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The Stories of the First Three Fastnet Races

4 Jan

A hundred years ago public interest in yacht racing was widespread and the press, both dailies and periodicals, printed long articles covering races in and off shore. People came to sit on the headlands and watched in their thousands as well. Offshore ocean races did not favor the picnicing crowd ashore and the tales needed to be told by the sailors. Ocean crossings in small boats and private races between big boats got wide coverage in the 19th century. In the early Twentieth Century periodicals like The Rudder and Yachting Monthly took the lead in sponsoring and promoting ocean races, starting with the Bermuda Race off the US east coast and the Fastnet Race starting at Cowes, England. The first three winners of the Fastnet Race were old boats of widely varying character and all three of these boats still exist 90 years later, all over 100 years old. Jolie Brise, 1925 winner as well as in 1929 and 1930, was built as a French pilot boat in 1913. Ilex, 1926 winner, was designed and built by Camper and Nicholson in 1899 as a yacht. Tally Ho, 1927 winner, was designed by Albert Strange in 1909 and built in 1910 as a cruiser from which the owner, a fishing fleet owner, could fish.

Jolie Brise was converted to a yacht in 1923 by E. G. Martin, one of the gentlemen who organized the first Fastnet Race. George Martin was on the committee that founded and organized the first Fastnet Race. Ilex, originally a cutter, was re-rigged as a gaff yawl in 1903, carrying this rig until made a gaff cutter in 1931, Bermudan in 1934. Ilex was purchased by the Royal Engineers Yacht Club in the winter of 1925-6 after their smaller Fulmar had finished second in the 1925 Fastnet. Tally Ho originally sailed with a modest cutter rig but by the mid-twenties carried a fidded topmast and full cutter rig with poled spinnaker. Tally Ho, originally Betty, sailed through the ‘20s under the ownership of Lord Stalbridge, Hugh Grosvenor. The 1928 Fastnet was won by the staysail schooner Nina, a purpose built ocean racer designed by W. Starling Burgess to win the 1928 trans Atlantic race to Santander, Spain which she did before winning the Fastnet a month later — sadly, Nina was lost with all hands in a storm off Australia in 2013. Jolie Brise won the next two Fastnets, after Nina’s, before a long line of purpose designed ocean racers took over starting with Olin Stevens’ Dorade in 1931.

The first Fastnet Race developed from Weston Martyr’s experience in the 1924 Bermuda Race. The first Bermuda Race was in 1906 run by Thomas Fleming Day the founder and editor of The Rudder magazine, sailing from New York. After WWI, the Bermuda Race started anew in 1923 sailing from New London, Connecticut. After the 1924 Bermuda Race, Martyr wrote to Yachting Monthly extolling the ocean racing experience, which led to a meeting between Martyr, Yachting Monthly editor Malden Heckstall-Smith, and Jolie Brise owner E. G. Martin in which they decided to promote a race from the Isle of Wight around the Fastnet Rock southwest of Ireland, back to Plymouth. A notice of race was published in March and the race was held in August 1925, starting on Saturday the 15th.

The only full description of the 1925 Fastnet Race I know of is from the September 1925 Pickaxe, a Royal Engineer publication, described from their entry, Fulmar, a 41’ cutter from 1901 owned and sailed by the REYC since 1906. A September 2015 Classic Boat article on how Jolie Brise won the 1925 Fastnet Race describes extensive preparations from new sails to polished bottom but says little about the race beyond a mention of “Jolie Brise’s famous liveliness in light airs”. Yachting Monthly in October 1925 could do no better than say “It will be seen from the . . . corrected times, that the Jolie Brise won with comparative ease”. The Pickaxe account is quoted in Major General Sir Gerald Duke’s book, The History of the Royal Engineer Yacht Club.

The rules for the early Fastnet races called for starting East or West out of the Solent depending on the direction of tide and the Fastnet Rock rounding could be either port or starboard. The first three races started East around the Isle of Wight. The 1925 start was off Ryde on the NE corner of Wight in an Easterly breeze so the yachts could soon bear off to Bembridge Ledge off the easternmost point of the Isle, there to run off westward. 7 boats started, Gull crossed the line first followed close by Saladin, a converted Bristol Channel Pilot cutter, 49’ built in 1907, and Fulmar, then North Star, Jessie L, and Banba IV, Jolie Brise over the line last a minute and a half after Gull. The Classic Boat article says of Jolie Brise, “The Spinnaker was huge. On the first day of the Ocean Race it flabbergasted the other crews as Jolie Brise roared her way through the field after a cautious start.” In the Pickaxe telling, “After passing Bembridge Ledge, Gull drew ahead and Jolie Brise ran through the fleet to catch her up.” This was spinnaker work but it did not win the race there. Sunday morning off Start Point, Devon, Ilex and the leaders were moving slowly westward while Saladin had taken an offshore move finding a breeze to move out into the lead. Monday morning Saladin was out of sight of Fulmar as were Jessie L and North Star astern, Jolie Brise and Gull far ahead and Banba far astern. Fulmar’s crew watched Gull and Jolie Breeze sail out of sight. Past Lands End into the Irish Sea, Fulmar sat becalmed in fog much of Monday night but catching a lift at dawn she found herself sailing up to the other three leaders. As General Duke quotes the Pickaxe, “the four lay becalmed until the evening, when Jolie Brise ran right away from the middle of the fleet with a breeze of her own, leaving the other three becalmed for another night. It transpired later that Jolie Brise carried her wind all the way to the Fastnet, and this is what gave her the race.” That was Tuesday, Fulmar, Gull and Saladin still had much racing to come.

After drifting around together through the night and Wednesday morning they finally got a light breeze that built out of the west, driving the three boats to the Southwestern Irish coast where they tacked for Fastnet Rock. Gull, Fulmar and Saladin rounded the rock early Thursday morning, Gull being a mile ahead, the lighthouse keeper signaling that Jolie Breeze had rounded 12 hours earlier. After turning for home the wind increased so as Pickaxe says “the boats really got going for the first time in the race, and during the night had to shorten sail.” Friday morning Gull had extended her lead and Saladin was off to starboard, but in the afternoon the wind drove them north so they came on the Cornish coast north of Lands End. They had to beat through the night to make their Longships lighthouse rounding. Fulmar passed Gull and Saladin working to windward in the night, finishing first with Gull and Saladin following in that order, their handicaps not changing the order. North Star finished half a day later. Banba IV came in after the midnight time limit and Jessie L withdrew near the Fastnet, stopping in Ireland.


Starting in the 1926 Fastnet Race was Ilex, the Royal Engineer’s new acquisition, and Jolie Brise, Gull, Saladin and Banba IV returning for the second edition. They were joined by Altair, listed as a cutter owned by Mrs. Aitken Dick (Altair didn’t finish, was listed as lost but found after search to have retired to an Irish port), Hallowe’en a newly built Fife cruiser-racer (maybe the first of the type), Primrose IV a 1923 50’ Alden schooner sailed from America for the Fastnet by Fredrick Ames (John Alden had won the 1923 Bermuda Race in his 47’ schooner, Malabar IV, and again in 1926 in 54’ Malabar VII), and 1901 Pemboch a 35’ Brittany built yawl, the smallest Fastnet competitor.

For the 1926 Fastnet I have General Duke’s telling out of the Ilex log, but also an article from The Rudder by Warwick Miller Tompkins who sailed the race in the Irish entry, Gull. General Duke begins thus: “The fleet experienced light variable winds most of the way to the Fastnet, with a lumpy and uncomfortable sea, but then a small deep depression brought strong south-westerlies, with rain squalls.Ilex rounded the Rock at 0830 on 17 August to learn that only Hallowe’en was ahead, and two hours later she passed Jolie Brise, still outward bound.” So, for the race to the Rock, detail comes from Warwick Tompkins in Gull. Starting off Cowes, not Ryde, further west in the Solent with a fair light wind, the yachts reached under spinnakers and for Primrose a square sail, out past Spithead to round No Man’s Fort into a freshening breeze. Here Hallowe’en took a southerly tack towards France while the rest beat their way along the Wight coast. Passing St Catherine’s Head, the southern tip on the Isle of Wight, with dusk coming on, Warwick Tompkins says, “Gull hit a soft spot and wallowed there as Saladin streaked past and Primrose, shoving her head into view once more, also went ahead. The last streak of lighted horizon showed Jolie Brise and Ilex far ahead, two tiny specks.”

Tomkins continues, “During the night Gull, utilizing a vagrant breath of land air, overtook Saladin and Primrose. In the early morning we glimpsed Halloween’s lofty Bermudian mainsail and Jolie Brise’s great jack-yarder far ahead. Ilex was gone. Then the day’s wind went to the southward, mist shut us in, and we left Saladin and Primrose far astern as we made our course. That night, Sunday, found us overhauling the leaders by the Start Light. There, to our disgust, the wind left us and we had the doubtful pleasure of again joining Saladin and Primrose as that choice pair ghosted up on a breeze that missed us utterly. On they came, the schooner astern doing best. Meanwhile Jolie Brise, caught by an in-sweeping tidal eddy, was apparently going backward into Start Bay, a manoeuver that delighted us until the same jocular eddy swept the big cutter to sea and a gentle zephyr that took her away on her course. Shortly after this we too got wind and sailed on, leaving Saladin doing the slatting act in the race and Primrose apparently badly off in the bight behind the headland.

“From then on we traveled alone. The Famous Eddystone light appeared ahead, drew abeam and was lost in the grayness astern. The wind stayed ahead, letting us sail a point or so free but persistently bringing weather such that oilskins were essential, and beneath them two or three sweaters.

“Monday, at one thirty P. M., we took our departure from Runnelstone Lightship just off Land’s End. A hundred and seventy-two miles northwest lay the Fastnet Light, and Gull, with a good wind filling every sail we could set, tore on across Bristol Channel, left England’s grayness for sunshine, logged a consistent eight knots, and sailed through a perfect, moonlit night.

“At eight thirty, Tuesday, we sighted brave little Ilex heading back on the home stretch. She was a long way off and bucking hard into the rising seas that were sliding us down their azure faces.

“A lavender mist was hiding us from the nearby Irish Coast when Jolie Brise passed us at a quarter to one, queerly shortened down to mainsail and jib. We wondered what had hurt her.

“Then the Fastnet loomed ahead and we doused the balloon jib, a wet job, and prepared for the sudden jibe around the lonely rock.  The seas were big now, big but gentle to us as long as we ran with them and the slender Gull fairly ate up the few miles between us and the turning stake. Diminutive figures appeared on the high balcony above the rearing surf. Signal flags waved at us. We were too busy just then to heed them.”

Around, headed back, Warwick Tomkins again, “Then, braced against the rigging, I indulged in a semaphoric chat with the light keeper. Halloween, Ilex, and Jolie Brise had rounded, he told us, at one-thirty, eight-thirty, and
ten-thirty that morning. . . .

“Now we were smashing back against a head sea and a head wind, and we were getting no joy-ride. With the wind three points forward of the beam we slogged into great grey-backs, logging better than five nevertheless.

“Twelve miles and a half we battered on before sighting Saladin several miles to starboard. Fifteen minutes later Primrose, lugging all her balloon canvas, standing beautifully straight, and going like a race-horse, tore by within fifty yards of us, as lovely a sea-picture as I’ve ever seen.

“And now Gull, unfortunately has to pass out of this account.” Gull sprang a leak and the mainsail began to disintegrate in the heavy going so they headed for shelter in Ireland, pumping and bucketing through the night.

Meanwhile in the rising gale, Ilex was having her own adventure as told by General Duke from the Ilex log:

“We were racing again now all right, with no cruising inertia left. During the afternoon the wind freshened hourly, with some heavy rain squalls passing overhead. At 2030 sail was reduced to full main and jib, the jackyarder having been taken down during the afternoon. There was the devil in that jackyarder; I am quite convinced that it was only the firm statement by our topmast hand that if he had to stay aloft much longer he was going to be sick regardless of consequences that spurred the crew on deck to get it down at all. When darkness fell, both wind and sea were rising and soaking rain came down in the squalls. Nevertheless, though being driven hard, Ilex was behaving magnificently. By 2230 she had all she wanted and was bumping rather heavily at times.

