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Sailing Anarchy Forum re the passing of John Shumaker, founder of Yankee Yachts  

November 29, 2018. Mike Freil (Makarios, Yankee #241) brought this series of SailingAnarchy.com posts, in October and November, 2015, by John Shumaker's son Steve and others responding to the announcement of John Shumaker's passing. There's a lot of material there, and it offers a lot of background Dolphin 24 information. We've selected some of the material there to create this page.

The Forum posts started with this post on October 7, 2015

I'm not sure if this is the right place for it, but here goes:

My father, John L. Shumaker, Jr. died Monday, October 5. He was 86.

He started his boatbuilding career in 1962, building the Sparkman & Stephens Designed 24' Dolphin in a yard owned by Joe Cummings near Marina Del Rey, California. The first boat was our family's, named Yankee. He built 3 more at that yard. The construction of those first 4 boats was fiberglass, but the deck, cabin trunk and all interior furnishings were wood. The masts were hollow laminated spruce. He and my mother decided to name the company Yankee Yachts, and moved it to an old steel building on Hindry Avenue in Inglewood, California in the mid 1960s. Subsequent Yankee Dolphins were build with fiberglass decks. While at the Inglewood plant, he commissioned S&S to design a 30 foot auxiliary, the Yankee 30 and a re-design of the Interclub dinghy, the 11-foot Minuteman.

In 1969 the plant was moved to a new facility in Santa Ana, California, where Dolphins, Yankee 30s and Minutemen were built. Added to the line were the S&S designed one-tonner Yankee 38 and a 1/4 tonner, the Yankee 26. The Dolphin was replaced with a 24-foot Seahorse trailer-sailer, designed by Robert Finch. The Yankee 28, a Robert Finch design was also built. At it's height, Yankee Yachts employed more than 100 employees, but in the 1974 recession, the business failed. After liquedating the company, Dad and Mom moved my sister and I to rural north San Diego County, and started raising avocados and horses. However, John always considered himself a boatbuilder. In 1999, he and I started a 14' planing dinghy design out of wood, one of his dreams being to build a wood boat from scratch.

I'll try to show photos and more details in subsequent posts. Any that remember Yankee Yachts (it was a long time ago) or have stories of my father are welcome to post.

This is the eulogy Steve gave at John's funeral service -

Here's the Eulogy I did at my Dad's memorial service last Sunday. It has a little more detail than the opening post of this thread. Jim Hokansen, an excellent retired sailmaker who made the "factory" sails for Yankee was there with his wife Phyllis. Larry and Elinor Johnson, who bought their Yankee 30 about 15 years ago on advice from my Dad. They both had interesting stories to tell about my Dad.

Dad was born March 17, 1929, in what was known as the stone house in Liverpool, Pennsylvania, a small town on the banks of the Susquehanna River. His parents named him John Landis Shumaker, after his father. March 17 is St. Patrick’s day, so Dad grew up with the nickname “Johnny Pat”. He was the only boy, having 5 sisters; three older and two younger. Later his family moved 30 miles down-river to Harrisburg Pennsylvania. There he sang actively in the St. Stephens Episcopal cathedral choir, first as a soprano, and later as a tenor. At St. Stephen’s he met my mother, Portia Whitaker. In addition to his kind, likable personality, I think she fell in love with his amazing tenor singing voice. They started dating in the early 1950s. He being 6 years her senior, Mom’s adoptive father called him “grandpa”. With the war in Korea, Dad enlisted with the army, and was stationed in Nome Alaska as a radio operator, listening in on Soviet Union transmissions. While there, he formed a barbershop quartet, which won the All Army Singing Contest. He loved his experience in Alaska, but when his commitment to the Army was complete, he came back to Pennsylvania and continued courting my mother.

