March 18, 2021

This Week in Herreshoff History: March 18

A racing catboat for the midwest, another reminder of a worldwide pandemic past, and a bit of Herreshoff design genealogy

March 18, 1890

Etching of BIRD (HMCo. #407) published in Yachts and Yachtsmen of America, 1894; image courtesy the HCR

On this day 131 years ago, a contract for the catboat BIRD (HMCo. #407) was signed with William Peet Jr. BIRD was a 19' LOA racing catboat. If this etching can be believed, her extreme rig is almost reminiscent of the oyster bed patrolling and racing sandbaggers that were popular further south along the New York and New Jersey coastlines at that time. The boom and bowsprit both appear to be a bit of an exaggeration in this etching when compared with the original sail plan... but a significantly larger sail plan with construction instructions - possibly intended for a loft closer to BIRD's homeport - was drawn up in 1892. According to L. Francis, BIRD was one of the first HMCo.-built boats to be shipped west of the Mississippi; she raced and sailed on Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota and was reported destroyed in a storm ca. 1944.

March 18, 1919

In a stark reminder of our present circumstances, the Bristol Phoenix reports that employee Thomas J. Edmonds has died of the flu "in his 33rd year," leaving a family behind that included a 4 month old son. Like the the rest of the State, country, and world, HMCo. did not escape the ravages of the last worldwide pandemic which lasted from roughly 1918 to 1920. We have previously written about the effects of WWI and the 1918 flu pandemic on HMCo. and the local community in Bristol; click here to read that "From the Vault" post on the topic by Curator Emeritus John Palmieri.

March 18, 1937

Cabin arrangement for the Fishers Island 31 class; courtesy the MIT Museum

On this day 94 years ago HMCo. received the order to build KESTREL (HMCo. #1061), the fifth of fourteen Fishers Island 31s. The Fishers Island 31 was A. Sidney Herreshoff's slightly larger take on his father's pre-WWI Newport 29 class. Only four of the original Newport 29 designs were built: three between 1913 - 1914, and one last straggler in 1926 (PADDY, HMCo. #999). The very first Fishers Island 31 - CHANCE, HMCo. #1059 - was launched the following year, 1927. The Newport 29s in turn were a scaled up version of N.G.H.'s personal boat, ALERION III (HMCo. #718), now in the Watercraft Collection at the Mystic Seaport Museum, and her near sister SADIE (HMCo. #732), now a part of the HMM collection. The ALERION - Fishers Island 31 - Newport 29 family of boats also bears some resemblance to two other iconic Herreshoff models: the 12 1/2 and Fish classes, based on Captain Nat's October 1914 model, and the Buzzards Bay 25 model of April 1914. In a 1980 WoodenBoat article, Maynard Bray described the changes made to the Newport 29 in order to develop the Fishers Island 31s as follows: "It is likely that the new profile (longer ends, deeper keel, more raking sternpost, straighter sheer) and deck line to match were established by means of a scale drawing. However, the fairing of the lines to these new end points, according to Sidney Herreshoff, was done right on the mold loft floor - full size. Sidney was a most modest man, reluctant to take complete credit for much of what he did, but he did admit (on a taped interview) that his father was in Florida for the winter while this work was going on and that he, Sidney, was in charge of executing the needed changes. I'd say he did well!" Not only do the Fishers Island 31s have an impressive lineage, but they continue to be well loved: nine of the original 14 can still be accounted for today, including TORCH (ex SAVAGE, HMCo. #1153) which is also on display in the Hall of Boats at HMM.