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.



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