PLYC Burgee

Sailing for Akron and Canton, Ohio
Portage Lakes Yacht Club
where we love to sail...

Portage Indian

Carl "Zimmy" Zimmerman was an extraordinary Snipe sailor who brought considerable respect and stature to the Portage Lakes Yacht Club (PLYC) of Akron, Ohio.

Carl on an inland scow In 1937, Carl, while an engineer with Ohio Edison, joined PLYC during its young, and formative years. He started sailing on an inland scow. He soon acquired a Snipe sailboat and became an exceptionally avid racing sailor. He capsized once or twice while learning how to sail.

With Turkeyfoot Lake as his training ground, Carl raced his Snipe sailboats throughout the United States and in some foreign countries using experiences and lessons developed and learned on Turkeyfoot.

Carl was nationally known among his peers as a tough competitor away from Turkeyfoot Lake as well as at PLYC where he won the majority of his races on Sundays. He always finished among top sailors in national and district championships. He finished fourth one year at a national regatta held in Texas. Other Snipe sailors from PLYC accompanied him that year as an entourage to Texas.

Carl reviewing rudder Carl rarely finished less than third place, and usually first or second place, at PLYC on a weekly Sunday race day in a highly competitive Snipe Fleet of more than 20 boats, which included Larry Wheeler, Ham Johnson, Bill Kuehnling and others. He won the Snipe Fleet championship at Turkeyfoot Lake for many years.

The most dangerous place for Carl to be was on your stern where he was almost sure to eventually catch up and pass you. His level of concentration and knowledge of his boat were phenomenal. He seemed to naturally sense one's next action and to counteract. He constantly played the variances of the winds and would change gears absolutely continually while others were comparatively frozen. Sometimes, one felt that he was sharpening his skills for regattas which he would attend. It seemed that his Snipe was always "at speed" and higher on the wind than others and almost never slowed down -- as well as almost always in some way being at the right place and the right time whether it be the sailing closer to that eastern shore than anyone else, hugging a far shore at the finish line for a seemingly non-existent wind or simply tacking on every wind shift straight down the middle of the lake. Carl would seemingly mystically know.

He would practice sailing his Snipe at night where he could not see his tell tails in order to sharpen his ability to sense the direction of the wind on his neck.

Carl and Joan Dawson Carl at one time had Dick Dawson's (a PLYC Snipe Sailor) daughter, Joan, as a regular crew where she had the whisker pole routine sharpened to a count of "1-2-3" where it would be (1) attached to the jib, (2) thrust out and (3) fixed to the mast with the jib full and drawing wind - quite a feat which probably hasn't been accomplished by anyone else. Yes, they would sometimes go out just to practice that routine time and time again.

He would sometimes encourage another Snipe to go out and sail against his Snipe so that he could to determine the effect of a new adjustment or tactic for its effect.

He was usually at the front of the fleet and first at almost every mark - and the local competition was not easy. Maybe one would sometimes see him on the horizon all by himself. He was the mark they tried to beat. When the local weather was worst, namely wet and rainy, the central core of racers would always show up on the starting line in the rain with hopes of beating Carl - and would usually go away empty handed.

When Turkeyfoot was flat with little or seemingly no wind, Carl would be on the starting line, with his competition not daring to sit out the race - actually willing to chance a drifter - and he would usually win against the fleet with his seemingly sixth sense - and probably his notebook.

Yes, Carl had all of the shores and bays of Turkeyfoot etched in his mind with copious notes contained in his small notebook (which few of his competition ever knew about !) - which he carried in his pocket for all kinds of weather and wind directions and intensities. Carl would later say, after a miraculous race in which he would come from behind in confusing winds to finish first at the PLYC flag pole that " I just played the percentages" - as he was mostly likely referring to his notebook. Those were the days when there were no computers with complex predictive formulas to determine racing tactics for various conditions. This was his application of his own "personal knowledge".

Carl also had similar notes in his notebook, with even a few diagrams (again, which few, if any, of his competition ever knew about!), for conditions on other lakes on which he would participate in regattas for which he could also "play the percentages". His notes were probably a principal cause of him winning a regatta at Indianapolis one year - when others were confused by the wind conditions. Carl seemed to know when and where to go on the Lake. An aircraft pilot might liken it to faith in "flying by the instruments" when other logic might fail.

As Carl was approaching 90 years young, young Bill Katzenmeyer became Carl's consistant and loyal Sunday crew at PLYC. Bill was a college student.