“The wind becoming very strong, certainly gale force in the gusts, it was decided that she would move faster with a couple of reefs in the main. Accordingly she was hove to at 2330 and, like maggots from a cheese, the members of the REYC emerged on deck to reef. Reefing on a pitch dark night in a gale of wind is an exhilarating experience, certainly rather a novel one, which in the normal way one does not lay oneself open to. Coming from the warmth below into a solid sheet of rain and spray, with the shrill whine of a very strong wind in the rigging and the welter of the sea with phosphorescent breaking wavetops all round, was like coming into another world. Although the night was pitch dark there was no need for light. All that was necessary was supplied by the extraordinary phosphorescence of the breaking water. The reefing proceeded according to plan until nearly completed, when a sudden lurch and wave sent overboard a hand who was aft on the counter. The ship being stationary, he had no difficulty in hanging on to the rail. The skipper, who was at the tiller, saw his predicament, made a dive to haul him out, and slipped over the side as well. Momentarily sans helmsman, Ilex joined in the fun and stayed. The act of staying increased the midnight bathing party to three, a little variety being added by number three keeping hold of the main sheet instead of the rail. Much refreshed, the trio clambered on board again quite easily, and the matter of staying the ship once more was attended to. The inadvertent staying nearly cost us our topmast and mizzen, as it put the boom foul of the preventer and jumper stays. Fortunately the main sheet was hard in, thus preventing any damage.”

The press apparently got hold of the man overboard story, making much of it. The log goes on, “to be painfully truthful none of the ‘anxious comrades’ knew anything about the incident until it was casually mentioned over a tot of rum by one of the victims some half an hour later.

“At 0045 reefing was completed and the ship once more stood on her course, SE by S, with wind SSW and of unabated strength. Under the reduced canvas the ship was undoubtedly sailing faster than before, and riding the seas delightfully easily. We were now entering a steamer track and sighted one or two vessels crossing our path. The job of lookout forward with the heavy rain and sea and resultant poor visibility, was not an easy or a pleasant one, but all things come to an end and at 0315 the wind suddenly dropped, springing up again some ten minutes later from the SW and much moderated. The task of getting more canvas on the ship then began. Four a.m. saw the staysail set once more. By 0530 the reefs were shaken out, followed immediately by the setting of the mizzen and jib header. From dawn of the 18th to the finish we enjoyed a pleasant sailing breeze and bright sunshine, with a rapidly moderating sea. Every now and then came anxiety that the breeze would die away, but, thank goodness, it did not actually fail us. We made our landfall at 0830, Land’s End showing up four points off the port bow. The Wolf Rock was spotted on the starboard bow a quarter of an hour later. At 0910 the yankee jib was set, with the Longships abeam. The Runnelstone was passed at 1010 and a course laid for the Lizard with spinnaker set to starboard. A peaceful run, spent chiefly in drying clothes, took us to within sight of the Eddystone, when we gybed ship to fetch Plymouth.”

The Royal Engineers Yacht Club won the Fastnet on time. Halloween was in first, setting a record time not to be beaten for more than 40 years, but didn’t win. However, as the race was not over with 7 boats still on the course, I go back to Warwick Tompkins’ telling, he an American who loved seeing the Alden schooner do well:

“And now, with this demoniac night, Primrose — the dirty-weather prayers of her crew answered in full — behaved like a sea queen. Just as she reached the Fastnet her balloon jib carried away and hung itself on Cape Clear. Then her bully sailormen halted just long enough to throw a big reef in the main and another in the foresail. “now, lit-em blow off!” said young Ames, as he put her southeast on the trail of the vanished leaders.

“The weather had come late but it had come with a vengeance. A few miles ahead of the American, Saladin was having an increasingly hard time and there was a debate going on aboard her as to whether or not she could be hove-to. Further along Jolie Brise, staunch conqueror of Atlantic gales, victor in a thousand tussles with the Bay of Biscay, fought the gale until it screamed such a warning into the ears of her great captain that he reluctantly trimmed his sheets to windward, lashed the helm hard down, and waited for the fury to blow itself out.

“Spray shrouded the Primrose, rising ghostly over her weather rail and crashing to leeward in unbroken sheets, ringing a tattoo on oilskinned figures huddled in the cockpit and drumming on board-like sails.The mainmast, with the strain of the reefed sail at the middle, whipped like a poplar, and Ames, grimly hanging on to the wheel refused to go forward to look at his stick. He was afraid that he might be induced to heaving to if he saw how she was working. Foolish? you say? Ah! but the man who has the nerve to carry sail wins ocean races and the crew of Primrose had the rich traditions of sail-carrying clipper-ship sailors to uphold. How those old drivers of men and ships would have smiled this night!

“Once a great freighter, shipping the seas green over her fo’c’s’lehead, loomed out of the dark and passed astern while those on her bridge stared incredulously at the roaring schooner.

“Eleven o’clock — six bells by the cheerful ship’s bell — and Biddle crept to the taffrail to read the log. Ten and three-tenths knots the little ship was doing. For two hours now she had kept the pace. I have never heard of a boat with a forty-four foot waterline that went faster. Some while before the sudden calm that came at two in the morning Primrose shot past the struggling Saladin, leaving her miles astern, and showed the steady gleam of her running lights to Jolie Brise. “And now these three ships, shaking out their reefs, jogged on into Plymouth.

“Halloween and Ilex were there ahead of them. The big 12-meter owned and wonderfully sailed by Colonel Baxendale, had crossed the finish line Wednesday morning shortly after nine. Ilex, well within her rating, had breezed in twelve hours later. They lay there now waiting to see what challenger there would be to their pre-eminence.

“Jolie Brise stood in next, having made good use of the light winds she loves, and at four minutes past four she was swinging at anchor, glad of the shelter of Drake’s Island.

“The Royal Engineers were at breakfast when the jaunty Primrose slid into port, trimmed her white wings to the playful morning breeze, and crossed the line. The Engineers forthwith lost their appetites when their Skipper made a mistake, justifiable in view of his consternation, and announced that the Primrose had come within a minute of winning. A subsequent check of his figures altered his margin of victory to thirteen minutes and eight seconds whereat those sea-going Sappers — cheers for them! — breathed more easily. But gloom reigned on Halloween whose chances for second place were rudely crushed by the unexpected arrival of the

“And, so far as Primrose IV is concerned, the Fastnet Race ended. Saladin, the gay comrade of the Yankee throughout the long grind, was next in, her crew yelling congratulations to the boat they had paced over so much of the course. And astern of this black cutter came that marvel of mechanical ingenuity, Banba IV, and tiny Penboch. But for the toughest sort of luck at the Fastnet when the latter’s debonair skipper had been unable to drive his Lilliputian craft around the rock, Penboch would have won.”

“It would be unjust to close this account without referring to the remarkably fine ratings worked out by major Heckstall-Smith. I would point out that every boat that finished did so within fifteen hours (corrected time) of the winner. That speaks for itself.” Warwick Miller Tompkins


In the 1927 Fastnet Race the Royal Engineers again entered Ilex. General Duke’s short account begins thus: “The 1927 Fastnet Race was the first ‘classic’ race from the point of view of weather. It had been a wild summer, and on the evening before the race the committee were considering a postponement of the start the following morning. However the wind moderated and the 15 starters were sent off at 1130 on Saturday, 13 August. As the fleet beat down Channel the wind increased again, and by Monday morning was blowing a full gale from the west-north-west. During the next 24 hours, all the yachts but two were forced to retire.”

In Fore An’ Aft magazine there was an article by Peter Gerard (pen name of Dulcie Kennard who was married at the time or soon after to Maurice Griffiths, also aboard) sailing the race in Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse. Saoirse tried for three days before running back to Cowes in 10 hours. Her tale begins:

“The British ocean race for the Fastnet Cup from Cowes to the S.W. corner of Ireland and back to Plymouth was almost completely marred by bad weather. Only two boats out of fifteen starters succeeded in rounding the Fastnet Rock. These were the schooner La Goleta, 30 tons, and Tally Ho, the English cutter, 29 tons. La Goleta was the first to reach Plymouth on Friday August 19, seven days out from Cowes, and Tally Ho, about an hour later. She, however, was the winner on handicap having been allowed 8 hours, 55 minutes, 25 seconds. The two smallest competitors measured little more than thirty feet or twelve tons (Thames measurement), the largest being the 44-ton cutter Jolie Brise who won the first of these races held two years ago. Nicanor, the second American competitor, 36 tons, was among those forced by the weather to put back before getting out of the English Channel. Her crew said that they never encountered anything approaching such weather in all their twenty days out from Boston across the Atlantic in order to take part.

“What sort of a time they, and the other crews experienced in their individual efforts to lift the cup, no one can rightly know unless they elect to tell us, for within five hours after the start practically all the boats had lost sight of one another and necessarily remained wrapped in little worlds of their own for the remainder of the race. Let them speak!”

Fortunately, they did “speak” from the decks of the two boats that finished. Alfred Loomis described La Goleta’s race in his book Ocean Racing published in 1936. Lord Stalbridge’s account was published in Yachting Monthly.

Loomis on the race start: “In the morning the weather god, who has a sardonic humour, piped down the wind at the hour of the start, so that the postponement signal was not hoisted. We got under way in a moderate southwesterly, setting spinnakers for the run to the forts, and substituting them for reaching sails for the leg around the east end of the Wight. Then the wind began to blow.”

Stalbridge: “We got away with a good start from the line at Cowes under all plain sail and the jib topsail, but Jolie Brise, Nicanor and La Goleta soon passed us on the reach down to No Man’s Fort. It had been a dull, unpropitious morning and raining hard, and the wind was now gradually increasing into a good, stiff blow. We took in the jib topsail and ran close-hauled to Bembridge Ledge Buoy, but after rounding this mark the race resolved itself into a dead beat right away down till clear of the Sevenstone Lightship.” Sevenstones Lightship is past Lands End and 200 miles away, many miles beating into a gale! Only four boats got that far.

Loomis again: “Off St. Catherines it was blowing right pert. It was said that a sea swept us end to end, but that was before I staggered out. The fleet was scattering. Jolie Brise and Tally Ho were out ahead of us, and so was Nicanor. Saoirse, the ketch-schooner, whose name is Gaelic for freedom, was freely sagging off toward France. O’Brien had sailed her around the world, but he had never sailed her to the famous Rock in a Fastnet race. He never did. For three days he tacked forth and back across the Channel and then he upped his helm and returned to the Solent.

“For this was no race for semi-square-rigged boats. Nor for small yachts intended for sea-keeping rather than sea-going. Nor yet for yachts whose seams were soft and whose gear was aging. See how the list goes. Maitenes, Altair, Morwenna, Spica, Shira, Nelly, Penboch, Thalassa, and Ilex never reached the Lizard, and all put in to leeward ports.
Maitenes split her mainsail.
So did Altair.
Morwenna shifted a dinghy on deck which injured a man internally.
Spica’s bilge pump failed.
Shira couldn’t keep up with her leak.
Nelly and Pemboch, game little 12-tonners, wore out their game crews.
Thalassa blew out her headsails.
Ilex, the hard-driven yawl of the hard-driving Engineers, opened her seams in addition to blowing out her headsails.

“So, before the race is three days old, whom have we left in this jolly boating weather? Only Jolie Brise, Nicanor, Content, La Goleta, and Tally Ho. And still the wind god puffs his cheeks and blows down on the labouring fleet.”

Stalbridge, after the weathering of St. Catherine’s: “We now made a long leg of it into Christchurch Bay and fetched Poole Fairway by about 6:30 p.m. As the flood was against us, we short-tacked in shore down to Anvil Point and, keeping along the coast, weathered St Alban’s Head about midnight. Here we made a bad mistake as the wind had increased, and we decided to take in one reef in the mainsail, which lost us, of course, a certain amount of time. No sooner had we taken in the reef when the wind inclined to moderate, but as it was midnight we decided to let her run on during the middle watch under a reefed mainsail and a topsail, as we thought that if the wind increased we could easily get the topsail off her.

“It was now my watch below and, coming on deck at 4 a.m., I was pleased to find that we had weathered Portland Race and Portland Light was well abeam, so we shook out the reef and stood away on a long leg across the West Bay. By eight o’clock we were well across the bay and could make out the Jolie Brise close under the land off Teignmouth, with the Nicanor ahead of us and to windward. Ilex abeam of us and La Goleta on our weather quarter.

“All that afternoon we beat down under the land to Start Point which we weathered about 6 p.m. and then began a long series of tacks against the wind and tide to the Eddistone Lighthouse. At midnight we were some three miles to the east of the Eddistone and at 4 a.m., when I turned in, we were the same distance to the westward of it.

“We then made another long leg past Fowey and stood right into the land by Dodman’s Head. The wind by this time had got pretty well round to WNW and was blowing hard with fierce gusts, and we could just make out Jolie Brise some way ahead, nearly down to The Manacles. We tacked down under the land and off St. Anthony’s managed to get ahead of both Nicanor and Ilex; Spica, or at all events what we took to be Spica, and La Goleta were some little way astern. About 11a.m., just as we were approaching The Manacles, we saw a yacht ahead, evidently coming toward us, and as she approached, to our surprise it turned out to be the Jolie Brise. We could not think what had happened, but surmised that the weather was too much for her off the Lizard, and this proved to be correct, as she sailed close to us and when we asked her what it was like she said she had had to heave-to and that it was too bed. Now was our chance, as, knowing from the experiences in a gale in the Bay of Biscay what a wonderful sea-boat the Tally Ho was, and confident in our sails and gear, we thought that by reefing her down and making things ship-shape we might be able to weather the Lizard, and if so would catch the tide and be a tide ahead of any of our competitors who failed to do so.

