Sabot 4460 returns to its builder after a long separation
Brian Thomas’ first sabot, which he built while a student at Point Loma High School, won several sailing championships, then disappeared.
On their first day of shop class at Point Loma High School in the mid-1960s, students were asked what they wanted to build. While most scribbled down shelf units, tables or chests, senior Brian Thomas wrote “Two sabots.”
After class, his teacher warned him that he had set an extremely lofty goal. In 20 years of teaching shop, no student had ever finished even one sabot in an entire year, he said.
One month later, though, Thomas had his boat off the shop class jig and took it home to work on it.
“I built four boats that year in wood shop,” recalled Thomas, who, after serving a year as commodore of the San Diego Yacht Club, became junior staff commodore in December.
The shop teacher entered Thomas’ sabot in the California State Fair’s woodworking competition in Sacramento, where it took second place. The young boat builder went on to win three Senior Sabot Nationals (for ages 18 and up) in his first homemade sabot in 1966-68.
His late brother, Terry, won the Junior Sabot Nationals (for ages 17 and under) in the same boat, Sabot 4460, in 1967. As time floated on, the boat passed to another yacht club member, then to Mike Butler, son of former San Diego judge Ed Butler. Mike also raced it in a junior national championship and won.
Thomas went on to build and sell 25 wooden sabots to put himself through college. He also began to construct fiberglass sabots. He worked with shipwright and sailor Carl Eichenlaub, who switched from building wooden to aluminum boats.
After five years, Thomas started his own metal fabricating company. “I always wanted to build big boats. Turns out I never did,” he said.
Thomas eventually lost track of Sabot 4460, which had transferred to a sailor at Mission Bay Yacht Club. Unbeknownst to him, it hung unused in a Point Loma garage for about 30 years.
Then, last fall, Thomas received a call from Mission Bay Yacht Club member Greg Schibler. Would he like to be reunited with the boat that launched his career?
Schibler had purchased Sabot 4460 from Rob Hutsel, a childhood sailing friend who is president and chief executive of the San Diego River Park Foundation. Over lunch one day in 2007, Schibler mentioned to Hutsel that he was looking for a sabot for his two sons to sail. Hutsel had the answer — his old sabot that had been stored in his parents’ garage for nearly three decades.
It was a no-brainer because Schibler had grown up racing at MBYC and said: “I always got beat by Brian Thomas boats. ... They were the fastest boats around, especially the wooden ones.”
After Schibler and his father stripped and refinished the boat, Sabot 4460 acquired yet another title as the Schiblers won Mission Bay Yacht Club’s 2008 “family scramble” competition.
As Schibler’s sons moved on to other interests, he decided to find a new home for the boat, which was stored in his garage in Encinitas. He reached out to the yacht club’s senior sabot fleet captain, and someone suggested he contact Thomas. So he did.
At first, Thomas said he simply wanted to go to Encinitas to see it for nostalgia’s sake. Thomas later called back to say he’d had a change of heart.
The sabot now is with Thomas, a power boater these days, at the San Diego Yacht Club.
“I plan on making it cherry again,” Thomas said, “and I’ll possibly get in it if my knee replacement will let me.”
Schibler entertains a bigger vision: “It would be quite the capper if he came back and won the senior nationals in it.”