Matt Walsh (1866 - 1960)

PIRATE has had a number of good skippers in her lifetime. One of the best was the legendary Matt Walsh. Born Matthew Joseph Walsh in County Guysborough, Nova Scotia, he arrived on the West Coast in 1899 and went to work for the Los Angeles Railway Co. By 1906, he was involved in California yachting, crewing aboard financier Frank A. Garbutt's schooner Skidbladnir. There he proved himself a skilled sailor and solid shipmate.

As a boat builder, Walsh built the keel for ISLANDER, the boat which Harry Pidgeon sailed around the world. He worked with a number of others before setting up his own shop. The association with Garbutt proved beneficial when the two founded the Garbutt & Walsh shipyard at Berth No. 221 on Terminal Island. It proved to be a good partnership with Garbutt providing the capital and Walsh the expertise.

Matt Walsh had a natural affinity for vessel design and among his creations are 53' cutter OTTER (1914, Walsh rebuilt and rerigged in 1935), 45' sloop THOROBRED (1928), 43' sloop MARGARET, 27' "Common Sense" Class sloop (1933, 6 built) and his own 55' express cruiser MARDO (1930). There were many others.

Among the many commercial craft built at Garbutt & Walsh, was the 53' ferry M.J.W. (for Matthew J. Walsh) which carried passengers across L. A. harbor between San Pedro and the west end of Terminal Island.


COMMON SENSE III was, and always will be, the smallest boat to ever sail the Los Angeles - Honolulu (Transpac) Race. In 1934, a crew from Hawaii sailed a tiny 25' schooner to L. A. for the race. Within a few days of their arrival, the boat was rammed by a cattle boat and lost. Walsh magnanimously offered to loan them COMMON SENSE III as a replacement and they gladly accepted.

These little boats were very fast. Despite her size, COMMON SENSE III was the second boat around Catalina, led only by the scratch 61' schooner MANUIWA. Half way across she was dismasted and ended up taking 18½ days to finish last under jury rig (she beat three other racers when time allowances were applied). Following the race, the officers of the Transpac Y.C. added a rule limiting entries to vessels 30' overall and longer.

During a 60+ year career as a racing skipper, Walsh always competed as a Corinthian (amateur) preferring to make his money building boats and operating tugs. He was immediately noticeable on the race course, always wearing suspenders and his trade-mark black fedora as he steered.

Cited by many as the very best helmsman of his time, Walsh's two greatest victories were the San Francisco Perpetual Challenge Cup on 1923 with the R-boat CALIFORNIA, which he also built, and the R-Class National Championship with PIRATE at the 1929 Larchmont Race Week. He was the oldest skipper at Larchmont that year at age 63. When asked about him, Ted Conant called Walsh "the finest sailboat sailor ever".

Walsh was instrumental in getting Commodore O. K. Hunsaker, owner of PIRATE, involved as a sponsor of the Los Angeles Evening Herald model boat program that featured Ted Geary's model of PIRATE and a model of THOROBRED designed by Walsh. Following the model regattas, they would take the winning model-makers sailing on PIRATE and THOROBRED.

Matt Walsh died at age 94 within spitting distance of the Pacific at his home on Pt. Firmin. He never flew a protest flag.