Sorting out Wesorts

None of the research blogging posts in my queue are quite ready yet, so it’s time for another update on the weird world of Wesorts. If you’re a Piscataway Indian reading that sentence, please don’t take offense – I’m talking about Wesort sailboats here, for the benefit of the six people in the world who’ve heard of them. And if you have absolutely no idea what any of this is about, hang on, because it’s going to get weirder.

First, a note about illustrating these posts. I wanted a picture of a Wesort to put here, but a search for “wesort” on Flickr returns a single hit that is a) fully copyrighted, b) related only to the Elmer Fudd interpretation of the term, and c) going to baffle the hell out of future digital archeologists.

And now, a Wesort history lesson from my dad, Tom Dove:

I can fill you in on the Wesort sailboat, having been present at its birth and development.

In the late 1950s, when the earth and I were both young, I was active in the sailing program at Indian Landing Boat Club in Millersville, Maryland, near the headwaters of the Severn river. We kids learned to sail in Penguins, a popular 11’6″ catboat which was well suited to our light, fluky winds. It was, and still is, a very good boat. The drawback to many of us was its cost, which ranged from about $150 for a battered, basic boat to over $500 for a new racing model. In 2011 terms, that range becomes about $1200 – $4000. That was a lot of money for a pre-teen to ask from parents. If you were a good woodworker, you could build one yourself, but it was a challenge with its compound curves and the performance would still not equal a professionally built boat.

Now I must tell you about two of my favorite lovable eccentrics: William H. Sands and “Willie”.

Bill Sands’ son, Bill Sands, was a childhood friend of mine, so I got to know the family pretty well. Bill Sands, Sr. was one of those fellows who worked hard to conceal his intelligence and education by affecting the style of a country bumpkin. While he was quite capable of holding forth on a detailed analysis of any of Shakespeare’s plays or analyz[ing] the vector forces on a mast, he loved to shuffle about the boat club and help kids learn to sail or to tinker in his workshop on some oddball project. One of these projects was the Wesort.

Bill Sands wanted to build the most economical junior training sailboat possible. He wanted it to be so simple that somebody with absolutely no knowledge of woodworking could build it out of standard size materials available at any lumber yard or could team up with a group of like-minded folks and turn out a dozen of them in one winter in assembly line fashion. The result was the Wesort, which could be built (less sails) for $50 – $100.

“Willie” was the caretaker of the Indian Landing Boat Club for as long as anybody could remember and nobody seemed to know how he got there. He lived in a little house on the premises and was paid a small salary in return for basic maintenance and tending the gate at the club. I believe that no more than a handful of members knew that he had a last name. He was absolutely gentle and universally loved.

Willie the caretaker was a small man who always smiled and hardly ever spoke. His ancestry was baffling. His features were neither Caucasian nor Negroid, but his coloration was somewhere between the two. I always thought he had a vaguely oriental look to his face. I knew him for a couple of decades and never heard him say anything more than, “Yeah,” which came out in an elongated form, something like “Yeaaaaah,” always with a smile and followed by a chuckle.

But Bill Sands knew Willie well and knew that he was a “We-sort”. That was a term a certain small, close-knit group in central Maryland used for itself to distinguish their kind from everybody else, whom they called the “They-sort.” They claimed to be descendants of the Piscataway Indians who had lived in the area for centuries and who greeted European settlers in the early 1600s.

And that is why Bill Sands named the boat the Wesort.

I’ll stop here and continue about the boat itself in another story.

I remember Willie quite well. He was always in the little gatehouse when we went in or out of the ILBC, which was just down the street from my grandmother’s house. The workings of the simple counterbalanced gate fascinated six-year-old me, as did this strange man who operated it and only seemed to know one word.

Dad, feel free to post the information about the boat in the comments, or email it to me and I’ll milk another blog post out of it.