“So we hove-to and double-reefed the mainsail, reefed the foresail and set our storm jib. We also got out the canvas covers for the skylights and the hatches and lashed them down securely, and put some more lashings on our dinghy and our spare spars and thus made ourselves as snug and as comfortable and watertight as we possibly could be. During the course of these operations Nicanor came alongside and spoke us and I told them what the Jolie Brise had told us. They apparently decided to run for the shelter of the land. Ilex, on the other hand, sailed past us into the foaming deep and would not wait to reef — a course of action we all greatly admired, but somewhat doubted the possibility of its success. A doubt which was soon afterwards confirmed, and we got a glimpse through the flying spray of Ilex running back under head-sails and mizen only.

“As we approached the Lizard we began to feel the full force of wind and sea and as we stood further out it was indeed enough to make you think. One big comber hit her and made her shiver throughout, sending a sheet of spray clean over the mainsail, but still she forged ahead and, choosing our time, we came about quite easily. Just after this I saw an extraordinary sight; a big oil tanker was steaming into it and as she lifted we could see her keel from forefoot to well abaft her foremast and then as she dipped, the propeller and practically the whole of her rudder came clear out of the water. This will give you some idea of the size of the sea that was running.

“We had to make two more tacks to weather the Lizard, but by 4 p.m. we had cleared it and were standing into Mount’s Bay. As we got nearer Penzance we felt the shelter of the land and the sea moderated, but the wind, on the other hand, appeared to increase in force and it worked round to the northwest. In the circumstances and in view of the fact that none of the others, as far as we could see, had rounded the Lizard, nor would be likely to round it that night, and also that we should have a foul tide and a head wind off the Longships, and that it would be folly to attempt to beat out there that night, as in all probability we should most certainly have had to heave-to and with the wind and tide against us would have drifted a long way back, I therefore decided to run into Newlyn Roadsteads and anchor until there was a chance of beating out round the Longships. I gave our sailor-men a night in while the amateurs stood anchor watches in the cabin: which, taken on the whole, was a far more comfortable and probably equally profitable way of spending the night than being hove-to off the Longships.

“At 6 a.m. the wind moderated a good deal and by 6:30 we were under way again,, but when we got down to the Longships there was still a big sea running. None of the other competitors was in sight and the question which exercised our minds was: could they have possibly passed us in the night or were we still well ahead? All that day we beat out into the Irish Channel, and by 10 p.m. we were about 6 miles north-west of the Sevenstones. The wind had now hauled round to the south-west and for the first time we could lay our course, with a nice sailing breeze and a fine night.”

“While Tally Ho was rounding the Lizard, anchoring for the night, Nicanor put in to Falmouth and La Goleta hove-to under the land all night. Alf Loomis continued his narrative: “In the morning we carried on. So in the afternoon did Nicanor, Simonds having ridden a bicycle down the headland until he could see for himself how bad it was. But she was now short-handed, and when her gaff broke midway to the Fastnet, discouragement overtook her and she definitely quit the race. That left three.

“Content, only nineteen tons, gave us the scare of our lives, as, on the evening of the forth day, we lay becalmed off the Runnelstone in a lull between two gales. She was only ten miles astern of us, and we allowed her twenty hours! But because of an error attributed to a faulty compass Content, whose owner was not aboard, made the coast of Ireland to leeward of the Old Head of Kinsale and withdrew at Cobh.

“So there were two of us — Tally Ho and La Goleta, as evenly matched as two boats of different rig and nationality can be. The cutter, a modified Falmouth quay punt, designed by Albert Strange, measured 44 feet, 3 inches w.l. The schooner’s like measurement was 39 feet. La Goleta’s overall length was 54 feet; Tally Ho’s was 47 feet, 7 inches. The beam of each was 12 feet and the drafts were nearly identical at 7 feet, 4 for the schooner and 7 feet, 6 for the cutter. With 1660 square feet of sail the cutter topped us only 110 feet. The one major difference — and that an eminently fair one under average conditions — was that La Goleta allowed Tally Ho 4 hours, 57 minutes for the course. But if it was anybody’s weather — which I doubt — it was Tally Ho’s.

“From the start as the field narrowed boat by boat these two had fought a dingdong battle. She walked away from us at St. Catherines and she again passed us at the Start, ourselves unaware of having led her in the interim. The night we hove to in the lee of the Lizard she lay snug at anchor in Newlyn around the head. In the middle of what is miscalled the Irish Channel we sighted her to weather and in six hours of sailing brought her abaft the beam. We had a fresh breeze from the southwest to take the place of the whole gale we had recently worn out, and we were making knots with all a schooner’s reaching canvas. Then with her squaresail [sic, no sign of squaresail or yard in Tally Ho pictures and likely confused with the big spinnaker] set, Tally Ho got a cutter’s breeze from nearly astern and walked away from us.”

Back to Lord Stalbridge as they reached across toward the Fastnet Rock: “At dawn the next morning we sighted a white Sail far astern, which we thought was Nicanor. By 3 p.m., favoured by this fine reaching wind all day, she was abeam of us. It was now a lovely day and perfect sailing conditions — a nice south-westerly breeze and a good long swell — but the glass was dropping fast, so evidently we had not yet finished with our bad weather. We got a sight this morning and a latitude at noon, but at 3 p.m. no more sights were possible, as it clouded over and came on to rain. By 6 p.m. we reckoned that the Fastnet bore north-half-east 11 miles, but as it was very thick and the visibility was scarcely two miles we decided to stand in slightly to the east so as to be sure of making the light.

“The schooner, in the meantime, had passed under out lee heading rather across our bows and was now to the westward of us. About this time she also must have come to the conclusion that the Fastnet was to the eastward of her, as she altered course and came in on the same course as ourselves, which put her about a mile astern of us.

“At 8.30 p.m. we reckoned that the light must be not more than three miles away, but so bad was the visibility that we could not even see the loom of any land. Just after this, however, we thought we could make out the loom of land straight ahead, and a few moments later the lighthouse lit up and there it was straight ahead of us, about three miles off. But by this time the wind had dropped to practically a calm and about 10 o’clock the American schooner came alongside and hailed us. To our surprise she proved t be La Goleta and not the Nicanor, so then we were practically certain that none of the others was ahead of us. We then got a puff of air and drifted ahead of her and rounded the Fastnet at 1.20 a.m., barely a quarter of a mile ahead of La Goleta.”

Loomis finishes the race from the Rock: “ We dropped into a barometric low near the Fastnet, breeder of future gales and cussedness accompanied by fog and calm. In stealthy rushes as vagrant airs picked us up we tracked down the light and sailed around it at midnight, Tally Ho in the lead. This would have been a good time for us to quit, for in the philosophy just quoted, the important part of the race was over and we must, as it were, start again with her full time allowance of five hours against us.

“But Lieutenant-Commander John Boyd, RN., my co-navigator, assured us when the wind struck in from the north-east that it never blew a gale from that direction in Irish waters. So there seemed little use of quitting. Two hours later when it was blowing a gale from that quarter and Boyd was laughing it off, and when La Goleta was down to her cabin house before we could yank a few rags off her it seemed like a good chance for sailing for Plymouth. We sailed. It blew Force 9 that night and pushed La Goleta along at six knots under foresail and forestaysail. But in the morning it moderated and backed, after some uncertainty, into the northwest. Then the wind slowly fell away to come in as a lovely sailing breeze at noon.

“We decked her out in cotton again and watched the wake snake out astern, swift and foam-flaked. Bill Tallman, shaved and brushed, fell overboard and was hauled back again, minus one boot but with an extinguished cigar in his mouth and an apologetic expression on his
cheerful face.

“In the afternoon we sighted and again overhauled our dogged competitor. She had made money when it blew sixty miles an hour and now we were taking it from her in a reaching breeze. We worked ahead under mainsail, balloon fisherman, and reaching jib, and at nightfall when the log showed ten knots and even more we carried this press of sail.

“Only the skipper, Boyd, and a young American named Marshall Rawle touched the wheel that night. There were six of us on deck, sitting alert to anticipate a call for all hands. We had to gain five hours on Tally Ho and there was no telling when either of us might be dismasted. At ten the ballon fisherman was taken in as Peverley blanketed it with the mainsail. Nine years have passed but I have not forgotten that next hour as we sat by watching wind, sea, and speed increase and attempted with delicacy to estimate the exact moment beyond which it would be humanly impossible to remain on the bowsprit while hanking the reaching jib. It was said that we bettered eleven knots in that hour, and while I doubt it now I was ready to believe it then.

“Oh, well. The reacher came in, and though they gnawed at our heels the seas swept nobody from the bowsprit — thanks chiefly to Pev’s masterly steering. And the forestaysail was set and we continued to make knots.

“Then in the middle watch we sighted Pendeen before picking up the Longships and as we were now running dead off we had to sail by the lee to clear the Runnelstone. It was my watch below after we had made certain of our landfall, and I don’t know how Pev did that job of steering. But I do know that I slept undisturbed and fitfully at five second intervals — content as we rolled to leeward and troubled as we invited a jibe with our alternate roll to weather.

“For all the blood we sweat that cold and wave-swept night, daylight showed us Tally Ho still in sight astern. So, mindful always that we were giving her five hours, or forty miles, that first sight of her squaresail (sic?) in the morning light marked the climax of the race. We averaged eight knots from the Runnelstone to the finish line north of Drakes Island, but we beat our sole remaining competitor by only forty-two minutes, and lost the race. Tally Ho’s corrected time was 5 days, 18 hours, 8 minutes.”

Lord Stalbridge’s telling of the passage from Fastnet to Plymouth: “The glass was now down to 29.3 and we were palpably in the center of a depression, large or small, of course we had no means of telling, but I fear that standing into a lee shore in thick weather and a falling glass was not an act of great seamanship. However you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs; we were out to win the Fastnet Race if we could, so we were out to take some chances and luckily they came off as, no sooner were we clear of the Fastnet, than it began to blow hard for the north-east, and from 2 to 4 a.m. that morning I think we had as big a bucketing as at any time, as the wind was against the sea. Yet we had to drive her along for all we were worth, not only to beat La Goleta, but to get sea room. And drive her we did, more under water than over I fear, but by 4 a.m. it had got too bad and we had to heave-to and reef again. However we managed to jill her along and by 10 a.m. the wind had moderated and veered round to just west of north.

“We passed the Sevenstones at 4 a.m. and the Longships soon afterwards. Here we passed four or five French fishing vessels, all hove-to, and there was a really big following sea, which made steering anything but an easy job. However at 8.25 we made our number to the Lizard and hauled up for Ram Head. Under the lee of the land the sea moderated and we all had time to have a shave and a general clear-up before arriving at Plymouth. We set our jib topsail to help us in and crossed the finishing line some 50 minutes behind the American, but nearly 4 hours ahead of him on time. We lowered our sails and the King’s Harbour Master’s launch kindly towed us to our moorings on one of the Admiralty buoys, and then came a flood of congratulations and many hearty cheers from La Goleta’s gallant crew.”

Alfred Loomis gets in a last word: “This contest between Tally Ho and La Goleta was characterized at the time as the hardest fight between two yachts that had ever been sailed in English waters over so long a course and under such heavy weather conditions. As an epilogue I may say that certain journalists on both sides of the water were condemned for pointing out that while fifteen started all but two quit. We may have erred in our outspokenness. But we may have excited a keener appreciation of what ocean racing is. For in 1931, when they also had a heavy weather Fastnet, seventeen started and all but two finished.”


Today Jolie Brise is owned by Dauntsey’s a co-educational boarding and day school in Wiltshire on the Salisbury Plain, UK, maintained and operated by the Dauntsey’s School Sailing Club. Dauntsey’s leased her from the Essex Maritime Museum from 1977 until 2003, when they offered to sell her to the school. In 2013 she sailed the Fastnet Race again with Club students as crew. The Dauntsey’s website contains this quote from Toby Marris, Dauntsey’s Head of Sailing: “Under Dauntsey’s, the boat has sailed approximately 175,000 nautical miles (three quarters of the distance to the moon) with 6,500 pupils as her bold crew.” As far as I can tell some repair and regular maintenance has kept her in sailing trim her 103 years.

