February 17, 2022

This Month in Herreshoff History: “Captain Nat’s Designs of the Nineties”

L. Francis Herreshoff on an inauspicious launching and a very exciting decade for HMCo.

L. Francis Herreshoff; HMM archive

"... there was quite a celebration at the launching of Defender on June 29, 1895. This was quite late for a cup boat to come out but was probably because Captain Nat had been seriously ill the previous winter. She was christened by Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin amid the acclaim of waiting thousands, who had arrived on special trains from Newport and Providence, and quite a fleet of spectator steam yachts. The Herald of that day says: 'As she came into view outside the shop, a moving dream of white and gold, every man, woman, and child in the great crowd broke into cheers, and along the harbor shores rolled the loud boom of cannon; then as the great sloop slowly swung down the ways a sailor man on the stern flung aloft the Stars and Stripes, and the multitude cheered afresh vociferously.'

But the Defender did not take to her element as planned for when about half way down the ways she came to a stop and could not be budged farther although one of the large steam yachts tried to start her, in fact pulled so hard that the steam yacht's towing bitts and some of her after bulwarks were torn away; but Defender stuck fast. When a diver was sent down to ascertain the reason for the stoppage it was found that in building these new launching ways a bolt or lag screw had been left sticking up a few inches, and when this obstruction was removed she slid down the ways with little resistance.

But I must tell an amusing incident for the benefit of those who remember the jovial Boston yachting reporter, Bill Swan. Bill had been chosen to cover this launching for one of the Boston papers, and determined to get the jump on the other reporters. After hovering around Bristol a few days he wrote up a flowery description of the launching, calling it most successful and describing how Defender looked afloat, etc. This story he sent to his paper a few days before the launching and asked them to hold it until he telegraphed for its release. When Defender started down the ways Bill started to run to the telegraph station (about three quarters of a mile away) and on arriving there quite out of breath sent the message to release his story. So the Boston paper gave the account of a successful launching which poor Bill never did quite live down..."

This is an excerpt from an article originally published in the February 1950 issue of The Rudder, and would later become the second half of Chapter 10 of The Wizard of Bristol, the definitive biography of N.G.H. The Wizard of Bristol has been fully digitized and published as an e-book by our friends at the Herreshoff Catalogue Raisonné, and we encourage you again to explore that fantastic digitally annotated resource. However, we thought you might also enjoy a reproduction of this chapter in its original format as it includes a number of additional photographs that did not make it into the final book.

DEFENDER (HMCo. #452), stuck on the ways; J.C. Hemment Collection, HMM

Click here to read "Part X - Captain Nat's Designs of the Nineties" as originally published in Rudder Magazine