Archive | November, 2011

Change: forward into the past and back to the future

30 Nov

With Albert Strange and Ralph Munroe

After 25 years of building and restoring boats in Marblehead I have moved back into the hills of Massachusetts to build boats.  My brother wants a sailing dory and that may be first, but cruising boats call to me, cruising boats for travel to distant shores and seeing land from the sea perspective as well as appreciating the life and motion in the water.  When I first saw the 33’ Albert Strange yawl, SEA HARMONY (pictured below left), she looked like the perfect cruising boat to me.  I had just sold an 18’ Fenwick Williams catboat and was able to trade some of the proceeds and my 13’ ketch (pictured below right) based on Ralph Munroe’s PRESTO for the Strange




Ralph Munroe grew up on Staten Island, New York, and was an early settler on Biscayne Bay, Florida, when the only way to get around was by boat.  To sail the shallow waters he started out with sharpies, but designed a series of round bottom boats, starting with PRESTO, shallow draft centerboard boats with sharpie rigs, very successful and capable.

Albert Strange grew up along the lower Thames, England, sailing with a local fisherman in his fishing boat and in large yachts racing with the fisherman as pilot.  An artist and director of the Scarborough Art School, his artful cruising yacht designs gained him fame beyond the art world.  I have a friend who recalls speaking with L. Francis Herreshoff about Albert Strange, LFH saying that Strange was a great designer because he was first an artist.  This could mean any number of things, but the artist takes the time to get a line right, allow an idea to develop and produce a consistent whole.  This description applies to Munroe as well as Strange.

I got interested in the Munroe designs from descriptions of his boats sailing short handed in difficult waters, the Gulf Stream, reefs and shallows of South Florida, as well as the rest of the Atlantic coast.  I built the 13’ Presto to try out the features of Munroe’s Presto for myself.  SEA HARMONY got me interested in Albert Strange.  Strange was best known for short handed sailing in different but equally difficult waters (Britain to the Baltic) and his boat designs reflect this.  Because the waters were different as well as the designers’ backgrounds, the designs are very different in most ways, but share some similarity of rig — jib headed gaff rigs, yawls (Strange) and ketches (Munroe), with short bowsprits, and their owners were passionate about the boats, their designs and cruising.  Sailing the 13’ Presto whetted my appetite for more.  Sailing SEA HARMONY had a similar effect.

The last boat Albert Strange had built for himself was the biggest at 28’ 7”, designed to include a separate women’s cabin.  Much of his cruising was done in 18’ to 21’ boats, pretty spartan camp cruising, but most of his cruising designs are between 21’ and 30’ including Venture at 29’ 6” the design on which SEA HARMONY was based.  The last boat designed for himself, never built, was a 21’ sloop, BEE.  It would be grand to build BEE, but for more cruising possibilities the larger 25’ boats like SHEILA and THERESA II seem better and still possible.

I had a call from a man familiar with the Munroe designs asking why there were no Presto boats in the 25’ range.  For Commodore Munroe the answer seems to be that even 32’ UTILIS was a day sailer, though it was one of his favorite boats.  Thinking about a 25’ Presto boat lead me to drafting lines, my first efforts in two dimensional design.  Starting with the PRESTO lines and Albert Strange’s treatise on “The Design and Construction of Small Cruising Boats” (Yachting Monthly, reprinted in the recent book ALBERT STRANGE ON YACHT DESIGN CONSTRUCTION AND CRUISING) I developed one set of lines and then another more like the beamier WABUN.  Working these two gentlemen together worked well and seemed appropriate to me.

The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 destroyed the boathouse and overhead shop with the plans for Ralph Munroe’s boats.  Using small scale images from The Rudder and such sources, R. P. Beebe drew up lines and sail plans for PRESTO, UTILIS, and WABUN.  Most of the Albert Strange plans that we have available ended up in the collection of W. P. Stephens, which is housed at Mystic Seaport Museum in Ships Plans, along with the Beebe drawings.

Now I have to get back to work, but I encourage others interested in these matters to pursue these interests and contact me if there is any way I can help.  Here are pictures of the Munroe WABUN (40′) and the Strange SHEILA.



HorizonThe OED …

26 Nov


The OED gives the etymology as a Greek word meaning the bounding circle and defines it in the first place as:  “The boundry-line of that part of the earth’s surface visible from a given point of view; the line at which the earth and sky appear to meet.  In strict use, the circle bounding that part of the earth’s surface which would be visible if no irregularities or obstructions were present.”  The horizon with irregularities and obstructions it refers to as “apparent, natural, sensible, physical or visible horizon” opposed to the “astronomical, celestial, mathematical, rational, real or true horizon”, except that “on the open sea or a great plain these coincide.”  

Yesterday, walking up the road after getting the mail, I thought about horizons while looking as far into the woods as I could, through the trees.  As a sailor, the “true” horizon might be most important, but only when calculating the results of an astronomical “sight”.  Otherwise, like other mathematical precision, the true horizon never exists.  The earth is not round, more pear shaped, and neither the land nor the sea is level, even the OED’s “the open sea or a great plain”.  Waves, swell and ripples impinge on the horizon as much as hills, mountains and trees.  

Looking into the woods through the trees one horizon is between the land and trees, especially evergreens, pine and hemlock, that shield the upper edge of the land.  The rise and fall of land in the forest defines the water shed, suggests the hill rising to the East, out of sight behind the trees where the sky is visible almost overhead through the tree tops.  I look through the trees for fox, deer, grouse, red squirrel, moving legs, flash of feathers, seeing tree trunks, ferns, laurel, saplings, the lay of the land — rarely animal life.   

There are horizons for every point of view and every horizon a point of view.  We have recently moved from sea shore to wooded hills.  The shore view is half at sea and half the land view, rising horizon with plants and houses.  In the wooded hills the trees seem to be the horizon until sunset when red and orange glow attracts the eye low into the woods revealing far ridges closer to the natural horizon.  


11 Nov

Looking out from a rock whose overhung sides were covered with ancient painted animal figures, looking out over a plain of grassland and forest the horizon to the east was punctuated with the volcanic cone of Mount Hanan. Elephants, giraffe, buffalo, antelope, and gazelle, beautifully pictured on the rock these would also be seen from that vantage, far below, but the images were more like a celebration of life at this point where the sun would rise over the pointed peak.
There was a story I read years ago about Geronemo leading his Apache on a raid. On the return he noticed rocks set up in ambush on the edge of a plateau they had passed in the morning and escaped the trap. I have always seen in this tale the importance of paying attention to the horizon.
Sailing the seas the horizon ripples with the state of the sea, through the sextant measures angles corresponding to a point on the earth, and landfalls rise.
Here in the woods the horizon is sometimes at the top of the nearest tree and sometimes down among the trunks, even below the horizontal. In thick forest with no horizon except overhead one is easily lost without a device like a compass, almost like being out of sight of land at sea with horizon all around without landmarks.
For every point of view there is an horizon, from my point of view.

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10 Nov

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