Ilex was owned after 1971 by Salvadore Dali’s personal secretary. She was found in a sad state twenty years later in northeastern Spain by German Ruiz, her present owner, who acquired her from Mr Moore and then had her rebuilt, returning her to top condition and her original rig, gaff cutter. She is now sailing out of Palma, Majorca. There is a grand Youtube of Ilex sailing:

Tally Ho sits under cover in the Port of Brookings, Oregon, boat yard waiting for an interested party able to bring about her restoration. Through the 1950s into the 60s she was a family cruising boat out of the south of England. In the late 60s she was sailed to the Caribbean and then into the Pacific by a New Zealander. Damaged on and coming off a reef, she was rebuilt at Rarotonga. Brought to Hawaii she was bought by an Oregon fisherman in the early 1970s and fished the Pacific out of Brookings for twenty years before being abandoned there. Bought from the Port by a local craftsman, some restoration was done on her before he died unexpectedly. She is now the property of the Albert Strange Association
which has her listed for sale as a restoration project:


I could not have put together this account of the early Fastnet races without the help of the staff at the WoodenBoat magazine library who found for me the article by Warwick Miller Thompkins in the November 1926 The Rudder and in the October 1927 issue of Fore An’ Aft the article by Peter Gerard as well as M. Heckstall-Smith’s Outlook in the October 1925 Yachting Monthly recounting the early history of the Race. To find these articles Queene Foster had the pleasure of looking through their periodical collection filled with great stories.

Most important due to the apparent lack of other descriptions of the 1925 race was my contact with the Royal Engineer Yacht Club. Helen Stamp sent my request on to Andrew Douglas who kindly told me of Major General Sir Gerald Duke’s book, The History of the Royal Engineer Yacht Club, published by Geoffrey Tulett and Associates, Bob Lane, Twineham, West Sussex. I was fortunate enough to find a copy for sale.

The Lord Stalbridge and Alf Loomis articles are found in the Albert Strange Association Yearbook of 1980, found in Vol 1 of the collected ASA Yearbooks available through the ASA website,

c Thad Danielson


jolie-brise-1Jolie Brise, Rosenfeld Collection

Ilex, 1927, Beken of Cowesilex-1927-fastnet-start

Tally Ho, 1927, Beken of Cowes betty-1927-small



SEA HARMONY, Suffling and Woods History

8 Dec



When I became keeper of the 33′ Albert Strange yawl SEA HARMONY in 1999 I tried to find what I could about the Sufflings and Ernest Woods, as well as becoming increasingly interested in Albert Strange.  While personal information about Albert Strange comes mostly through a few photographs and knowledge of his associates, friends and family, his writings, paintings, and boat designs demonstrate his knowledge, skill, and accomplishments.  I say “increasing interest” because the more I have sailed Sea Harmony the more I have been impressed with her capabilities and the thought that went into her design.  Strange drew the lines for Venture and the sail plan in 1917 and died before completing any other elements of the design.

The story of the development of this design that I got with the boat was that the Suffling brothers, H. J. and N. R., had been cruising in company in smaller Harrison Butler boats and had ideas about a boat in which they could cruise together.  They began a dialog with Butler in Yachting Monthly into which Strange entered.  Butler suggested that the Sufflings get Strange to refine and complete their plan, which they did, with Strange completing what he did of the Venture design, at which point the Sufflings took over the story.

The bones of my reading of Venture’s story is that H. J. Suffling (who’s sketched lines for Venture were given to Strange) had VENTURE built in 1920, their new venture.  In 1922 N. R. Suffling had CHARM, a 33′ enlargement of Venture, built by E. L. Woods, charmed by Venture but wanting to cruise with more than just the two of them.  In 1925 Woods built a 40′ enlargement of Venture, Charm II, still charmed by their venture but wanting even more crew capacity.  In 1937, N. A. Suffling, who turns out to be son to one of the earlier Suffling brothers, had E. L. Woods build SEA HARMONY, going back to the 33′ length he knew to be harmonious in the seaway.

The Sufflings were described as timber merchants as well as serious cruisers, explaining the quality of materials in the Suffling boats, but barely.  That’s all I knew so I started looking on the internet and saw fishing, not timber.  I looked for people.  If you Google [Suffling] you will come up with many items on Canadian forestry and ecology carrying the name Roger Suffling.  I sent him an email.  He had no knowledge of the Great Yarmouth Sufflings but he had interesting input, saying that being fish dealers and fishing boat owners the need of fish boxes put you in the timber business.

Ernest Woods part in this story had it’s own mystery.  The Charms were built at Cantley on the Yare.  Woods built Sea Harmony at Horning on the Bure 12 years after Charm II, and mention of this change occasioned the comment, “Did he move?” as though this was unlikely and there was some mistake.  Over the years that I have sailed Sea Harmony I have periodically searched for more information and recently these questions have arisen again leading to yet more searching, and more answers.  On the Ernest Woods side, I found
“Around 1927 Ernest Woods followed the yachting to the North River and moved his yard to the outskirts of Horning.”  Simple.  Not the move I am sure, but it accounts for the change of location.

In 1909 and 1917, Yachting Monthly published designs for yawls, 34′ and 28′, by H. J. Suffling.  I suspect the 28’er of 1917 was the draft Albert Strange started with in designing the 29′ Venture.  In the website for the restoration on the yacht MEMORY [] I find this information from the Harrison Butler Association:

“1912 built by Ernest Woods of Cantley, Norfolk for H J Suffling Esq. of Marine Parade North, Great Yarmouth.  A member of the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club and Great Yarmouth Sailing Club.”

I might wonder why, with this previous experience of working with Ernest Woods, H. J. (I have yet to find the names behind the initials) had VENTURE built by A. Wooden at Oulton Broad, maybe proximity to Lowestoft.  Not only don’t I know H. J.’s names, I don’t know when he was born.  In the 1871 census the father, Norford Suffling, auctioneer and fish seller, was 38 (born 1833) and Norford Reeve Suffling(N. R.) was 4 (born 1867).  I presume H. J. was not yet born.  In 1904 Norford Suffling (the father presumably?) was an Alderman member of the council of Great Yarmouth.  Something I saw today said in 1909 N. R. tried unsuccessfully to sell 6 fishing trawlers.  There is a vessel most recently known as GRETHE WITTING built at Lowestoft in 1914 as the Norford Suffling, a steam drifter, after WWII she became a sailing vessel most recently doing luxury charters in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean until caught in a Romanian legal tangle, sunk through neglect, raised but essentially destroyed — presumably she was built for the Suffling family fishing business.

So, Norford Reeve Suffling had CHARM built by Ernest Woods in 1922, at Cantley.  Following their first cruise in CHARM, N.R. wrote a description for Yachting Monthly.  First he gives a description of CHARM, then a paragraph on VENTURE, built for his brother in 1919 which they cruised in 1920 and 1921.  “She (VENTURE) was quite large enough for two, but when a nephew left the Air Force and my son the Navy we needed a larger boat.  We were so surprised at the fine sea qualities of little Venture that I decided I could not do better than build from the same design, increasing the size to six tons.”  For the cruise “Lowestoft to Falmouth and Back in a 6-tonner” the crew was his brother, his nephew, and himself.

CHARM II (40′ expansion of Venture) is described as built for “Suffling and Partners”.  More mysteries, but on to SEA HARMONY starting with another mystery only partly solved.  In some previous writings I have seen the “N. A.” of N. A. Suffling questioned as an error but I now know that Norford Arthur Suffling had E. L. Woods build SEA HARMONY at his yard in Horning.  I also know that N. A. was son to one of the earlier Suffling brothers, I just don’t know which one.  It would be nice in some ways to think him H. J.’s son, crew with his father on that first CHARMing cruise.

A few years ago I got an email from a Scottish engineer asking if my Sea Harmony was the Sea Harmony his father in law had known out of Great Yarmouth when he was a teenager.  The father in law was having memory problems, but had fond memories of sailing in SEA HARMONY with his friend and his friend’s father, N. A. Suffling who had had SEA HARMONY built.  This information also had the sad note that the father had died quanting SEA HARMONY in the Broads.  I do wonder and suspect that the boys were aboard on that occasion.  The death of her husband broke the wife’s heart and she sold the boat.  Internet search finally, today, brought up the date of Norford Arthur Suffling’s death in the records of the steam drift trawler YOUNG JACOB YH68 of which he was part owner, August 13, 1953.

The 1958 Lloyds Register of Yachts lists the owner of SEA HARMONY as R. W. Hurst, kept at Chichester, having had a Stuart Turner petrol engine installed in 1954.  This fits the sale of the boat after August 1953.  When Lad Lavichka and Paul Jones bought SEA HARMONY in 1974 she was at Chichester owned by Mr. Hurst, a London lawyer who was said to have cruised SEA HARMONY with his wife to France for 2 weeks every summer.

That pretty well covers what I know of the history of SEA HARMONY up to 1974, when she was sailed away from England for her American sojourn.


Trailering a traditional built boat

8 Feb

Trailering a Traditionally Built Boat

The first issue that comes up under the above heading is always leaking.  Most are convinced there’s no way around it making the whole concept impossible.  I advocate copious raw linseed oil application during construction to maximize plank stability.  Carvel built boats benefit from wetting down prior to launch with application a day or two   before usually plenty.  Lapstrake might want wetting too but will usually do much better.  I have put newspaper from keel up the planks and poured water on the paper getting the paper down onto the planks between timbers.  At first the water drains out through the seams but the paper stays damp.  Soon swelling has closed enough leaks for some water to pool in the bilge.  With water in the bilge the paper wicks it up and stays damp to keep working.  Well caulked and oiled this may not be necessary.  Once tightened up planks will keep their moisture for some days.  On to trailers, especially trailers that don’t need to submerge.  Here I’m talking about straight keel and flat bottom boats, fins and built down keels need other solutions, generally.

Sam and Susan Manning have a 19’ Maine Dory of Sam’s design and build that they trail on a flat bed trailer with a pipe roller across the back edge of the trailer bed.  Using wooden rollers to move the boat out of the water at a ramp or other launch site it is not hard for a small group of people to work the dory bottom onto the roller and then onto the trailer.  Other rollers will help adjust the load if needed.  With a winch pulling, the dory stem would roll up with the rest of the boat to follow as long as you are secured to your boats strength, you don’t want to pull the stem off the boat.  This works in reverse for launching.  With a steep enough ramp and deep enough water you might well just roll off the trailer at water’s edge.

My other lesson in trailers and launching came from Lee Van Gemert, former Snipe and  Indian class champion sailor.  When Lee was about 75 he got an old Indian, a 21’ racing dory.  He still had the trailer he had put together for an Indian long since sold.  The trailer was (again) a flat bed type almost as long as the boat.  Using a couple of 12’ long pieces of 3” aluminum tube and a long bolt he made sheer legs from which to hang a block and tackle.  He also bolted a two speed winch to one leg for extra lifting power and a cleat below the winch to belay.  A light but strong line between the feet of the legs ensured against spread.  I have made the same structure with stiff wood legs (red cedar trunks) rope lashed at the top.

With this rig Lee was now ready to load or launch his Indian as they had done in his younger days.  They would have a strong box higher than the skeg or counter overhanging the trailer.  Lee had boxes, milk crates in fact.  With sheerlegs straddling the boats stern, block lanyard belayed to the stern cleat, the boat’s stern would be hoisted up to be set down on the box.  Unhitched, the sheer legs were moved to the bow.  With legs spread wide enough for the trailer to roll past, belay was set to the mooring cleat on deck and the bow lifted until the trailer was free to be pulled out from under the suspended boat.  With trailer gone and bow lowered to ground, the stern could be lifted from it’s box and lowered to leave the whole boat grounded.  With tide enough and rising the boat would float soon enough.  Otherwise, rollers work.  At the Squantum Yacht Club, a simple building on piles over the beach where Lee was a lifelong member, they still launch their dry sailed boats this way.  Retrieval again reversed the procedure.  One end lifted from deck or rail level, gravity keeps the vessel upright.  The other end on trailer, box or ground, gravity anchors the swinging legs from tipping.

The Alden designed Massachusetts Bay Indian was a development from Charles Drown Mower’s 1898 and 1911 21‘ racing dory designs which raced as the X-class.  When I built Mower’s 21‘ racing dory using the 1898 plans I needed a workable trailering arrangement.  I had a flat bed trailer with wheel wells too high for the boat with it’s wide bottom to sit on the bed but long enough to put the center of gravity near the wheels.  It wasn’t hard to build up the bed to account for the wheel wells.  I had inherited Lee’s sheer legs, so I was ready to go after making a folding saw horse type support for the stern.  Works beautifully.  I don’t get the trailer wet.  To secure the boat on the trailer I lash down each side fore and aft, and because it is an open boat I also tie the rails together so bumping on the road doesn’t pull the rails apart.  I also cross lines under the bow and stern to keep the boat centered as we ride along.  I have the rig in a bag lashed along the boat’s center line from bow to stern.  Here are pictures of the boat hanging for illustration:

hanging dory 2hanging dory

My History with the 1898 Mower 21′ Racing Dory

5 Feb

Charles Drown Mower’s 1898 Racing Dory for the Swampscott Club


Unexpected things happen, sometimes out of the blue and sometimes from right under one’s nose.

