Herreshoff Encounters

Submitted by Evelyn Ansel from Mystic, CT

The first time I really became aware of name “Herreshoff” was when I was thirteen our fourteen and had just started volunteering for the summer at the Mystic Seaport Museum’s boat livery, the Boathouse. Despite growing up almost on the grounds of the museum, it took a while to wake up to (and become interested in!) the maritime legacy in my own family and backyard. Much credit goes to Boathouse director, Dr. Sharon Brown, who never stopped trying to impress upon us the importance of these giants who came before us: we heard early and often about everyone from Howard Chapelle to John Gardner and Maynard Bray. That first job was one of those perfect summer fillers during my early teenage years. On good weather days we volunteers and boathouse staff (young and old) were out on the water as much as possible in the fleet of small traditional boats that the livery rented, teaching folks how to row and sail and keeping an eye on the river to make sure no one was in danger of getting run down by the almost silent passenger steamer SABINO. There was a Tuesday night golden hour racing series, and the Small Craft weekend gathering was still alive and well and always attracted a whole fleet for the dawn down-river row that marked the start of summer. When it was unbearably hot and still in August, we allowed our youngest volunteers to “fall” off the dock in lifejackets to scrub Beetlecat bottoms from the water and argued over who would go retrieve a whole tray of lemonade to save us from the heat. On bad weather days, we spent time splicing dock lines, greasing oar leathers, getting sick on french fries, and poring over the Mystic Seaport Museum Watercraft Collection book. Comparing boats we had on the water with similar designs and designers in storage in “The Mill” and arguing about our favorite boats in the collection made the time go by between stints pumping and bailing on the dock. All of those summers passed quickly.

We had several Herreshoff designs in the Boathouse collection, representing both Captain Nat and L. Francis. For Captain Nat, we had the 26′ RESOLUTE launch (HMCo. #331) which had served as tender for the America’s Cup defender. We sold tickets to visitors for half hour river tours in RESOLUTE (as we called her), and it was our job to look sharp and catch lines for the captains, and make sure RESOLUTE didn’t tangle with the 25′ Crosby Cat we also ran off the dock. We were always proud of RESOLUTE; showing off the framed black and white historic photo of the defender herself screwed to the wall made us feel like we had our own piece of high-end America’s Cup history in the little livery fleet. For L. Francis, we had the Hodgdon-built ARAMINTA ketch, which we day chartered, and a double paddle canoe, which lived out of the water most of the time. We often fought over the L. Francis double paddled canoe during the Friday boat handling classes when we put it in because it was such a treat to paddle. The Herreshoff name was always spoken with what felt like the right amount of exaggerated reverence (the Boathouse collection skewed heavier towards small workboats rather than yachtier types) but also genuine appreciation for how beautifully all three vessels performed in their own very different ways. Though not in the water, Captain Nat’s ALERION III (HMCo. #718) also lived in the small boat exhibit just across the point from the Boathouse. There were still yet more Herreshoff boats in “The Mill,” but our access to them was mostly through the Watercraft Collection book except on those rare WoodenBoat Show days when the old velvet factory where the watercraft collection is stored was opened to the public. At that early stage I may not have been able to remember which Herreshoff was the elder and which was the younger (and certainly did not know how important A. Sidney was), or had any real understanding of the depths of the Herreshoff canon and only a vague notion of the history of the America’s Cup – but I was very aware that the Herreshoff name was venerated by the sailing community, and deservedly so.

Later in my teenage years I would be lucky enough to cruise in company with family friends aboard their Newport, 29′, DOLPHIN (HMCo. #727). I got to watch the incredible effort that was the NY50 SPARTAN‘s (HMCo. #712) restoration while back and forth between home and school during my first years in college. I was always in awe of these boats and this name with its baffling pronunciation that evoked Gilded Age decadence and style, and I never imagined I’d have a chance to study the Company history and archives myself one day. I count myself extraordinarily lucky to be able to work with the Herreshoff legacy full-time now. Though more of my work is with the paper archive than boats on-the-water, I love getting to help current sailors, owners and the history-curious with questions about HMCo. and Herreshoff vessels still out in the wild today. I am even occasionally lucky enough to be invited to sail on Herreshoff boats myself during the warm New England summer months, and it will never cease to be an extraordinary privilege to step aboard. Happy 50th anniversary HMM! We’re sure looking forward to many more.


RESOLUTE and KATOURA photographed off HMCo. in Bristol RI, May 1914; HMM archive

ALERION III nearing completion at HMCo. in 1913; HMM archive

ALERION III on display at Mystic Seaport

Half model for ALERION III, SADIE, the Newport 29 and Fishers Island 31; HMM archive

Share your Herreshoff Story.

We want to hear from our Herreshoff and America's Cup Hall of Fame Community.