Tribute to Sumio Oya

A Note from Roger Olson

In my years of cruising and boat building, I have come to realize what separates quality built boats from those of lesser quality. I have witness many boats on the rocks which seems to be the ultimate test. I am also aware of numerous boats that are lost at sea. Regardless of the construction and design, most all boats will survive normal open ocean sailing. However, we know the sea is unpredictable and there is always a chance that we will encounter that severe storm that could make us wish we had a better boat, perhaps too late.

We all have seen boats that have not been as lucky as others and have gone aground or have encountered the torment of a storm at sea. This is when any layman can see the difference in quality. Personally, I have seen thin hulls with foam cores that did not stand up to the force of impact with something hard and were holed. Too often, these holes and cracks cannot be accessed because of a fiberglass liner. I have seen furniture and bulkheads separated from the hull after the impact of a big wave. All too often, fin Keels are separated from the hull after a grounding. This list goes on and on but I think you get the point.

To build a competed Bristol Channel Cutter or Falmouth Cutter by hand takes time and skilled labor. It takes a full year to complete a standard boat in this manner. The end result is a vessel that the owner can feel secure that it was put together with great care, concern and skill.

The reason I am writing this note is to salute the builders of these boats both in Costa Mesa and Canada. The owners of these companies (yes, I include myself) have made great financial sacrifices to build the highest quality boat possible for its size. It would have been financially better if they had lowered the quality to save the increasing exorbitant costs. I also want to salute the shipwrights who have the skill and knowledge to inform the owner of the company what would work best without lowering quality. This would include the Canadian shipwrights as well as the shipwrights at the Sam L. Morse Company. I especially want to mention Dick McComb and Tommie Whisler who have been with the Sam L. Morse Company from near the beginning.

Using the designs from Lyle Hess, in 1975 Sam Morse began to fulfill his dream to build high quality small sailing vessels that could safely cross any ocean. Now, nearly 35 years later the legend comes to an end with Sumio Oya. I salute Sumio Oya for maintaining the quality while costs to build were rapidly increasing to the level that they could no longer support the business.

Non the less, I am saddened to see it happen. I feel for Sumio and understand the difficulties and hardship he has endured trying to keep it a viable business.