20 years or so ago David Clark (Englishman, Marblehead contractor) came to my shop in Marblehead saying there was a boat shop up at Fort Sewell that was being turned into a playhouse, the museums and antique dealers had been through it, and there was still boat stuff in it.  Everything was going to the dump and I should go and take anything I wanted.

This was the boat shop of Bill and Sam Brown.  Of course I went, towing my trailer. There were some old drawers with mostly broken or partial boat parts. There were the steam boxes and the wood fired candy stove that fired the boiler. There was the planking bench whose parts I took, AND there was this tight roll of “paper” up in the eaves over the planking bench.  This last was exciting, but I had to load and unload what I could save ahead of David’s workers before I could study this find.

The “paper” turned out to be drafting linen, three sheets, with Mower’s pencil drawings from 1898 (the lines dated Dec. 16, the construction dated Dec. 18) and 1899 (sail plan dated Mar. 14).  Mower was from Winthrop, had built himself a “successful” boat, and had been worked as draftsman for Arthur Binney and then B. B. Crowninshield when he got this commission.  In the Summer of 1899 he took the job of design editor at The Rudder and moved to NY.  In 1911 Mower updated the 21′ dory, this time for broadly described Massachusetts Bay not just for the Swampscott Club, this time a decked boat — the earlier boats are reported to have had decks added after the first season.

I found that the Swampscott Club still existed and took the drawings to show the group there, but this was now a social club across the street from the water. They knew some of the club’s sailing history with these dories, but were not much interested. They called it the X Dory and said they got decked early on. This has been substantiated in Matt Murphy’s book of Willard Jackson photographs, GLASS PLATES AND WOODEN BOATS, pages 36-37 with the 1907 image of SUNNY JIM and pages 68-69 picturing X-Dory Start from 1903.

I took the drawings to Mystic Seaport Museum, showing them to Peter Vermilya, Small Craft Curator, who with Plans Department staff made copies of the drawings, one for the Seaport collection. Peter’s first comment was to the effect that I had to build this boat. I also got from the Seaport library a copy of the Feb. 1900 article about the boats and the design, almost certainly written by Mower though unsigned. I also gave a copy to the Peabody Museum in Salem, MA, holders of Sam Brown’s design collection.

This design is important as C. D. Mower’s first commissioned design, the first of a long career in which he designed many beautiful and otherwise noteworthy vessels. This design came at the beginning of an era of 21’ dory racing with clubs like the Beachcomber in Marblehead and the Alpha in Salem, as well as the club in Swampscott, and this design itself is simply beautiful. I had the drawings matted and framed to hang on the wall.

Why was the Mower Drawing in the Brown shop?  I knew Sam had designed the Yankee Dory, a later 18’er, and I thought that might have been a particular point of interest. Then, discussing the Mower I was asked about it’s relationship to the Chamberlain gunning dory, a double ended rowing boat, and I got out John Gardner’s article about the Chamberlain Beachcomber, another 21‘ racing dory designed in 1898.  Gardner says,
“Chamberlain built superior dories, and won races and cups sailing them.  Yet when the Beachcomber Dory Club was formed on the Marblehead waterfront sometime in the 1890s, Chamberlain may not have been sole builder of club dories.  There is evidence that, at first, members’ boats and rigs were far from being uniform.  But evidently Chamberlain’s model soon became standard and had no competition until about 1912 when a young dory sailor by the name of Sam Brown, later to become a successful naval architect, designed the Outlaw for Ed Murphy.”

Gardner goes on to talk about Ben Tutt saying Outlaw was responsible for breaking up the Beachcomber Club, although it did carry on into the 30’s with design changes aimed at competing with the Outlaw.  Gardner doesn’t talk in great detail, but the details mentioned — flatter sheer, broader, heavier, etc. — sounded more like the Mower design than Chamberlain’s.  Contacting Dan Finamore at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem I found they have the Outlaw drawings and arranged to look at them.

Placing the Outlaw body plan between the Beachcomber and the 1898 Mower, it seems very likely that Sam Brown worked from the Mower in working up his design. The Beachcombers being narrower with a smaller sail plan, Sam Brown’s garboard is narrower, but the deadrise is about 20 degrees, to Chamberlain’s 30 and Mower’s 16. Then the Beachcomber plank line is nearly straight to the chine below the second plank down, while Brown has a wider garboard on that lower line to distinct chines below each of the three topside planks. Outlaw’s stem also has more of the extension seen in Mower’s design, fairing into the line of the bottom where Chamberlain’s stem takes an angle up from the bottom and is shorter.

So (again), now I think Sam Brown had these drawings in 1912 when he built the Outlaw and that’s why they were in the shop.  Black on the edge from soot and time, and covered with dust, they might well have been untouched since 1912, lying under the eaves waiting for me just as Gardner’s information was waiting on my book shelf.

When C. D. Mower drew updated plans of the racing dory for Massachusetts Bay in 1911 he made some changes that seem to make it easier for the builder and might encourage building the boat, included scantlings and offsets missing entirely from the earlier plan, and included a deck slightly different from the decks that had been added to the earlier boats. He also drew a narrower bottom board with more rocker and added a plank, eliminating the earlier broad garboard, giving it a fuller round bottom. With deck for rigidity the only thwart left braces the centerboard trunk, this was a racing boat meant for class racing not for sitting around, designed to be built to rule widely, not just by the Swampscott builder given the contract for the earlier boat. In 1911, Mower was 36, not 23, but his earlier dory was still impressive enough for the Massachusetts Bay Racing Association to ask for updated plans. Boats built to the earlier design continued to race with the updated design boats all under the MBRA X-Class rule, they are that similar.

Carrying the development story further, when Lee Van Gemert saw the 1898 Mower drawings he said, that’s where the Indian came from. In 1921 members of the Massachusetts Bay Racing Association and the Eastern Yacht Club went to John Alden asking for a design based on the 1911 Mower dory, for their children. Sam Crocker working for Alden produced the Indian design. With her wide transom, skeg hung rudder and 30 foot mast, the Indian is a much more powerful boat. Too much boat for the kids, the original fleet of 6 built by Chamberlain in Marblehead were sold before the year was out to sailors from the south of Boston. The Indian became the largest sailing class in Massachusetts Bay, popular many other places as well.

Mower dory sail plan

All this is very interesting, but these drawing are beautiful and more importantly the boat is drawn beautifully. There are a few little black marks on the sheets where Mr. Mower rubbed his pencil lead back and forth to get a sharp point, a little personal detail. But, with the “update” of 1911, and lately only the small scale images in The Rudder available, I think it likely there have been none of these boats built for more than 100 years. Such an elegant design deserves recognition but even more it cries out to be sailed, which I finally mean to do.


With no offsets given, they must be measured on the lines plan. Using the water line as the base line, instead of drawing my own baseline, heights are measured as positive and negative numbers. Typical of dory design, stations are set at frame positions, and it seemed clear by comparing the lines and construction drawings that the lines were drawn to the inside of the planks. The plans for the 1911 dory show measurements for all the backbone parts so lofting is not required, but I lofted, to fair the lines from my measurements and to take bevels off the lofting. Not having 21’ of floor I lofted on 14’ sections of rosin paper. From the lofting I expanded the transom to it’s full size, inside and out, overlaid on tracing paper, and took half breadth and length measurements for the bottom board, inside and out. I also made traced patterns for the frames and stem, with bevels shown.

Planing white oak stock to 1 7/8” for the stem and 7/8” for the frames, marks were made from the tracings and lines drawn. The frames were to be joined on the station lines so bevels were to be cut opposite for each side, bottom bevels cut to bring frames plumb off bottom board rocker, plank landings beveled to match the arc of the planks. With lines drawn on my stock it was off to a friends bandsaw to make the cuts. Bringing the pieces home I planed to my lines and riveted frame pairs together, making sure bottom board widths were on station and centerlines marked, plywood stretchers between frame tops secured sheer height and breadth.

All the above happened in the first half of 2012. Gall bladder surgery in February 2012 made plan and lofting good work during recovery time. Then sailing and outside work took over for much of the summer.

Working in an area with snowy cold winters I needed to make an improved building site. An artist friend of mine, in tribute to Native Americans, had made a “shadow” village of wigwams, bending saplings over with black net covering. Using the idea, I cut a bunch of ash saplings, stuck them in the ground 10’ apart, bent over and lashed them together in the middle. Lengthwise and diagonal saplings completed a structure woven and lashed together. Covered with shrinkwrap plastic this made winter building easy and dry when temperatures were above 20F. Planing and milling was still being done outside, but even with a snowy winter progress continued.



Frame set up

Frame set up

A locust 6×8 was to be the strongback for building. With the narrow longhouse, I made low saw horses with hardwood cross pieces on top so I could slide the beam from side to side as work went from one side to the other. I was able to get pine boards with 2’ widths of heart wood, 15’ long for the bottom board and 4’ long for the transom. With the cutting of the stern knee, now it could start to go together.

Cutting the board for the bottom to length, centerline location was marked and squared across the ends, and lines snapped. The stations were squared off on both sides and the halfbreadths marked off from the center lines. With batten bent around these marks, the bottom outlines were drawn and the top outline cut to with the circular saw. The bevel between the top and bottom outlines was cut with power planer and hand planes. The joint between the bottom board and garboard will be a caulked joint and an oak false bottom will be installed between the lower garboard edges, in the mean time when the frames are fastened to the bottom board, bevel adjustments can be made if desired.

Clamping the frame sets to the bottom board, fit was checked and outlines drawn so fastener holes could be drilled from the top before final fitting and fastening with screws drilled for from below. After cutting limbers in the frames they were again clamped and then fastened on station. The stem was bolted to the front of the bottom board and the transom knee to the stern.

Lay out lines, center line and water line were needed on pattern and transom stock, squared across the stock to mark the proper bevels between front and back. With lines drawn the transom was cut out, planed to the lines, and bolted to it’s knee. The transom being pine and the plank landing being quite oblique, 1/2” thick oak nailers were screwed to the straight transom edges, to the top chine, where they were cut square to the centerline so a top cleat could be installed across the top — this was thicker, locust and beveled for the sheer strake landing.

With the building structure fastened to the bottom board it was ready for fastening to the strongback. With one long screw through a temporary cleat across the bottom board and the center of the bottom board just ahead of station 3, where the centerboard slot will be, the whole assembly was screwed to the locust timber. With the low point of the bottom down the ends could now be jacked up to give the bottom it’s required rocker. To complete setup for planking, boards were fastened from stem head to transom, fastened to frame cross pieces, to hold centerline alignment.

garboard and broad

garboard and broad

garboard and broad interior

garboard and broad interior

interior structure

interior structure

Mower’s drawing shows a garboard 19” wide at station 3, spiling shows a lower edge with some 6” sweep, so you would need a board more than 2’ wide for a one piece garboard and one for each side. Plank stock like this might have been available in 1898, but maybe not so easily in 1911 and certainly not today. With a 12” wide plank and 6 inches of bevel under the top of the bottom board there is only 6” showing at the narrowest point of the plank. You might see the problem, and for strength with light planking and minimal structure the typical approach, and mine, is called dory lap. To make three boards serve as a single flat plank, the joining edges are cut on 45 degree angles and riveted. The lower edge of the garboard is cut square, the false bottom will protect these edges in the finished boat and this allows solid fastening between garboard and bottom board. A small pile of long and wide Atlantic white cedar boards hopefully would be enough for the garboards and were. 5/4, resawing might have left a little under 1/2” but without resaw capacity I was just as happy planing to 11/16 as a compromise between strength and lightness.

To spile for the garboard I planed down a 15’ knotty cedar board and bent it around the frames so I could trace the upper edge of the bottom board, mark frame positions and draw lines where it would pass the transom and the stem, measuring the width of the bottom board bevel to establish the lower garboard edge. Getting out a couple of likely boards, the shape of the lower edge was marked with nails through the spiling board and pencil marks for frames and ends, then a batten was bent around the marks and the line penciled. The upper edge of these planks would be cut at 45 degrees, and was made fair and as straight as the stock would allow. After cutting the plank out of the first board, lines were traced onto the second board. When both blanks were cut they could be planed to thickness keeping as much finished width as possible.

For fasteners I had monel ring nails and square shank copper nails for rivets, both gifts to me from other peoples long ago projects. I nailed the planks to the frames and stem, riveting planks to bottom board, transom, and plank joins between the frames. My basic plank fastening schedule was three inch spacings. The frame/station spacings are 3 feet, so I left 6 inch gaps in fastening every 12 inches where bent ribs will land and be fastened after planking was complete.

With the lower garboard planks fastened, the next planks are cut with the matching shape using the cut off for one of the lower planks. Again these boards were not wide enough to reach the first chine, so the shape at the chine had to be spiled and bent batten arc drawn from stem and transom marks as far as they would go. The top edge was then cut straight on the 45. Because of the differing shapes of these boards the final pieces of garboard, completely filling to the first chine, were different lengths, 14’ and 10’. When these pieces were fit, with a few minor adjustment, they were fastened.