Carl's flexibility and eyesight were fading - but the mental capacity and racing edge was all there. Coming down the long tree lined Lahm drive he was known to "bounce" his car off the trees on either side. Never mind the scratches on the car and the approaching blindness, he was always ready to race.

Bill did the hiking for Carl. Once around the course, with all the consistent sit-ups by Bill, a workout at a gym would look like child's play. As they approached a mark, Bill would hike out like a board and, while holding the hiked position, the boat would approach the mark flatter, higher on the wind and faster than all the rest of the fleet. They could only watch Carl's Snipe sail away from them and execute the drill around the mark. It was really a smooth operation and a sight to behold. Rounding the mark Bill would immediately be pointing to the next mark, which Carl could not see, like a compass pointer. One could imagine Carl mentally constantly measuring the bearing, or angle between the boat's course and the direction to the next mark (Bill's outstretched arm) and deciding when to tack -- and Carl would out-tack em all the time and would still win races. This was another smooth operation.

Carl used an engineering Kaizen approach before the concept was "officially" invented. It started with his sailing at night and clandestine note taking but didn't end there. We know that he also experimented with tell tails and decided upon a red colored synthetic fuzzy yarn from a yarn shop in Cuyahoga Falls. The yarn had to be red for visibility. It had to be synthetic so that it could dry easily. It had to be sufficiently fuzzy that it respond to the slightest amount of wind. And, it had to be sufficiently flexible that it wouldn't take on a fixed shape. When it wore out during the season, it was replaced. He bought a batch of the yarn and stored it. He likely bought the entire stock of that yarn from the yarn shop. His competition never knew about his tell experimentation and source.

One will never know whether Carl ever waxed his hull -- but probably he didn't in order to preserve laminar flow of water against the hull, of which he was a student. He prepped his wooden hull with a hard durable paint - since he didn't want a plastic coating used on Fiberglass as it would be too heavy and too porous. He had his hull painted by a local automobile painting company with a hard, non porous acrylic enamel which he then wet sanded after it "cured up and hardened " for maybe a month or so to make it smooth, to emphasize laminar water flow and sharpen appropriate edges. It is not likely that his competition was aware of all of this. It is possible that this approach was taken from a page of Ted Wells' "Scientific Racing" book.

Carl would measure his sails at the end of the season and at the beginning of the season. The measurements were taken with a tape measure and recorded to see if and where a sail might be growing or shrinking. He would keep records and assign each sail some kind of category for use, whether it be for a light wind or a heavy wind - or to be retired from surface. He would measure, for example, the distances between the clew, tack and head as well as the roach and record their changes which would usually occur. If you don't know what the term "roach" means, you had better consult your sail dictionary. Few, if any of his competition were aware of this practice.

Carl was well aware of the rigging of his traveler and how to use it to his best advantage - whether it be light air, heavy air, close hauling, reaching or running. Carl would seem to just know the "sweet spot" for the conditions.

Carl would match his main sail to his outhall (the sail foot between the tack and the clew). Remember, that he was aware of the measurements of his different sails. Yes the manufacturer was obligated to build the sails to a tolerance - any one sail, however, may be close to one end or the other of the tolerance. Not many, if any, of his competition were aware of this "sail-matching" and sail shaping exercise.

Carl went to some effort to set the best fore and aft (and thwartship) placement of his fairleads for light and heavy air in a sense of the actual distance between a fairlead and a forestay. He would measure each of the distances to be sure that they were equal. He would be aware of the aforesaid sail measurements to coordinate the fairlead placement to a particular jib.

Carl would mark each of his jib sheets with a sewn-in thread (not an ink marker) so that the jib could quickly be adjusted upon tacking by the crew while the competition may be fumbling and losing significant time. While several of today's skippers use this technique, they may not be aware that the original idea may have originated with Carl in the 1940s.

Reportedly, one day at a regatta, perhaps at Cowen Lake, Ohio, Buz Levinson from Indianapolis accidently dropped a sail batten (the battens were made of tapered wood then) in a pool of water in the parking lot after it had rained the night before. Someone saw it and in a flash everyone was dipping his or her batten in water with an unfounded theory that it would flexibilize the batten and thereby make their sail faster (at least Buz was heard to say that it was unfounded - but who knew for sure - and who wanted to take a chance?). Carl would use this as an excuse not to tell all of his secrets to his competition. After all, they could only absorb so much at one time anyway...

