Spring 2016

Spring comes slow to the coast of Maine. Even as some of our state's inland towns and cities begin to see daffodils and forsythia bloom, a little town like Brooklin, at the end of a long peninsula, surrounded by the cold clear water of the Gulf of Maine is slow to come back to life. We're ready for it: The docks and the yard skiff are afloat and at the ready. We'll launch the first of our storage fleet next week for some of our local customers.

Spring is a perfect back drop for a discussion of restoring classic boats, the process of giving new life to old boats that have fallen on hard times, and perpetuating their great histories . In this newsletter I'll tell you about MOLLY B: an 89 year old cat boat in the shop right now looking forward to the next chapter in her rich history. I'll also make the "case for the basket-case," and attempt to describe not only the value of owning a restored classic yacht, but the rewarding experience of participating in the process. If I succeed, perhaps the next rotten old boat you see will look more like an opportunity and less like a sad story.

In the weeks ahead I will be sending two more newsletters presenting you with two exclusive opportunities to restore a classic boat.

The case for "the basket case"

Recently I was invited to have a look at a boat that had been discovered in the back corner of an old barn in Sargentville.  The barn was about to be torn down and the boat very nearly went with it. She was a hard case: Hogged, modified, poorly repaired, neglected but clearly of some pedigree. I have since identified the boat as a Dark harbor 12 ½, designed by B.B Crowninshield. A photo of the poor old thing (with a ominous Caterpillar excavator looming in the background) garnered an enormous response when I posted it on social media.

What is it about an old boat on the verge of oblivion that tugs so hard at the ol'heart strings? I think that even someone with the most elementary understanding of boat design and construction can't help but be struck by the feats of engineering and craftsmanship that these old boats represent. They might be rotten heaps but nevertheless they are icons of some of our most important national ideals: The wealth and success of their owners, the artistry and ingenuity of their designers, the skill and hard work of their builders. It's no wonder that the prospect of their destruction is very moving.
WH-15 Before
Watch Hill 15 Before
But the site of a neglected old boat with identifiable pedigree doesn't usually inspire sadness at what could be lost. Quite the opposite. We find it exciting because of the potential it holds. We can't help but picture that sad boat in all it's original glory. Unfortunately the notions that it is "beyond help", or cheaper/ easier to "just build a new one" usually seem to win out over that first thrilling notion of resurrection.
Well I think a case can be made that it often IS worth it, and indulging that first instinct to bring her back and chasing that to it's conclusion might be the best decision you ever make. Here's why:
WH-15 sailing1
Watch Hill 15 after.


1.The experience of restoring a classic boat can be deeply rewarding for everyone involved. It provides an opportunity to immerse oneself in the rich history that surrounds these boats, the genius of their designers, the techniques of their builders and the stories of their owners. Many classic boat owners arrive at a wonderful perspective in which they recognize themselves as stewards of a significant piece of history. They are a chapter in a story that began long before them and, due to their efforts, will long survive them. I firmly believe that those with the means and wisdom to commission restorations of classic yachts are providing a service to the greater community by preserving these icons of American artistry, ingenuity and craftsmanship. OK it's not exactly philanthropy but, a culture that cherishes it's history is (usually) better for it. Some European countries are way ahead of us on this front. In fact, the popularity of restoring and actively racing classic yachts in Europe has resulted in the emigration of some of our most significant classic yachts to the Med and elsewhere. Which leads me to my next point.




2.There are not a lot of unrestored classic yachts still available. Most of the surviving N.G. Herreshoff boats have been re-discovered and restored. But there are still opportunities to find and restore great designs from the teens, twenties and thirties. From the same drawing boards as the J's, P's, Q's, R's,meter boats and custom masterpieces, the smaller knockabout one designs represent some of the most beautiful, best sailing and practical craft for the purposes of today's sailors. Some of these classes were built by the dozen, and while many are no more, others are "missing" according the the class associations.  That could mean gone OR under cover in the back of an old barn... waiting.