The top edges at the chine below the first topside plank are 45s but with chine angle most of the way the lower edge of the next planks must be beveled to fit. With 11/16” plank thickness, the 45 degree bevel is just under 1” long, a good lap landing, but how to define the matching bevel was the question. My solution was to put a plank thickness block on each frame and with a straight edge measure the span beyond the end of the 45, these measurements varied between nothing at the transom with it’s straight line to the bottom of sheer plank to more than half plank thickness where chine angle was greatest. With spiling batten bent around the frames the chine at top of plank was marked as well as the width of the plank at transom, stem and frame.

With no more Atlantic White Cedar I went to Eastern/Maine White Cedar for the first two topside planks, using butt blocks as no boards were long enough for full length planks. I had Eastern White Pine with length and width, and considered using that but the sweep in the first plank was too much to get two planks out of one board, so I kept the pine for the sheer strakes, wanting them full length. Taking my marks and measurements from the spiling, the top and bottom for the plank on one side was marked at each station including one station past the planned butt joint on each board, lines were drawn against a bent batten. I cut square to all these lines because if I had cut the 45 degree bevel the width of the plank would change as the plank was planed and planing to the 45 would not be difficult. The pieces for the one side were used to pattern the second set. Marks and lines were drawn and drawn again so station locations on each plank were not lost in planing, planing to thickness, 11/16”, being done after the plank blanks were cut from the cedar boards.



planked side

planked side



Plank thickness being 11/16”, drawing a line that distance into the plank face defined 45 degrees with the inner edge with the corner planed away. The lower edge joint was defined in the same way except lines were drawn along the lower edge for a rolling bevel as the bevel angle varied between 45 and less than half that. With a planking bench made up of saw horses and a spruce plank, bevels were planed with power planer, finished with hand planes. Clamping the planks in place I checked the fit, taking them off to make adjustments in widths and bevels. Deciding where to locate the butt joints, I cut one plank for the butt, marking the mate which was then cut and planed to fit, beveled for caulking. For butt blocks I used plank thickness cedar beveled on the lower edge to lap the plank below. Fastening was done as for the garboard planks with butt blocks riveted to butts and backing the lap. The second topside planks were similarly done with the butts placed between stations 3 and 4, instead of stations 1 and 2 as in the lower topside planks (Mower’s numbering and Brown’s too, station 1 being the first frame position on the bottom board, with the frame landing on the stem at station 0).  I wanted a full length sheer strake, especially as I had the stock in a long and wide pine board with little sapwood. It was a near thing, but I was able to get both sides out of the one board. The chine angle to the sheer strake is 45 degrees at the stern and near flush at the bow, so the bevel on the inside lower edge of the planks went from nothing to the reciprocal 45, stern to bow. With adjustment and fastening done, and the ends trimmed off roughly as with the lower strakes, now I had to decide how to proceed. I still mulled building her with a deck. More and more I liked the original plan and think the deck connected to racing. That said, the bent ribs were still to come, allowing a bit more time to mull the final finish. Not a lot of time, a day milling out a bundle of 1” x 1/2” oak staves and, with a couple of helpers and steam up, a couple of hours steaming and bending was followed by riveting over a couple of days.

bent ribs

bent ribs

breasthook, inwale joint

breasthook, inwale joint

quarter knees

quarter knees

rail structure

rail structure

Next came breasthook and quarter knees, and decision time (knowing the original boats were built open and later decked over, nothing is lost). I tried one set of hackmatack knees, but then made patterns of the required shapes and found one knee from which I could cut all three with rabbets on the plank side arms for lap joints with the inwales.

My building set up was pretty basic, verging on primitive. In setting up the basic structure I relied on my lofted knee angles and the bending of the pine bottom to put the sheer at stem and transom at the desired height — stem to stern had measured exactly 21 feet, so I had been pretty sure I was close. With planking done I could see the sheer dropping at the ends, so before trimming the frames and ribs down below the line of the inwale bottom I bent a batten along the sheer to improve the look. With the line drawn to the batten I measured down the frames and ribs, squaring off the sheerstrake, drawing lines for cuts so the inwale would land on top and it’s top would be flush with the sheer. After removing the cross spalls from the frame ends, and sawing off frame and rib tops, inwales could be bent in and fastened.

I had a 6/4 oak plank for the inwales from which I got out two 1 3/8” x 1 11/16” pieces long enough for the 19+ feet needed. A routed bead on the lower inner edge of the inwales seemed like a nice touch as well as leaving a rounded edge. The upper edge just got a little relief. With the lap cut to join with the breasthook and the aft end supported, the piece was bent to the sheer strake, wide face on top. Bending thick stock like this is possible with air dry white oak, but it has to be done gradually. Starting with the half lap clamped to the breasthook, pulling and clamping at the next two frames, a hammer rap on the far end to tighten breasthook fit showed that a little adjustment of the joint fit was in order. Adjustment made, the piece clamped in place again, a little saw kerf made for a good fit. At this point the far end needed to be pulled in so I would be pulling toward me instead of pushing with the boat sliding away. Frame by frame the oak was clamped at each station until marks could be made for the half lap to the quarter knee. With the lap cut from the rail and all clamped, I worked back along the rail, trimming the frames and ribs to bring the oak flush with the sheer all along. Now it was ready for fastening, riveting through the half laps and with #12 x 1 1/2” silicon bronze wood screws on 12” centers between the ends. This process was repeated on the other side before oiling the topside strakes, ribs, knees and rails.

risers, ribs and centerboard slot

risers, ribs and centerboard slot

centerboard trunk logs installed

centerboard trunk logs installed

mast step

mast step

centerboard trunk and thwarts installed

centerboard trunk and thwarts installed

For full rigidity and function the hull interior now needed risers, thwarts including mast partner, centerboard trunk and mast step. My approach started with the centerboard trunk. I was extending it further forward than Mower had it, and using a lower profile board, but Mower shows the thwarts at stations 2 and 3 landing on the trunk, crossing it at station 3. This is important for tying the trunk to the hull against the pressure on the upper corner of the lowered centerboard. I wanted heavy oak timber for the bottom sections of the trunk and meant to have the upper edge of those pieces at thwart level. Cutting away the centers of the ribs and frame #2, I spiled and patterned the bottom rocker forward of frame #3. Applying this arc to a couple of oak planks, I found that I could have 12 inches at frame #3 and 10 1/2” just aft of the mast step. Cutting and planing these pieces (ending up sided 6/4) and placing them in position I found their height just about right (based on my ideas and Mr. Mower’s drawing), so leveled across to locate riser positions on the frames.

When C. D. Mower updated this design in 1911 he redrew the centerboard and trunk. In 1898 he called for a board with a tall arcing top, higher than the sheer by 4 inches but only 10 inches above the bottom board at the forward end, so the leverage of the board in use was mostly taken by pressure on the #2 station thwarts. In updating the plan, Mower called for a rectangular board with top just below rail height. The Massachusetts Bay Indian has a longer rectangular board also just below rail height. Both the later designs are drawn as decked boats with the forward head ledge tied into the deck structure for good trunk support. I was not installing a deck, but I also know that even before decks were installed in the 1898 boats the mast partner was raised to rail level for better mast support, in the original drawings there are only 9 inches between the top of the mast step and the top of the mast partner holding up a 21 foot mast carrying 200 square feet of sail. Making the board and trunk longer, starting just aft of the mast step, I decided to go with a rectangular board and tie the head ledge to beams supporting the higher mast step if I later made that addition. I did have a 17 inch wide mahogany board and a 3/4 inch square brass rod for weight and bottom protection, the centerboard almost ready made.

Frame #2 and the ribs crossing the bottom had to be cut away to spile the bottom rocker arc and pattern for the bottom of the centerboard trunk. The actual turned out to be very close to the lofted rocker, nice. Final cutting away of timbers crossing the keel called for getting out trunk pieces themselves, so it was into the oak pile, but what I wanted were pieces that would bring the bottom, heavy portion of the trunk up to the underside of the thwarts at stations 2 and 3, calling for about 12 inches above the bottom. I found just about enough in one 2 inch plank and one 2 1/4 inch plank, needing more than 5 feet length in each to accommodate 5 feet of centerboard and head ledges at both ends. Planing through a few flaws and getting rid of most sapwood, I ended up with two pieces sided 1 1/2 inch for the bottom trunk pieces, 12 inches high at the aft end and 10 1/2 inches forward. Planning 1 inch siding on the centerboard with 1 1/4 inch slot and head ledges, I needed to cut the bottom timbers back 2 1/8 off the centerline for the 4 1/4 inch trunk assembly, and did. Then the slot was drawn on the bottom and cut with circular saw, jig saw finishing the job at the ends.

Setting the lower trunk sides on the bottom board and leveling from the top to the hull sides showed a height about 7 inches below sheer height at both stations 2 and 3 giving a good height for the thwart risers. Marking for risers on both sides I cut notches in the frames so the thwarts would have solid landing on the risers. A long Douglas fir board provided the riser strips, fastened in place with #14 silicon bronze flat head screws.

The top of the centerboard was to be eastern white cedar and all above the waterline so I routed a 1/2 inch groove in the oak and when I milled my cedar to 1 inch cut a 1/2 inch tongue to fit, to leave the inside faces flush. I drilled 3/8 inch through holes towards the ends of the oak trunk pieces for bolts. Then I installed 1/4 inch hanger bolts every 6 inches between the through bolt locations, working to have the hanger bolts all plumb along the arc of the trunk bottom. Getting out 1 1/4 inch sided head ledges, I clamped the oak trunk logs to them leaving enough below to go through the bottom board and above to support the cedar top, riveting this assembly together with the inside of the trunk and the faying surfaces red leaded. The aft headledge was cut to follow the arc of the trailing edge of the centerboard but vertical aft to the top of the oak, with a ledge for thwart support.

Carefully measured centers of trunk fastener locations (from the ends and insides) were marked on top of the bottom board. Working to drill vertically, I drilled for the fasteners, then counterbored from below for nuts and washers. Red lead, and cotton wicking inside and outside the bolting, everything was prepared for mating trunk to boat. This should have worked and did, but not without knocking a few of the hanger bolts a bit to start them in their holes. I made 3/8 inch bolts for fastening at the ends of the trunk sides and finished bolting the trunk in place. Measurements showed it standing plumb, remarkably. With more red lead the cedar top pieces of the centerboard trunk were fit into their mortices and bolted through the head ledges.

With the centerboard trunk in place, I had the mast step to do and then on to thwarts. I had butternut boards that would do nicely for thwarts but the mast step was a bit of a mystery as it was drawn centered over station 1 frame. Because of this placement the mast step needed to be thick, which made the depth from partner to step short and mast support minimal. Mower wrote that the class soon added partners at rail height, and we know that the boats were later decked, masts supported with shrouds and stays. I always liked the boat as designed, there is no longer intense class racing to consider, and these changes could come now as they did more than 110 years ago, if desired.

Looking at a 4 inch oak plank, I was attracted to a 3 inch round knot surrounded by it’s swirl of grain, and determined to use it as the mast step. Taking the chunk to my friend’s band saw I cut around the knot following the sweep of grain a few inches away from the knot. To deal with the frame in the way of the step, I cut the frames down and notched the step after the step bottom was given an arc to match the boat bottom and the knot drilled out to 3 inch diameter for the mast heel. After riveting through the step fore and aft of the step mortice, it was set in the frame notch and bolted into place with red lead on the mating surfaces.

standing knee

standing knee

rudder and mast

rudder and mast

Thwart width was marked on the risers fore and aft of the stations — ahead of the frame on one side, aft on the other. With measurements for each side of each thwart and from frame to frame, except on station 2 where the centerboard trunk intervened and the measurements went to the cedar above the trunk bottom, I cut the thwarts from the butternut boards. For added thwart support at stations 2 and 3 I screwed an oak 1” x 1” flush with the top of the trunk oak on both sides, extending aft of the trunk to go under station 3 thwart and forward for mast partner/trunk bracing. Fastening thwarts to risers with machine screws, the forward thwart had the 3 inch mast partner with oak doubling underneath all bolted through. Standing knees next.I made paper patterns of knee angles, laying flat paper edges on thwarts, folding the paper to the plank angle, and tracing the frame head on the paper. Then I looked through the knee collection a couple of times to come up with stock for six knees. I found one thick knee with a thick enough throat to get out all six knees. Taking that piece and the pattern to the bandsaw I made the rough division and resawed the smaller pieces, put them through the thickness planer, traced my patterns on them and cut them to shape. Back at the boat with some final trimming to fit they were ready to fasten in place. I riveted them to the frame heads and bolted longer arms through the thwarts.Applying raw linseed oil to everything over and over again before rolling her over for caulking, false bottom, false stem, and rudder hanging hardware, I had time to build the rudder and made the rudder hardware. After thinking about making the rudder bigger, as in the 1911 update, I stuck with the original design. I know a Swampscott dory I believe was Chaisson built with a rudder hung on a rod along the back center of the transom. With one gudgeon sliding down to the bottom of the rod, a second near the top, the top of the rod is pulled into a notch by a lanyard cleated inside the transom. Having rudder handling all at rail height is almost necessary with the severe rake of the Mower dory transom.

