A DONATED MYSTERY BOAT
In October, 2013, someone across the river in Philadelphia donated an unknown 12-foot sailboat with trailer.
It was dirty, but a power wash showed it to be in surprisingly
There was no Hull Identification Number anywhere to be found. A HIN was not required before 1972, but the
construction and rigging is typical of the eighties. My detective instinct kicked in and I began a
search for the boat's origin.
The sail symbol gave me the first clue. It was a small dotted "i". I have an extensive database of sail logos,
but there was no such symbol. The word IOTA, which I had falsely assumed was the name of the sailmaker, was
printed on the sailbag. An iota is the 9th letter of the Greek alphabet and the word is frequently used to
denote anything small -- like a 12-foot sailboat!
Armed with this information, I did an internet search of "Iota sailboat" and discovered that hundreds of
sailboats have "Iota" battery chargers!
I tried including "Iota" in combination with other words in quotes. One search opened the "Master list"
of Bruce Kirby's sailboat designs on his personal website. According to
Kirby's website, he designed a
12-foot catboat named Iota of which 8 were reportedly produced. I could find no other reference to
the boat, but had my first good lead. I wrote a letter to Mr. Kirby.
Olympic and America's Cup sailor, Bruce Kirby, is one of the most prolific boat and yacht designers of all
time with over 60 boats of his conception since 1958. His best-known creations are the Laser and the San
Juan series. More than 1,200 SJ-24s were produced and it is estimated that a quarter million Lasers have
Bruce responded to my letter, saying that a City Island, N.Y. Yacht Club had asked him to design a boat for
frostbiting but for some reason, only 8 boats were
built. The club had planned to market the Iota to recoup costs. Unfortunately, Mr. Kirby couldn't remember
where the Iotas were built.
I was fascinated to hear him say that, at 85 years of age, he was designing two more yachts!
It seemed strange to me that only 8 Iotas were produced considering the excellent quality of construction.
In 1990, Kirby designed a similar 12' cat-rigged dinghy called the Trinka. It is built by Johnannsen Boat
Works, Vero Beach Florida, and at a base price of $5,150, 125 units were sold in the first year of production.
That is remarkable for a 12' dinghy!
A SECOND UNKNOWN BOAT
In January, 2014, I found another "unknown" 12-foot sailboat on the Long Island Craigslist. I immediately
recognized it as an Iota and contacted the seller. I told him what he had and asked if there was a HIN on the
The owner, Tom, sent me more photos of his boat including a HIN stamped into the transom. He said
that a woman who was moving gave it to him. Even though he lives in Long Beach NY, he doesn't know how to
sail. I encouraged Tom to correct that deficiency!
When I told Tom that the boat was designed specifically for frostbiting, he said, "Now I can
understand why it has such an unusual name!" COLD SWEAT is a great name for a frostbiter!
Hull Identification Number SDB00108B585
According to the US Coast Guard, SDB is the 3-letter Manufacturer's Identification Code (MIC) for Stur-Dee
Boat Company of Tiverton, Rhode Island.
The digits 4 through 8 are the boat's serial number provided by the manufacturer. This boat was apparently the
8th to be built (serial 00108). This is not an absolute, but most boat builders started numbering at 00100
rather than 00001. The Iota's designer, Bruce Kirby, said that only 8 Iotas were built, so the Long Beach Iota
must have been the last one produced.
Because the 9th digit is a letter of the alphabet between A and L (representing the 12 months), we know that the HIN is the newer style
(after August 1, 1984). If the 9th digit was M-Z or a number, it would be an older style HIN. The ninth digit
of Tom's boat is a "B" stating that the boat was built in February. The 10th digit is a 5, signifying the last digit of the year
in which it was built. The final two digits give the model year '85. So we can ascertain that Tom's Iota was
built in February, 1985 by
Stur-Dee Boat Company of Rhode Island.
A fire claimed two of the Stur-Dee Boat Company's three 4,000-square-foot buildings, including many molds. This
explains why only eight Iotas were built! It is possible that my Iota hull was rescued from the fire unfinished and
never got a HIN.
The Iota is a solidly built 12' fiberglass dinghy with a fiberglass dagger and kick-up rudder. It is cat-rigged
with wide gunwales similar to the Laser (also a Bruce Kirby design), that are ideal for hiking. It is wider than
most 12-footers, and the 5-foot beam makes it more stable.
• The sail, by Ulmer Kolius, is in very good condition. The sail insignia is a dotted "i".
• All the rigging is there. I set it up without instructions in 15 minutes.
• It has a 3:1 boom vang
• Fiberglass kick-up rudder, wood tiller and adjustable tiller extension.
• Centerboard (dagger) of fiberglass.
• The boat has an inner and outer hull, is self-bailing and unsinkable.
• LOA: 12.25 feet (3.73 m)
• DWL: 11.875 feet (3.62 m)
• Draft: Board Up: 5 in. (12.7 cm) Board Down: 34 in. (86.4 cm)
• Beam: 60 in. (152 cm)
• Sail Area 88 ft2 (8.2 m2)
• Weight 200 Lbs. (100 kg)
• Maximum Capacity: 750 Lbs.(340 kgs) persons, motor & gear
• Max 2 HP Motor
The sail, dagger and rudder were almost like new and needed nothing! I refinished the inner hull in original oyster white.
The original outer hull color was red, but a previous owner had repainted it blue, so I painted it
the same color.
The trailer it came on was rusted so I put it on a nice refurbished trailer.
Note the original cockpit bailers using two rubber balls and a bungee cord!
The original fiberglass bow shelf with a cut-out for the mast, was apparently
lost and replaced with a plywood one. It was badly weathered, so I made
a new one of marine plywood (varnished since photo was taken).
The sail is in very good condition. The number shows that it has been raced.
I added pinstripes and a mast crutch since the other pictures were taken.
This rare Iota found a new owner in Maryland
Kirby's other 12' dinghy called the Trinka (below) has become known as the Cadillac
of sailing dinghies and sells for almost $6,000 new. Instead of the wider gunwales, like the Iota and
Laser, the Trinka has narrow bench seats. Sailors usually sit on the uncomfortable gunwales
for hiking, so why not make them for sitting?!