Following this violence and shock, a heavy hail storm pelted the exhausted sailors who were struggling to get their boats upright, stripping the sails and securing the boats and the gear.


In the early spring
1941, there lay
bare, dry
monument to the
New Deal.

It was a memorable and chaotic weekend, and one that taught a sound lesson: It is impossible to outsail a heavy summer storm, and when lightning threatens, get the hell off the lake!


When the fleet was home and repairs were made from the damage at the Wichita regatta, the club got down to work on arrangements for the very first invitational regatta held on Lake Shawnee. The gala weekend finally arrived with a beautifully bright day of sunshine and heat, and a good 12 mph wind. All the races were fast and filled with sport, and the wind lasted the full two days. A delightful banquet was held Saturday night at the Hotel Kansan Roof Garden followed by a dance and enjoyed by everyone.


Nineteen boats sailed both days. There were nine from Topeka, seven from Wichita, one from Mason City, Iowa, one from Kansas City and one from Tulsa. Wichita claimed the first six places in the races, and John Gorbutt captured 10th place, the highest position of the nine Topeka boats.


The balance of the season of 1946 came to an uneventful close, and it was time to store the boats, discuss and lay plans for the progress of the Shawnee Yacht club and try to make each succeeding season an even more enjoyable one. The year closed with a membership of approximately 42, and the bank balance not in evidence in the minutes of the last meeting of 1946.


The new slate of officers elected were Commodore John D. Gorbutt, Vice Commodore Jake Dickinson, Rear Commodore (an added office) Chet Ebey and Recorder and Treasurer Leon Armstrong.

When lightning
get the
off the lake!