With one long oak board for the stock and three shorter pieces for the blade, I drilled through for two bolts and after it was bolted together put in a couple of drifts to pin loose ends. I planned to make a strap gudgeon the length of the rudder bottom. I got a silicon bronze strap, 3/16 inch by 1 inch. Red hot silicon bronze is maliable and ductile, and unlike other copper alloys a small area can be heated without heat conducting away from the heated spot also making handling possible. It takes Mapp gas or better. The bottom of the rudder is 26 inches long, so I heated the piece about 27 inches from one end on strap 6 feet long and started pounding it to round. Round was necessary because the angle between the bottom and the stock is less than 90 degrees. After a number of heatings I had a round gudgeon with full length straps. Rabbeting the rudder, I drilled and riveted through each of the rudder planks. Heating the remaining piece of strap, I bent it to be the top gudgeon. I also made the bottom fitting for the long pintle in this way using 5/16 by 1 1/2 inch bronze, bending a right angle with 5 inches to bolt to the transom heel and 1 1/2 inch projection which I bored and tapped for 3/8 inch rod.

false bottom installed

false bottom installed

false stem bent on

false stem bent on

hull painted, pintle bracket installed

hull painted, pintle bracket installed

hull painted, cutwater formed

hull painted, cutwater formed

In the Rudder, possibly Mower’s, February 1900 description it sounds like false bottoms were installed as an afterthought because the boats would be shifted and sitting on the beach at Swampscott, between sailings. The design drawings shows a single bottom board and the lower garboard edges beveled flush. I planned on a false bottom and left the garboard edges square, the false bottom to fill the space and protect the garboard edges when taking the ground. Upside down facilitated planing plank ends flush with the transom and square across the stem. Caulking the garboard, transom and stem seams is normal in dory construction. A few of my dory lap seams seemed a little open and I rolled fine cotton wicking in them too. Painted with red lead the caulked seams were finished with seam compound and red leaded again after the compound set.

Getting one long oak board and a couple of shorter boards, and planing them for thickness, I was ready to fit the false bottom. With bottom rocker I had to hold the ends of the stock down to trace lines where it came down on the garboard. Cutting square to those lines, then beveling to match the angle between bottom and garboard edge, it took very little more trimming to get a good fit on the central piece. With this central piece held in place, I drew lines along it’s edges on the bottom board and also marked the station line location on the false bottom edges. Using these marks I located the centerboard trunk slot side to side on the false bottom board and fore and aft from the station lines. Drawn on the oak I cut the slot with circular saw and jig saw. Tried in place, it worked. Fitting the shorter pieces from my marked lines to the garboard on each side left me ready to fasten on the false bottom. All surfaces red leaded, I spread Dolfinite bedding compound over the bottom and held the center false bottom board in place with a frame wedged down from the sheer inwale. I fastened it with long screws into the stem foot, transom knee, and centerboard trunk, and shorter screws into but not through the pine bottom board. Then the side pieces were screwed in place.

While upside down I marked the ends for waterline, leveled the hull to those marks and side to side and marked all around for the painted waterline, using a laser level. I primed to the waterline with red lead. The bottom rudder hanging fitting was bolted through the bottom of the transom and through the transom knee. The stock for the false stem/cutwater was steamed and bent in place, after letting it stay clamped for more than a week to hold as much bend as possible it was bedded and fully fastened to the stem before trimming it’s cutwater shape. Then I painted the topsides white, two coats, with Albeck linseed oil paint. Before turning her back over the rudder hanging “pintle” rod was screwed into it’s fitting, peened for security, and the notched block for securing the top of the rod was screwed in place.

mast partner hinge

mast partner hinge

mast partner with heel slide

mast partner with heel slide

trunk cap and mast partner set up

trunk cap and mast partner set up

stern sheets

stern sheets

floorboards coming

floorboards coming

Before I started on my build our friend Hayden Brown, long in the sailmaking business, had got a copy of these plans from me and started building in his plywood and epoxy way. Now trying to catch up with me in finishing his build, he had also been saying I should stitch my own sails. Then he said he’d help me loft and lay out the sails. Meanwhile Hayden sent me the image of a whale boat mast partner hinge which looked just the thing to make single handed stepping possible. I sent the picture to Med Chandler, Ships Coy Forge in Lisbon, NH, who transformed links of old wrought iron schooner anchor chain into a beautiful mast partner hinge. With oak bent to a mold extending rail to rail and an oak board with slot fastened from trunk head ledge to a beam tying the heads of frame #1 together, and a board from the forward end of the slot to the mast step, the hinge was ready for use.


It would have been nice for the first sail to be off the beach at Swampscott, but I was determined to have her sailing as part of the John Gardner Small Craft Workshop during the WoodenBoat Show at Mystic Seaport Museum.

sail stitching

sail stitching

Roy Downs (Downs Sails, Danvers, MA) kindly ran the sail plan through his computer, which drew panel lines on the sailcloth, so a couple of weeks before the show I got three rolls of cloth, tape (sticky double sided and 3” cloth for the edges), webbing, rings, and thread. After cutting out the panels and setting up a makeshift bench for a growing sail more than 15’ from tack to leach, I started sticking panels together and torturing my sewing machine into stitching each seam twice. With one run to the repair shop to replace a broken drive belt, I got the mainsail done in a week. The jib took little more than a day to stitch, but roping the luff for halyard and downhaul was done only two days before leaving for the show, leaving just enough time to stitch up a long bag for the rig out of canvas scraps, lace main to spars, and load everything securely for the ride to Mystic.

wet at last

wet at last

Meeting friends on arrival, help was at hand for launching at the public ramp just outside the Seaport. Steven Bauer got aboard to row around with me to dock at the JGSCW float and ooh how easy she moved under oars. I did find out the centerboard needed more weight, so the next day I drilled a hole in the trunk cap and wrangled a push stick to make sailing possible but slightly complicated for the need to push the board down with each tack. (Back from the show I cut a hole in t e centerboard and poured lead to weight it down.)  My various crew never seemed to resent the task.  Finally she was ready to sail! The mast partner hinge worked as it should, the sails were set and pulling. My brother was there waiting for his chance and two Traditional Small Craft Association (TSCA) men there from Cape Cod for the weekend answered the call for crew, off we went! The breeze was light, last of the NE before SW took over for the weekend, but she moved out easily as we headed over toward Sabino before the first tack and reach out past Lighthouse Point to tack again past square rigged Joseph Conrad and Gloucester fishing schooner L.A. Dunton to the Bulkhead and Pier lined with the show’s larger boats, tack away to sail up through the anchorage before turning back sailing along the channel, around the Seaport down toward Mystic’s road bridge to return to dock saying what a splendid first sail in a boat that hasn’t been built for 100 years. “You didn’t tell us this was the maiden voyage!” said one of our Cape Cod friends. “Lovely!”

sailing at Mystic

sailing at Mystic

sailing at Mystic

sailing at Mystic

big sail down wind

big sail down wind

Friday had started with me readying the dory and Grigg Millen inviting me to come along in his Hooper Island draketail for breakfast at the Mystic Marina down river. Miss Sue is such a sweetheart I didn’t resist, and breakfast took almost 2 hours. Then I had dealt with the centerboards push stick needs, so that was the only sail Friday but very like numerous sails the next two days as the breeze slowly got stronger. Saturday morning started with barely a whisper as the JGSCW crews started rowing up river. Mary Bauer had given her berth to the Cape Cod crew the day before and was ready for an early morning ghost and ghost we did on slight fluky NE air, out and about, turning slowly tack or jibe, around the show grounds, through the anchorage and back. Once, approaching the Point we almost stopped but mention of oars brought new life to our sails, ripples spreading off our bow again. We turned the Point, down to the bridge and back, slow and easy.

Sailed 4 or 5 more times Saturday with 3, 4 and 5 aboard, sometimes with people I knew, other times people who expressed an interest. I was fortunate to have the Cape Codders, Bob Lister and Bill Stirling, willing to come along when an experienced hand seemed a good idea. Sailing off the floats at the old Small Craft Workshops was always complicated with many boats coming in and out, now with the WoodenBoat Show happening too, traffic was constant and thick. Fortunately I had only one small collision as one of the Museum livery boats sailing out tacked as I jibed to go astern of them, instead leaving paint off the dory bow on their rail. Otherwise the dory did well with the dock a lee shore, jibing around to the float.

Saturday afternoon we rolled the dory onto the beach and I gave a little talk about the dory and it’s history before rolling her back for more sailing. Sunday started with another ride in Miss Sue, accompanying TSCA rowers and paddlers around Mason’s Island (a long SCW tradition), then it was back to sailing a few more times before the show ended. The wind had increased a bit more, but the dory handled it all well and with a final few tacks she brought up at the Museum Shipyard for hauling out. Joe Burke of Points East Magazine said she was the hit of the show, I don’t know if that was just his opinion or if he had heard talk. She satisfied me and seemed to for many others. Next I had to get her sailing out of Swampscott and Marblehead, her home waters.

Life can be complicated as well as fun, so it was not until the second weekend of August that the Mower dory saw salt water again. Months before I had signed on to sail in the Herreshoff cutter NELLIE in races off Marblehead and I meant to tow the dory down at that time. The following weekend was to be the 40th anniversary celebration at WoodenBoat where I also wanted to sail the dory. To make the long drive down east workable I called the daughter of a former neighbor who responded hoping that we would come. Excellent!

Unbeknownst to me after the WoodenBoat Show Joe Burke had put a notice in the August Points East magazine about the Mower dory at Mystic which brought on a call from the president of the Swampscott Club, Todd Mentuck, who I happened to have known for some time. He said August 9th (first day of NELLIE’s race weekend) the Swampscott Club was having it’s 115th anniversary party. I said I was coming down that weekend trailing the dory and would do what I could to get the boat there for the party.

Sometime in the next few days I did a little arithmetic placing the founding of the Swampscott Club at 1899, also the Mower dory’s first year. Actually the club had been informally in existance since 1893, but incorporated and with a fleet of racy 21’ dories 1899 was the official beginning. That was exciting! So driving down on the 8th I called Todd and said I could bring the dory over at 7 the next morning if there would be a secure space for it. Todd said he’d be there at 7 and have a space in front ready.

After an early breakfast, I re-rigged the mainsail so the club could fly it’s burgee from the mast and drove to Swampscott where I left the dory, mast up, burgee waving, in front of the club and drove back to Marblehead for the Corinthian Classic race. With a forecast of light sea breeze we instead sailed in 9 to 14 knots, excellent day for sailing. As soon as NELLIE was secure at the float I was off to Swampscott.

My friend Hayden Brown (luff tape manufacturer and sailmaker who insisted I stitch my own sails, getting Roy Downs’ help and also building his own ply/epoxy version of the Mower dory) called saying he was there with the boat and would wait for my arrival. He was there by the dory with Ed Chaisson, nephew of George L. Chaisson the Swampscott boat builder Ed described as “famous because he was the last”. John Gardner says he believed Elbridge Gerry Emmons built the 10 boats for the Swampscott Club, but here was Ed with blue prints of the 1898 Mower dory from his uncles shop. John Gardner does say that for 20 years after 1900 the Swampscott dory was the hottest racing boat around, distributed to the far Great Lakes. The Rudder article from 1900, which I’m told is clearly in the style of Thomas Fleming Day, magazine editor, says, “Beside the boats built for the Club a great many were turned out and sent to all parts of the country.” In these blueprints is evidence that Chaisson might have built some of these boats though his shop didn’t open until 10 years after the design first appeared.

That aside, Ed Chaisson and many Swampscott Club members gathered there eating and drinking at the club were thrilled to see the boat there, their boat. I was there to sail after going through the Club house and talking to a number of members. Hitched up, I backed down onto the beach where with help from a few club members we used the old Indian class system to get her off the trailer before rolling her into the rising tide. Ed wasn’t going to let the chance go by and climbed in with me. I hoisted the sails. Unfortunately for sailing, the earlier sea breeze had died away to rare gentle suggestions of air on which we drifted about in the mooring field, finally Hayden climbed aboard off the pier end float as we paddled to the beach. Must sail there another day. Ed said just being in that boat was the best thing ever for him except maybe when he got to sail in Constitution from Marblehead to Boston.