Under the GI bill, he started attending Dickenson College in Carlisle Pennsylvania. Carlisle was about 22 miles west of Harrisburg, but more importantly, only 19 miles west of Camp Hill, where my mother lived with her family. In 1956 he and Mom got married and not too long afterward they moved to Denver, Colorado, where Dad completed his education at the University of Denver, earning a bachelor of science in business administration. In Denver they bought a house, had me in 1958, moved to another house in Bowmar on the outskirts of Denver, and had my sister Elaine in 1960.

When my sister was 6 weeks old, they moved to Playa Del Rey, California, a coastal community in Los Angeles, where Dad took a position in the payroll department of North American Aviation.

Now you must understand that my Dad loved sailboats. It helped that my mom’s family had a small highlander sailboat, and in Denver, where his youngest sister lived, he started sailing small 15’ sailboats called Snipes with his Sister Nancy’s husband Don. Around 1962 or 1963, Dad started building a 24’ keelboat called the Dolphin. One thing led to another, and he ended up quitting his job at North American and started building the Dolphins commercially. The first one was our family’s. It had an eagle flying across the transom, with a banner reading “Yankee” grasped in its Talons. Dad was a meticulous craftsman, and the quality of the boats he built was one of the highest in the industry. Yankee was launched in 1965 I think, and one of my most vivid early childhood memories was going to Catalina as a family for a 5 day vacation on our little yacht. I loved to fish and Elaine loved to swim, so our many subsequent weekend trips to the Island are my most cherished childhood memories.

He also continued to sing, and was often called upon to sing at weddings of friends and acquaintances. Those are my earliest memories of his singing. It took me many years to appreciate his singing abilities, but eventually his voice was the standard against which I would measure the singing talents of famous tenors. I am prejudiced, certainly, but very few compare favorably.

Back to boats. His business, named Yankee Yachts after that first boat and my parent’s love for their country, continued to expand, and he moved the business to a larger facility in Inglewood, where my mother joined him as office manager, once both my sister and I were in school. He added a 30 foot keelboat and an 11 foot sailing dinghy to the line, and before long needed a yet larger facility. The company was moved to Santa Ana near the hub of the early 1970’s fiberglass boat building industry, and the family moved to San Juan Capistrano. Our latest family boat, a Yankee 30 was berthed in nearby Dana Point Harbor, which was brand new at the time. We cruised that boat, named Zapatero (Spanish for Shumaker), and raced the boat successfully. One particularly fond memory was an overnight race my Dad, I, and a few friends did from Dana Point around San Clemente Island and down to San Diego. We had a great time, and won our class.

While in San Juan Capistrano, my parents succumbed to my sister’s pleading for a horse, and before long the whole family had horses. After a year or so, I was the first to lose patience with these immensely strong beasts with the obedience quotient of a two year old, but Mom and Elaine continued stronger than ever. More on the horses later.

In the meantime, the company, Yankee Yachts, continued to grow, building 11, 24, 26, 28, 30 and 38-foot sailboats. At its peak, more than one sailboat was shipped from the Yankee plant a week, and over 100 workers were employed. Unfortunately, the 1974 recession hit Yankee Yachts particularly hard, and the company was liquidated. With the proceedings from the liquidation, Dad and Mom purchased some prime farming land in the hills east of Bonsall, and started raising avocados, as well as getting into the horse breeding business. At its height, they had more than 30 horses on the property, and Mom and Dad would travel as far as Idaho looking for good breeding stock. Mom and My sister Elaine also travelled all over the state showing quarter horses, earning various championships while Dad helped out, but kept his primary focus on the avocados.

Eventually, my parents got out of the horse business, and converted the horse pasture to yet more avocados. Dad renewed his interest in sailboats and bought a red 24’ trailerable sailboat named Farr Better, and also sailed with neighbors Ev and Nancy Wilson on their boat, Double Trouble. He also began singing in the Villageaires, a Vista-based barbershop singing group. A quartet, with Dad as tenor, formed within that group, and won a number of awards in various singing contests. During this time I married my wife Kim and we started bringing grandchildren into Mom’s and Dad’s lives, with Elaine getting married not too much later and adding yet more grandchildren. Now great grandchildren are coming onto the scene.

