Friday, July 18, 2008


Painting - Jack Coggins

This is a yawl with a bone in her teeth. The yacht is one that has been built from a particular yacht design. I am going to take a punt as to the identity of that design.

I see from the flag that is flying off the leech of the mizzen that she is from the United States. By looking at the point at the bottom of the stern I can see that she is of hard chine hull form. Comparing the size of the crew with the size of the boat I would estimate that the yacht is about 34 feet in overall length excluding the bowsprit. The other features of the yacht that are worthy of note are the combination bowsprit and boomkin and the cabin form without a doghouse.

So what yacht is this? Well what gives her identity away is really the overall look of the boat. Its not really a hard bit of detective work at all and many sailors who know their boats would pick her for what she is. So what is she? - well I think that she is an example of the V-bottom Sea Bird design, a type developed by Captain Thomas Fleming Day and yacht designers on the staff of the Rudder Magazine. The reason for using the V-bottom type was that it is easier for the amateur builder to lay down and construct this type of hull form.

A smaller edition of this yacht (26 feet) was sailed across the Atlantic in the very early 1900s by Fleming Day. It was one of the great early transatlantic crossings.

But a more famous voyage was completed by the bigger 34 foot edition pictured above by the legendary Harry Pidgeon who completed a single handed circumnavigation in the 1920s in his yacht Islander. He wrote a classic book about his exploits called "Around The World Single - Handed". It was at the beginning of the golden age of small boat circumnavigations - an age marked by the spirit of courage and the robustness of simplicity.

These were far off and much simpler days when a small yacht could come and go throughout the Pacific Islands and many other areas of the world without the red tape and bureaucracy of today. These adventures were uncommon and the sailors of this era were treated as heroes.

They were heroes. These were the days before GPS, SSB radios, VHF, EPIRPs and air searches. You left harbour and your return depended solely on your seamanship, the seaworthiness of your little ship with a little bit of luck for good measure.

Many of this type of yacht were built by amateurs all over the world. My Uncle built this larger version here in New Zealand in the late 1940s and called her Joy. He started the ill fated 1951 Wellington to Lyttleton yacht race in her that saw four yachts perish. He left Wellington but returned because of storm force winds and huge waves in Cook Strait - but shipmates that's another story.

Harry Pidgeon and Islander - I salute you, and all circumnavigators old and new - such a voyage is a huge accomplishment indeed.


Katherine said...

Well, I salute your knowledge! And your lilting and gentle writing style. So easy to read.

Tillerman said...

Well thank you, I shall put the words lilting and gentle up on the mantle piece with my other friends dappled and windfall.