3.I am not such a romantic to believe that every old boat is worthy of a restoration. But even a very sad looking old boat can represent value when compared with a new replica. Perhaps it's rotten through and through, but has more or less kept her shape: you've got yourself a mold with which you can steam bend new frames and fit new bulkheads. Maybe she's been left out to weather, but it turns out the spars were squired away in a barn 25 years ago and are OK: you've just saved thousands. Maybe the spars are gone, she's been heavily modified, rotten, hogged: well, that lead ballast keel is worth thousands compared with a new custom casting, and that deck hardware is priceless.


In old barns and half covered in fields, on the east coast, the great lakes and the northwest there are remarkably beautiful old boats waiting for someone to see their potential. So lets embrace the excitement, scold the skeptics and go forth and find them. Let's pool our resources, and commit our efforts to restoring them to former glory. When their relaunched we'll sail them and know a richness and depth of experience on board that can only come from knowing every piece of wood, every line and every story.

In the shop right now is MOLLY B. She is a bespoke 28' cat rigged yawl, the last design of C.C Hanley, built in 1927.  A Mainer by birth Hanley found himself on Cape Cod in the 1890s as the cat boat was just beginning a remarkable evolution from vernacular fishing craft to world renown racing yacht. In fact you could say that he single highhandedly introduced the larger yachting world to the advantages of the cat boat when his large racing cats MUCILAGE and HARBINGER won handily in handicapped races against the latest designs from N.G Herreshoff, B.B Crowninshield, E. Burgess and W. Gardner. He even attempted a cat boat contender for the 1901 America's Cup at 90' LOA and 36' beam!
N.G. Herreshoff said of Hanley after his death that he was " the hardest nut I had to crack." Slightly condescending perhaps, but a remarkable complement none the less. MOLLY B. was Hanley's last design. In much the same way that N.G Herreshoff broke free of rating rules and class development to produce his timeless ALERION family late in his career, MOLLY B. shows remarkable conservatism and subtlety for a man who made his living designing extreme racing machines with scary spreads of canvas. While her reverse raking stem, hollow entry and inboard rudder are emblematic of his work, the cat-yawl rig, more manageable sail area and comfortable accommodations are features in keeping with the wisdom gained over a lifetime of building, designing and sailing cat boats. The testament to the success of his final effort is her very presence in our shop nearly 90 years after she was designed and built. She has been loved by many and survived just the sort of highs and lows that her legendary designer did. Now her latest owner is writing her next chapter.

When all is said and done we will have replaced approximately 80% of MOLLY B's original material. The work has taken place in stages over the past 6 years or so. For the owner I think the project has always represented a vision of his future, in which he has the time to enjoy this wonderful boat with his large and growing family. If you knew Robert and his family you would understand that a big cat boat is the perfect craft for them, and it would be easy to picture three generations piling into MOLLY B and setting sail with big smiles stem to stern.

Every customer who I have ever restored a boat for has contributed to the project in some way (beyond paying the bills) with their own talents and abilities. For some it's simply a passion for the history of the boat which contributes to the accuracy and authenticity of our work.

Others have contributed by way of their boating experience, incorporating features that improve performance or make life better underway. Robert's talent is very tangible. His business, Historical Arts and Castings produces first class hardware and castings for custom homes, and architectural restorations large and small around the world. Accordingly MOLLY B. Has a remarkable suit of hardware including a beautifully restored original steering gear, cast bronze centerboard trunk, a custom bronze sky light and much much more.

MOLLY B. was a basket case with a fantastic History. Lucky for her, one person couldn't shake the excitement he felt for her potential. Before long MOLLY B. Will be rigged and afloat for the first time in the better part of ten years. And one afternoon this July at the age of 89 she'll be outbound from Benjamin River (across the bar with her board up just because she can!) then down the reach toward Swans Island for the folk festival, or Buckle for a quiet night on the hook, or some other adventure that hasn't been written.... yet.