Hull No: (No Number)

1860 Catboat

Length Over All – 20′ 3″
Length Water Line – 20′ 3″
Draft – 2′ 7″
Beam – 8′ 9″
Rig – cat

In the summer of 1860, twelve-year-old Nat Herreshoff steered this boat through Manhattan’s East River and its notorious Hell Gate after he and his 18-year-old blind brother, J.B., and a friend had sailed 175 miles from Bristol without stopping. J.B., helped by his dad, had modeled and built SPRITE the winter before, with young Nat helping. The brothers sailed SPRITE together almost daily for three seasons, consistently winning races and cruising extensively to Clinton & New Haven, CT and Block Island & Vineyard Haven, MA.


In 1933 at age 85, Captain Nat reflected on the construction of this catboat from his boyhood:


In the fall of 1859, John thought he wanted a larger boat, and he, with my father’s help and advice, made a very perfectly formed model for a twenty foot boat which was destined to be named SPRITE. At the age of eleven and one-half, I had the job of cutting templates to fit the model, and from these, drawing out sections where frames (not timbers) were to be, and measuring them and [drawing] profile[s] from the model at one-twelfth its size. I also remember well going to Fall River (Massachusetts) in METEOR, with John, and walking out to a sawmill that was near a cedar swamp some three or four miles east of Fall River and ordering the cedar boards to be sawed for planking etc. There was a stiff nor’wester that day and we got thoroughly wet both ways. This cedar was delivered in Bristol by the steamer BRADFORD DURFEE and was of excellent quality. A trip in METEOR was made to Warren (Rhode Island) and we brought back from the shipyard there some oak for the centerboard logs on [METEOR’s] deck and [more oak for] the keel in tow. We borrowed my brother Charles’ twenty-two foot cat boat YANKEE to go to Wickford to get oak for timbers and sheerstrakes etc. This must have been in October.


William Allen Manchester, an old boat builder of the town, and a fine workman, consented to help John to build SPRITE. He started with the keel, and had the centerboard logs and posts ready to assemble when he died from a heart attack. This was quite a shock to John and me. After a while, my father consented to help John build the boat, and the work Mr. Manchester had done in his own shop on Constitution Street, near Thames Street, was moved to the “Old Tannery,” across from my father’s house. SPRITE was set up in the west part over the floor that was partitioned off and heated as already described. Her growth was slow, but the work in her was very carefully done and the material was of the best. In the spring, Thomas J. Thurston, another old boat builder, assisted for a while. The town’s famous old sailmaker, Jonathan Alger, made her [main]sail and light jib. The sail was of hard woven Colt’s Duck 8 oz., 22 inches, with one middle bight sewn. Jonathan Waldron, the town’s blacksmith, forged the block straps and other parts from copper and the anchor from iron. My father made the block shells and John turned the sheaves from lignum-vitae. John and my father did nearly the entire work, and I helped a little between school hours.


The boat was completed and launched June 28th 1860 – the day the steamer GREAT EASTERN arrived in this country – and she was rigged and tried just at dusk that day. John laid up all the running rigging etc. of cotton – spinning up cotton twine for the purpose…” 


(Excerpted from “Recollections: and Other Writings” by Nathanael G. Herreshoff)

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