The following weekend WoodenBoat Magazine held it’e 40th anniversary celebration, inviting attendance from reader’s boats. We had been invited to stay with a friend up the road so after a day back home we drove off to Maine, towing trailer with dory. A little more than 8 hours later we were parked at our friends house. The next morning I drove the boat to WoodenBoat to see what was going on. Tours of the local boat builders were scheduled and tours of the WoodenBoat offices. With a site staked out for small boats, I parked the dory for the rest of the day, talking to people and looking around including a look around Brooklin Boat Yard.

We drove through rain all the way to Brooklin and that first morning was still stormy. The next morning I was ready to go sailing, the tide was out and coming in, Rich Hilsinger had said I could launch off their ramp, a light breeze ruffled Babson Harbor. All good. Ian Joseph had set up to show a couple of his boats and came down to help me get the boat off the trailer. After waiting for some kayakers to launch I backed the trailer onto the beach where Ian and I got her down onto the gravel waiting for the rising tide. The WB School waterfront manager came along saying they didn’t want people using the ramp, but when I said Rich had said I could, he thought a minute, then pointed out a mooring I could use and said he would put one of their dinghies on the mooring so I could come and go as I pleased. Better and better! thank you Greg and WB.

Anchor set in the rising tide it wasn’t long before she began to float. Pulling her out to the anchor and getting that aboard, I paddled to the mooring to ship the rudder and otherwise prepare to sail. With no crew here was a good chance to sail the racing dory alone. When I remembered to drop the centerboard the mooring field was in no more danger and we zipped back and forth, comfortably. From the first I have been impressed with the Mower dory’s stiffness, whether moving around in her moored or shifting weight to hold her upright. A gust bringing the rail close to the water, she straightens and accelerates as the sheet is eased. Coming back among the moored boats, astern of the NY 30 ALERA, I am hailed with the question “What is that design?”. “C. D. Mower 1898 21’ racing dory for the Swampscott Club.” “He sailed a few times in ALERA.” I headed up for a short gam which ended with the wish for a sail later, accepted. Thus I met Claas van der LInde.

After giving myself a tour of Brooklin Boatyard and a little lunch, I rowed out to the dory and saw ALERA’s dinghy coming my way. With a nice breeze blowing we sailed off past ALERA through Center Harbor, only bouncing the centerboard on a ledge once, tacking back down the Reach, Claas playing with the jib sheet lead for my edification and the dory’s improvement. The next day I spent much of the morning going over the Mower dory plans and story with Maynard Bray, Claas and Mike O’Brian, WB design editor, before finding Pat Lown, WB librarian and researcher who had been on that last short sail at Mystic, at the WB office ready to go for another sail. The wind was up considerably and gusty but with easing sheet we flew back and forth, a look into Naskeag Harbor and back through the anchorage off WoodenBoat.

Boats for Difficult Times, written at behest of Antonio Dias for his blog of that name

23 Dec

Boats for difficult times.

Difficult times. I don’t have numbers, just impressions. World wide most people struggle to eat, shelter or pay their bills. The few with money and property live to prove their worth. So, we’re trying to find something to eat, working to pay the bills, plotting to get richer, we think we are the salt of the earth, doing what we are supposed to do, following the program, right, whichever one. Generalizations are never true, but you know the pressures you feel, the incentives you respond to, and the flavor of your dreams. Maybe, but are they creative and constructive?

Boats. I like rowing boats and sailing boats. I like boats made from tree parts, plant materials and little metal fasteners. I like these boats because they are renewable, of the earth, and, both in construction and use, remind me of knowledge and skills as old as humanity. Use is the important part. Not everybody likes boating, but not everybody likes gardening either, and both boats and gardens are important.

My father loved fishing, but seldom caught anything. He was an expert bad fisherman. He once fished with a friend all day when his friend caught 50 fish and he none. They exchanged places and tackle, but it made no difference. On the other hand he enjoyed just being there in the boat, on the water, sky overhead, fishing with his friend and the amazing funny outcome. Sitting in a boat on a lake was one thing, otherwise motor boats always gave him sea sickness, small boats or big ships. He enjoyed sailing, said he never was sea sick in a sailboat. He never became a skilled sailor, he just liked being in the boat with whoever else was there, feeling the motion, the shared experience.

Boats for difficult times might be any boats but used in ways that make sense in a difficult time, or maybe the boat itself makes a difference. High power motor boats, and sailboats with bedroom, kitchen and bath, are all over the boat shows, but hard to fit with a consciousness of present day indulgences. Mining the earth’s resources today means fracking and mountaintop removal, with the price of fossil fuels and metals in the hands of large corporations, as is most food. Considering costs morally and economically, I like boats affordable for the boater and the earth.

I understand the impetus to build with plywood and epoxy. The cost of labor makes building the boat yourself important for anyone with limited money or credit, and needed tools and skills for plank on frame construction are unimaginable for many, so they get building and boating with kits, plans with full size patterns, and slab building with plywood sheets, epoxy joinery, often glass and resin covered. On the other hand, the price of resins has gone up with the price of petroleum and plywood, so gains are the cost of labor, experience, and, the point after all, getting on the water.

Times change but much remains the same. A hundred years ago and more, pleasure boating seemed the domain of the rich, but there was always a Corinthian and work-a-day presence. Labor was cheap and boatbuilding techniques guarded secrets, but modest yachts were being built and promoted, and almost everyone in coastal and lake communities had a skiff, dory, sharpie or canoe. In those years, world trade fed by colonial and industrial development brought contacts and knowledge as well as materials, some for the better, some for the worse. In the way of boats, design and construction flourished, as populations grew and interest spread in boating of all kinds. Some of this activity was frivolous and extravagant but much of it was beautiful and thoughtful, whether from widely known or little known builder. At the same time small boats cruised for pleasure along shore and off, sailboat racing grew in popularity, and open boats of all kinds were built and used far and wide. The functional beauty of boats from this era provide us with plenty of designs for dreaming, building and use in this difficult world.

Pick a design, lapstrake or carvel, sawn frame or bent, chined or round, Herreshoff or Watson, Alden or Strange, Swampscott dory or skiff; to build the boat you wallow in human history and wood shavings. Skills of hand and eye, tools sharp as chipped obsidian, line and surface fair to eye and hand, measurements to numbers or not, the whole process fun and important as launching, floating, pushing off for the known and the unknown.

I spoke of plywood, but there are people with sawmills in most parts of the world where you can buy the rough green or air dry lumber you want for boat building. You might get to know interesting people, and you need to learn about different trees and their wood, this is to step off the concrete and out of the supermarket for a look at the world that sustains us, the living breathing world. When you find the timber needed, you will find yourself supporting other basic manufactories, screw cutters, nail stampers, cotton wicking suppliers and (believe it or not, if you have the good sense to apply liberally) linseed oil. You might buy wire and learn to splice, using cast and machined thimbles, and loose eyes over hounds. Or, you will look for a sweetly straight grained spruce plank and fashion oars, cutting blanks, rounding the looms but tapering them to oval running into the blade’s centerline rib that diminishes to a slightly flexible tip, the other end oval in both directions to fit the hand as the force of rowing shifts from the end through the middle to the inside, rolling across the hand, blade feathered on the return.

Whether I’m sitting at anchor, rowing through quartering swell, hand on tiller off voyaging for an hour or a month, lying in my berth, I want to see floors, timbers, rivets, knees where needed, standing knees, hanging knees, lodging knees, a proper ship of rolling bevels and complex curves, integrating structures with incredible strength given their individual weakness, but able to give and take in the seaway. A well built wooden boat looks good from any angle at any stage of construction, one of the pleasures that comes with the process. In use the same applies.

Can you find affordable mooring in our crowded world? Tricky and in some places impossible, but anchoring works with an eye to the weather and the bottom. Floating brings a new perspective on the world. The water reflects the sky and you move in between. From shore the water heaves and splashes on the land, gulls ride the wind and water watching for what is thrown up in the exchange. At sea, bird, wave and mariner pursue their course. One remains conscious of set of sails, stroke of oar, or thrum of engine while watching the weather change, storm petrels flit along the waves, gannets circle and dive, a pair of fin back whales pass on important business, even a clear sky and oily sea for the details and changes that fill the world around the compass. The rules of the road are different on the water, don’t collide with anything including a rocky shore.

These difficult times are all too real for the earth and it’s denizens. World and personal financial crises, as well as political complications, have all too real effects, including one’s ability to appreciate the life and universe of which we are part. Some use boating for further aggressive encounters, mirroring much human life ashore, but we need not concern ourselves except to watch out and avoid collision as the rules prescribe. For all warmed by Kenneth Grahame’s, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”, it is not getting away from the world but feeling well and truly part of it that makes time in the boat so worthwhile. So much of our world engenders feeling a cog in a wheel or, worse, a broken discarded cog, we need time to see things apart.

Boats are important in difficult times.

Horizons, Arm of the Sea?

9 Jan

In an earth, or I should say, globe bound way there is one “true” horizon for every point of view, but in our earthy way there are many horizons for every point of view and the “true” horizon is no horizon at all, being a tangent instead, a horizontal plane tangent to the theoretical sphere at an infinitely small point.  On the other hand, the line of rise defined by dusted snow, the line of hill dark through darker trees highlighted by blazing sunset, the fluttering curve where ocean meets sky, these like the expanding and contracting horizons of mind are real and substantial.  Then there are expanding personal horizons.


When I go to different places I like to know where I am.  I want to know what to look for in the terrain and what I am seeing.  It takes a while to find the nooks and crannies in the land scape and society of a new place.  Recently moving to the Berkshire hills I sought a key to the local geology and was able to borrow B. K. Emerson’s 1898 classic THE GEOLOGY OF OLD HAMPSHIRE COUNTY.  Emerson’s “horizon”s fit the OED definition, “A plane or level of stratification assumed to have been once horizontal and continuous”.  This definition was pretty clear from Emerson’s usage, unlike many geological terms requiring research before the text could extend the horizons of my knowledge.


Geological horizons in these hills were established by glacial abrasion, sea floor sedimentation, and wind and water erosion.  Emerson describes massive folding and crushing evident in rocks around us here where horizons had been solidified through metamorphic processes, then bent, crushed and tilted through tectonic interaction.  That Emerson and his fellow 19th Century geologists could deduce so much of this progression from scattered outcrops, railroad cuts, and mines, is impressive, though missing the timeline and mechanism for these changes.  Mountain building followed by erosion, volcanic intrusion and extrusion,  ocean floor development, followed by mountain building, etc., for more than a billion years, with the cycles lasting 200 million years or more.


What about extending my knowledge horizon?  Describing the beds of schist and gneiss  of these hills Professor Emerson writes about decomposition, hydration, and rust observed in rocks from all ages, metamorphic and igneous.  Looking up meanings of geologic descriptive terms and names of various minerals I became aware of water’s central role in many tectonic processes.  I had long thought of the process of creating stone from sand and clay like it was dry pressure and heat that compressed and molded sedimentary layers into rock.  Now it is clear that water with it’s own chemical character, acid or base, salt or fresh, was heated and pressurized with the mineral and organic sediments, was around as well as within magmas, and these powerful solutions extracted available elements for one crystal formation or another.  This was a revelation to me.


We think of water turning to steam at 212F (100C) or lower if above sea level, but thousands of feet under ground at temperatures of thousands of degrees whatever scale you use, we can imagine accelerated powerful reactions unthinkable in our temperate climate.  It is fun to think that many of the most interesting reactions involve elements that were accumulated by algae, bacteria, and other minuscule lifeforms, especially metals slowly collected over millions of years, deposited with other sediments, compressed and transformed.  Some of these transformations lead to raw metal veins, others to mineable ores, others to beautiful crystals (gem or cabinet quality in Emerson’s terms), others just “rock” but every rock with it’s own character derived from it’s own history.


One question leads to another, and sometimes back to the original question transformed.  Reading this book and looking for answers to the questions it raised began as much as anywhere in the forest and fields here where water springs from the ground in seeps bringing clay out of the ground, the water running off in clay beds within dykes of clay, practically on the surface, or even above, instead of cutting channels in the soil, because the soil is likewise largely clay.  I wondered what is the nature, history and source of this clay.   Professor Emerson never addressed that issue for these hills.  In describing postglacial deposits in the Connecticut River valley, East and below these hills, the clay deposits he discusses are described as Champlain clay.  My research reveals Champlain clay to be a particular clay formed through glacial grinding in a salt water environment.  As glacial fronts pushed South-East across New England (over a 5000 year period) from the Canadian shield, where it was longer lasting and heavier, the  present St. Lawrence Valley was depressed below the lowered sea level and Lake Champlain as well became an arm of the sea under the glacier ice.  Does the clay here remain from post glacial floods 12,000 years ago?  Is it the product of chemical decomposition of these schists and limestones in these post glacial times?  Always more questions and hopefully better ones.

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.

Hello world!

10 Nov

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