Building and restoring classic wooden sail, row and power boats in
Cummington, Massachusetts with the
finest boat building materials and craftsmanship.
By Thad Danielson
From dugout canoes to 20th Century work boats and yachts, the infinite variety of beautiful successful designs takes my breath away. Until the middle of the 19th Century most boats were carved out, framed up, or planked by eye, based on traditional patterns. All over the world boats were essential to travel and trade. The varied forms of Inuit kayaks and umiaks, the hundreds of hull types and rigs common to the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, and the many boat types of the coasts of Europe and the Americas; all these and others testify to the fertility of the earth and the human imagination.|
After the middle of the 19th Century, world trade in knowledge and materials led to remarkable change in boat design. Designers began to dominate; sometimes the designers were builders too, but the functions separated. Names like Burgess, Watson, Herreshoff, and Fife, recur in any telling of this history. Integrating elements of traditional boat types in new ways, with their individual visions, these designers were a new breed and their designs were often successful and beautiful. Racing competition pushed the development of new boat designs; but working from a solid foundation in engineering, a broad knowledge of boat types, and wide experience on the water, these and other designers transformed work boat models, power and sail, as well as yachts. The yachts were not all racers either, for many of the great cruising designs of this era came from the work of these minds.
Starting as a boy, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff carved half-models for his family's boats. The family built its own boats. The carving was done with knives, shaves, planes, and scrapers; under watchful eyes, with hands feeling for fair finer than the eye could see. He carved in white pine. Nathanael Herreshoff was always very conscious of his materials, carving models to the advantage of the construction planned. The Herreshoffs, like many other builders, built some boats in steel, bronze, and composite construction; but the main body of their work, like most boat construction into the 1950s, was wood – like the half models.
Recently I was shown the plan of an L. Francis Herreshoff 28' centerboard daysailor. Elegant lines and a tight high rig, 2 foot 9 inch draft; a regular rangy doodle. Thinking about this prospect, I looked in the books of S. S. Crocker and John Alden designs and found many sensible cruising designs and some daysailor but nothing quite like this. I have an old Rudder magazine article with an Alden designed shallow draft knockabout, 29 feet but 3 feet 6 inch draft, a little deep perhaps. So then I checked out the catalogue of the Herreshoff Company works, for N. G. Herreshoff's designs, Francis's Father's. Captain Nat built all and only his own designs.
In 1895, N. G. Herreshoff produced design 456, a 17 foot waterline gaff-rigged keel/centerboard knockabout to the order of C. M. Baker, for whom he later built three similar but larger boats. #456 had a little cabin, but a #459 was built for a different client to the same plan with an oval cockpit. I got study prints for these boats from the Hart Nautical Collection at The M.I.T. Museum, and a beautiful design it is, simple and wholesome. A great boat to build and to sail. Most of the designs by the other great boat designers of the last 150 years are similarly available; many beautiful capable boats could be built using these plans.
As professional boat designers became prominent in yacht and work boat design, older traditional models persisted in use, some continually being built. But social and political changes have occurred on the waterfront as elsewhere, so boat uses have changed with time and many wonderful old boat types have become rare or disappeared altogether. Many people have recognized this trend in the last century. People and organizations around the world have worked to preserve existing vessels and record their plans. Traditional boat societies and maritime museums, especially, make it possible for people to see and use many of the beautiful and practical boats that are our maritime heritage. Besides preserving the vessels themselves, programs to measure and record the plans of many boats have made reproductions possible. The Mystic Seaport Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and many other organizations make plans available so we can enjoy the boats that have graced our harbors and borne people throughout the world for some thousands of years.
Mariners and their boats must face the prevailing conditions. Conditions change constantly on all the rivers, lakes, and oceans of the world. Boat lines and construction have developed with these conditions in mind. Entrusting our lives to our boats, boats of all types have always been beautiful as well as strong. Since water follows a fair form without turbulence, the lovely line works for us practically and aesthetically. Turbulence produces pressure and drag, inhibiting the free motion possible in water. We use this pressure in steering, but we appreciate the smooth and easy motion of the most beautiful boats.
Beautiful classic boats are also most pleasing to the eye. Whether sitting in the cockpit looking along the sweep of the rail or gazing from shore at a harbor filled with classic boats of many types, we appreciate the presence of this vision. People flock to shores everywhere for this experience. Only if we keep building these classic boats will we be able to look at their beautiful lines as well as experience the performance of these great boats on the water. Contact me at Redd's Pond Boatworks to talk further about classic boat designs, especially if you have a building or restoration project in mind.
Thad Danielson Boats
Thad Danielson, builder, designer, consultant
42 French Road
Cummington, MA 01026
Land Line: (413) 634-5339
Email: Thad Danielson