Meanwhile, Dad and Mom formed a trio and had as their accompianist Pat Stinton. They performed at various functions around San Diego county. Sometime in the 1990s, St Stephens cathedral, back in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, had a special celebration featuring its excellent choir. Past members were invited and a recording was made, featuring Dad as Tenor soloist. Mom has the recording. In his mid 60s at the time, it was some of his finest work.

Dad sold Farr Better and bought a 28 foot sailboat, making extensive modifications and naming it Zapatero, just like our Yankee 30 many years ago. And just like the old Zapatero, the new one was berthed at Dana Point. Mom and Dad, and sometimes me and other members of the extended family would sail the new Zapatero over to Catalina, where Mom and Dad had a condo. The condo became a place where the now quite large family would gather for a week or weekend (with the help of nearby rented condos) every year, usually over the fourth of July. It became a family tradition. Dad loved to just relax at the condo, spending hours reading, or using binoculars to check out the many sailboats coming and going from the island.

Dad was not satisfied buying boats built by others however, and wanted to build a boat completely out of wood. He bought some plans for a 14’ sailboat and encouraged me to modify the design, based on some ideas I had. That was another special memory for me, spending time with Dad building that boat. He also encouraged me to design a larger, 38-foot sailboat, but his health issues kept that project from getting beyond the material procurement and set up phase.

When I was in my late teens, I decided to become a follower of Jesus Christ, about the same time Dad joined the Mormon church. We had some interesting theological discussions. Over two decades later, in a memorial service similar to today’s celebration of life, Dad indicated to the pastor conducting the service that he had decided to follow Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

Perhaps, not readily evident from this history of his life, family, and accomplishments is the special man he was. Kind and helpful, always trying to help. I think he conveyed a sense that he really liked being with you. When I was working in La Jolla, and Later in Carlsbad, Dad would drive down frequently and take me to lunch. We would talk about all sorts of things, boats mainly, but what I remember is the two of us just enjoying the time together. Dad had a temper and at times could erupt in a string of profanity, usually directed at some uncooperative object he was working with, or directed at the imaginary person that manufactured the object. It could be frightening at times, but when you realized it wasn’t directed at anybody in the room, you could relax a bit and wait for the storm to subside.

L to R: John Shumaker, Olin Stephens, Lindy Thomas

"An eagle flying across the transom, with a banner reading “Yankee” grasped in its talons"

Yankee #71 Click here for a larger image

Here's a few quotes from the Forum - Steve answering questions/comments by others

> What do you think the volume was out of the Santa Ana shop in numbers of boats per year ?

I think they were putting out one Dolphin and one Yankee 30 a week. Fewer for the other boats. I guess that works out to more than a hundred a year. I will ask my mom, perhaps she will remember, as she was very involved with the business side of the business


> Thanks everyone for your kind words. My mom and I were talking a few days ago, and summed up the reason they weren't able to keep the company solvent: He was making Palmer-Johnson quality boats and trying to compete price-wise with Islander, Ericsson, Colombia, Cal, etc. Not that those were bad boats, his just had a certain level of attention to detail. For example, all the rudder hardware and keelbolts were Everdur silicon bronze. No stainless steel below the waterline.

He often took me on warranty repair work. Usually, it was a deck leak, so we would be rebedding genoa track or a stanchion. It was a two-man job, so having me along helped keep the overhead down. Years later, he told me the leaks were usually on one side of the boat. He said the guy on that side probably got kudos from the foreman for finishing quickly, while the guy that did it right had to spend more time cleaning up the excess sealant. I think it was a constant battle of his to get the workers that came from one of the other manufacturer's (all those named above were within a few miles of each other) to understand the level of quality he expected.


> I recall that it was pretty widely understood back then that Yankee went under because the boats were "too well built". Your comments confirm it.


For more on Yankee Yachts click here





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