Friday, December 17, 2010

So Fong - Design 143


Of the very small number of schooners (I count ten) designed by Sparkman & Stephens, So Fong is a standout. I found the following history in our files.

The Beginning
So Fong is a topsail schooner built by Ah King Slipway Company of Hong Kong for Alfred Thornton Baker, a New York stockbroker who had commissioned the boat for the purpose of sailing around the world with his son. In the early 40s Baker sailed the boat to the U.S. via the East Indies, Suez, Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Following this voyage he sold the boat.

The name So Fong was given to the boat at the time of her launch as Chinese superstition would not allow a yacht to be put into the water until a name was given. In that the owner had not yet decided on a name for the boat she was launched as So Fong, the nickname for the owner of Ah King’s daughter. The name has remained throughout the fascinating history of this beautiful and exotic Schooner.

The Construction
Ah King Slipway Company built quite a few S&S designs. In fact, So Fong is a slightly bigger version of the famous Mystic Seaport Schooner Brilliant. The builder used ironwood for the keelson and floors, her hull is of the finest Asian teak, her upper sawn frames are teak and yakki (a springy Asian wood), and her deck beams are camphor and teak. The masts and rig were built in the United States and shipped to Hong Kong as were the blocks, which are lignum vitae with bronze or iron straps.

The War Years
During the Second World War, So Fong operated as a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, with a seven man crew. After the war So Fong spent time in the Caribbean and Main under the ownership of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Becton who raced the boat (very competitively) for many years on the East Coast of the United States.

Eventually, So Fong returned to Asia when she was bought by Bill Mathers who sadly used the boat as a salvage and diving vessel in the Far East until 1986 when the boat was siezed by Vietnamese militia off the coast of Vietnam. The boat was confiscated, the crew and captain were detained and questioned. Apparently the high tech navigation and diving equipment provoked suspicion that So Fong was being used as a spy vessel. After four months the crew were released and given a fine. Mathers was allowed to move back on board and was told that all charges against him would be dropped if he agreed to become a double agent. Nine months later he was freed after considerable intervention of the then United Nations Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar. Unfortunately, So Fong was not so lucky and remained a trophy of the Vietnamese (in poor condition) until 1990.

Rescue Mission
In 1990, Robert Verschoyle, an Irish yachtsman was in Hai Phong, Vietnam, investigating a potential boatyard site for himself and his partner to start a new business, when he discovered So Fong. After much red tape he managed to negotiate her purchase from the Vietnamese government and sailed the boat to Saigon where So Fong was lovingly refit under his careful watch.

Increasingly irritated by the bureaucracy to allow the boat to leave Vietnamese waters, Robert and his Vietnamese wife managed to escape in the boat and sailed her to the Mediterranean.


A New Beginning
So Fong was acquired by a Canadian who fell in love with the boat after chartering her for a brief period in the spring of 2000. As a sailing and classic yacht enthusiasts he decided to return So Fong to her original glory and have embarked on an intensive refit which was completed in 2001. Today she is in pristine condition.

Here are the plans.

Principal Dimensions
LOA 70'-3"
LWL 54'-0"
Beam 16'-1"
Draft 9'-9"

22 comments:

  1. So Fong is now in Mallorca, we (Palma Maritime) work with the owners to charter her. She is in excellent condition. Here is the website of the present 2011 owner......
    http://www.velaclasicadeepoca.net/en/la-flota/so-fong

    and we are listing her for charter on our website ...
    http://www.palma-maritime.com/en/classic-mallorca.html

    I hope yo do not mind me using the history you have here.

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  2. I sailed So Fong from New York to Bermuda and then on to the Caribbean beginning in October of 1970. The skipper was an Australian, Lawrence Jordan, who taught me celestial navigation and a lot more seamanship.

    The thing I most remember about the schooner is funnels. So Fong had a dozen big funnels to ventilate the interior. At night, they looked like lurking humans.

    Remarkable boat. Hope to see her again.

