My first ride on a Harbor 20 was with the master himself: sailboat designer, builder, and racer, Tom Schock. I could have hardly asked for a better introduction to what today is an iconic boat.
That afternoon in the harbor, I relived the thrill I first felt when I started sailing fifteen years earlier. Sure, I eventually “graduated” to big boats on big seas, but for agility, responsiveness, and just pure fun, you can’t beat a small boat like the Harbor 20.
Schock was commodore of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club when he and five friends designed the Harbor 20 in 1997. It had a traditional mainsail, a Hoyt self-tacking jib on a roller-furler, a small cuddy cabin, and an electric trolling motor that tucked away neatly into the transom when not in use.
The smart-looking 20 footer was designed to be easy to sail; easy to put away after a day on the water; easy to maintain; and most of all, fun enough to get old salts sailing again. The design hit its mark on all counts. Singlehanding a Harbor 20 is as much a breeze as it is fun to sail, lending itself nicely to civilized afternoon cocktail outings.
Harbor 20 owners are some of the wealthiest businessmen and accomplished sailors in the world; Roy Disney owned one. Over 300 hulls have been launched, and hull number 277 was the one that finally became Schock’s personal boat. Why so late? Because there were so many orders to fill. The design was so successful, in fact, that it spun the Harbor 20’s builder, W. D. Schock, in a new direction. The company went on to launch two sisterships, the Harbor 25 and Harbor 30, both based on the “simpler is better” mantra.
The owners' association behind the Harbor 20 is very active and there are fleets worldwide with one-design racing available most summers. Nowhere is the fleet stronger than in Newport Harbor, CA, where I have the good fortune to live and sail. Whether it’s easy breezy sailing or hard-on-the-wind racing, what you feel is the wind, the boat, and the excitement of sailing.
You can sail a Harbor 20 poorly and still get it to move easily. However, the real skill, and one that takes years to master, is fine-tuning the Harbor 20’s performance so that it’s an effortless dance, on the race course or off. Either way, an afternoon on a Harbor 20 always reminds me of the thrill of sailing for the first time that made me say, “Damn, this is fun.”
For more information, visit the Harbor 20 website.