Carl raced among the likes of Ted Wells of Wichita, Kansas who would eventually write one of the first racing manuals involving racing Snipes in about 1950 entitled "Scientific Sailboat Racing" - good used copies of which can still be found through

1965 Beacon Journal Article He was well known to other top champion Snipe racers in the country during his time, including for example, Francis Seavy who had perhaps the fastest wooden Snipe sailboat for many years which many tried to copy, the Levinson brothers from Indianapolis and Gonzalo Diaz Sr. for whom Carl had a lot of respect - just to name a few.

The "Zimmerman Trophy", contributed by Carl in the national arena, is still awarded for the best Snipe racer for the combined three Snipe Midwinter regattas at Clearwater, Miami and Nassau. Yes, he would participate in all three of the regattas each year.

These activities were an important part of Carl's other life away from Turkeyfoot Lake and where the Portage Lakes Yacht Club became known to others with respect.

Carl Zimmerman Carl lived at the University Club where he would be seen carrying his blue colored sail bag out the door every Sunday morning. He spent his summers at Turkeyfoot Lake and he would travel south to Florida in the late fall where he would spend his winters. He would always stop along the way in Atlanta to stay with Dr. Norwood where he would participate in the annual Halloween Regatta and continue on to Florida where he would eventually participate in the three Midwinter Snipe Regattas. It is believed that Dr. Norwood's descendents are still involved with sailboat racing.

At one time, he and several other PLYC members owned a brick house in Florida where they would stay for a period of time in the winter.

In 1952 the International Snipe association was in danger of dissolution. It seemed that the International Secretary passed way and that the Snipe association was about to dissolve. Carl Zimmerman and Birney Mills, a PLYC member and Snipe sailor, Akron resident and owner of a local coal company, drove to Indiana or Illinois, picked up the Snipe records, carried them back to Akron and organized them where upon Birney became a de facto Snipe International Secretary, a responsibility which he held for many, many years and where he published the Snipe Bulletin and attended international regattas. So, the Snipe organization headquarters was actually located in Akron, Ohio on Aqueduct Street for many years. Carl Zimmerman assumed the duties of Snipe Commodore in 1952 and 1953.

One of the American Flags in the PLYC race cabinet was the Flag used at Birney Mill's funeral.

During Birney Mills' tenure, the Snipe sailors at PLYC usually seemed to have very "round numbers" for their Snipes such as, for example 9900, 10700, etc because they would request numbers directly from Birney. That was when Snipe numbers were given out individually and not in blocks of numbers to Snipe manufactures.

Carl with other members At PLYC, Carl always provided encouragement to others. He established the A and B fleets of Snipe Sailors, depending upon their standings.

A catered luncheon was held every Sunday after the races and blue, red and white ribbons (first, second and third places for that day) were awarded for the A and B fleets individually. Each sailor was given an opportunity to explain how he or she participated in a particular a race and how a ribbon was won.

It was a good opportunity for a crew, as well as new members and visitors, to be introduced to the fleet and recognized.

If Carl, or anyone else for that matter, had returned from attending a regatta or other sailing event, he or she was expected to deliver a detailed report of what happened, the conditions, the standings and who the participants were. PLYC members would sometimes travel to other parts of the country and other parts of the world and present interesting and educational reports.

It was an informative way of keeping in touch with the sailing world and a forum for sharing significant events occurring away from Turkeyfoot Lake.

Also, the hapless sailor and crew were expected to honorably accept the Dunker's Trophy at the luncheon if a capsize took place - and to explain to all, of course, the circumstances for the capsizing. Yes, Carl won one or two of those.

1972 Party The Sunday luncheons were important and memorable social events - and were looked forward to and well attended - even by those not sailing on a particular day.

Carl Zimmerman was always helpful to new sailors. He would at times crew for them and provide helpful instructions as he would observe them skipper their Snipe, although not in a regular race at which his placement in the race was at stake. Some can probably still remember Carl saying "No - No - NO!" to what seemed at the time to be a rather inconsequential momentary mistake on reading the wind, adjusting the sails, or maneuvering the boat. One can probably remember it well enough not to do it again!

Indeed Carl Zimmerman was foremost a gentleman who brought considerable respect and stature to the Portage Lakes Yacht Club far beyond the bounds of Turkeyfoot Lake itself.


Zimmerman wins honors
Akron Beacon Journal newspaper article describing Carl winning international race honors

Carl and Joan Dawson
Carl and Joan in Carl's Snipe

Carl and Joan Dawson
Carl and Joan on Carl's wooden Snipe's bow