    Norman Martin, Boston

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  3. I believe this is the same So Fong I sailed from St. Croix Virgin Islands to Long Island New York in 1962. At that time she was owned by Hardy and Billy Wright. The crew was Peter TenEyck, Tom Counter, Peter Flick, Gary Kilbride and Herb Aulderson. Great trip and a she was a beautiful boat

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    1. Summer of 1962 was spent watching all the America's Cup trials and Cup Races :) We stayed in Wickford across from Newport. After the races back down the Sound to City Island where they put it up for sale. I hopped a ride back to St. Croix for a month or 2 when they purchased Barlovento in Oxford, Md and sent for me to help sail her back to St. Croix.

      Gary Kilbride

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    2. Crossing the gulf stream in So Fong on the above voyage from Bermuda to NY was as wild as I have ever experienced at sea. She buried her bowsprit while following seas broke over our heads in the cockpit. She performed like the lady she is. Water was warm and the wind was chilling. It was a long and busy watch.

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  4. My father was the skipper of So Fong in WWII in the Coast Guard as part of the Picket fleet on submarine patrol. There were 12 crew (not eight) made up primarily of yacht club members from Chicago. I know the names of all of them because I have So Fong's bell from that time period where their names are engraved on it. I also have wonderful black & white pictures where the brite work is painted gray and many wonderful stories.

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    1. COul we please see the black and white pictures you
      are talking about?? I am passionate about So Fong! I sailed on that boat 2 years ago and fell in love with him..

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    2. Don't know what happened to first reply. Mr B (I assume that is your real name) I am researching the Coastal Pickets (trying to write a book) and would like to pick your brain about the war years and St Simon's. please contact me at jwnoank@gmaildotcom, many thanks. Incidentally, SF served alongside Brilliant and Elizabeth MaCaw as well as an Alden yawl built by Herreshoff.

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  5. My team and I recently chartered the ship for a fashion campaign. It was incredible to see the beauty of all those details on the boat. My full respect for those who built that.
    Would like to invite you to see my upcoming pictures on my blog http://alexschwander.blogspot.de/
    Hope you´ll like it and hopefully I caught a little bit of that ship´s spirit!

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  6. I am going to say a few things about So Fong, and if you don't like my point of view, well... When I sailed in So Fong, she was owned by a very special couple. Many years before, the lady in question had seen So Fong anchored in Puerto Rico. That was 1938, and as a young girl she swam out and around the schooner. So Fong had just come around the world and was bound for New England. While swimming around the schooner, this young lady had a strong sense of belonging with this vessel. Years later she did. I worked for her and her husband. They were the best damned yacht owner a deckhand could ever hope for, but fate intervened and they gave up So fong reluctantly. Years later a total jerk bought the yacht and sailed into communist waters flying the American flag. Is it any surprise what happened next? I saw So Fong in Palma de Mallorca before any work was done on her. What a mess! You could see from her marks that the lead ballast was gone, and all 87 lignum vitae bronze strapped Merreman blocks were gone. They used to shine like jewels. A mate of mine was aboard So Fong when she was in the South China Sea. His opinion of the then owner, the guy who gave her to the Vietnamese, is as low as mine. More money than sense.

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    1. In my earlier recollection about So Fong I forgot to mention that I sailed a regatta in Grenada, 2005, with an American who was aboard when So Fong "escaped" Vietnam. A remarkable story. Glad the old yacht is sailing in free waters now. The owners for whom I sailed in 1970-71 were sterling people as stated earlier.

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  7. My family owned this boat for a while. It was in the mid 70's when they sold it, and they sailed off the coast of Maine. It was my aunt Hoylande's boat, and we have pictures of her sailing it with the crew she hired to take care of it.

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    1. I sailed So Phong in the Caribbean 1971/72ish. She was well looked after. We then sailed to Bermuda where, due to other commitments, I got off. She was on her way to Stamford CT where she was laid up.

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  8. My grandfather had this boat built in China. My dad, Henry was a student at Princeton at the time and according to my mom, he didn't want to miss the hockey season as he had been elected team captain. He stayed home while my two uncles, Hobey and Bobby went with my grandfather to China while the boat was built. According to my uncle, it took over two years and 100 men to build the boat. A few years ago my brother-in-law found a wooden box filled with metal film canisters in the attic of my mother's house and asked my mother if he could develop them. The pictures were of the trip! My cousin was able to show my uncle, the last of my father's generation and a passenger on the boat, the pictures of the voyage while in his final days. It's been so fun to see that there is still so much interest in the So Fong. I treasure these photographs!!

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    1. I'm not sure how to communicate with this, but would greatly appreciate a forward to Ms. Baker. My father was on the 1937 triip from Hongkong. I have his diary and could provide a scan. I know the present owner well, and both he and I would greatly love access to your fotos. Would that be possible? Are they scanned?
      vmf.vf@gmx.de

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    2. Once again, dear Sarah, I can also provide scans of the highly entertaining letters Ted Kilkenny wrote my father from the So Fong after my father was thrown off the boat in Singapore by your father. vmf.vf@gmx.de

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  9. I have just returned from a magical week long trip along the north coast of Mallorca on So Fong. Like all classics, you cannot leave without feeling touched by her history and grace. A beautiful boat indeed. As for previous comments about past owners: it's all irrelevent, just a tiny part of her ever developing history. The good news is she is in excellent condition now, with a loving owner and crew. She may have different blocks and retro fitted parts but she is no less special for these and I have no doubt she will outlive us all.

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  10. Amazing boat, hard to capture that style of interior today

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  11. I was a teen in the 60's when your aunt Hoylande invited my family aboard to sail on the coast of Maine. What beautiful sailing days. I remember we caught some huge cod. My father knew your aunt from before the war and I believe he was at So Fong's launch in Hong Kong.

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  12. 'So Fong' seemed the most enormous thing afloat when I was a kid sailing a turnabout virtually under her overhanging stern, on my way to the starting line during July and August series races. The biggest boat we ever owned was only about a third her length. That’s the difference between a pharma magnate and a college professor’s salary, (then). She ran aground only once, it's said, and the reason was a channel marker at the entrance to Blue Hill Harbor had been set in the wrong place! It’s nice to know ‘So Fong’ is still in commission, restored and available for charter.

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  13. I met Hank Becton when I sailed aboard "Ariana", his steel Olsen 38, on the Halifax Race in 1969 (?) The race committee condemned our life-jackets, so Hank said "never mind - we can borrow some from "So Fong". We took off in the Zodiac across Marblehead Harbour and this huge Schooner appeared out of the fog and we loaded up the jackets and started the race next morning.
    On arrival in Halifax after a zero visibility race and Hank sent us home and continued to cruise Nova Scotia. Later that year I was recruited to help Larry, the skipper, deliver So Fong to St Thomas. Back in New York, where I was living at the time, I received a call from Hank asking if I would like the job as Captain. It wasn't what I was looking to do, but we agreed that I would take over the boat for the Christmas cruise, see out the winter season and bring her back to the US in the spring, by which time Captain Wonderful would have been recruited to take over.
    Four years later I woke up wondering what had happened, as I was still on board! The Becton's plans had changed by then, the family grown up, so we laid So Fong up at Macdonald's rigging in Stamford. She was not up for sale at this time. I was the most wonderful four years of my life - the Bectons were the most wonderful employers, more like family. I have searched, with no avail, for a similar owner/crew situation for the last 40 years. It was soon after this that the boat was sold to the knucklehead who lost her to Vietnam.

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  14. Along with a good friend of mine we meet So Fong in Hong kong in late 1193. She has just arrived from Vietnam . We worked on some essential maintance for a few months before sailing to Singapore and the up the Mallacca straights ( narrowling avoiding an encouter with Pirate). So Fong brings back so many life changing feelings. I would love to ser her again. I have and article written about here in the early 1990's written by a south esst asien magasin if any wants a copy just let me know.

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