cutwaters & counters, 1886 - 1891

Yacht design saw intensive development between 1886 and 1891. 1886 was foremost a time of increasing rivalry amongst designers in Britain: John Beavor-Webb, Charles Pole Clayton, Arthur Edward Philip Payne, Jr., Alexander Richardson, Joseph Manston Soper, George Lennox Watson, the William Fifes and Yacht Racing Association (YRA) secretary Dixon Kemp himself were all frantically working their draftboards to find loopholes in the "1730 tonnage rule", in force since 1880. This rating rule, like the "Thames Tonnage rule" before it, disfavoured powerful racing yachts with wide beams, so the British cutter developed to be a "long, narrow, heavily ballasted, deep-bodied, wall-sided hull, possessing little beauty, small initial stability and no great speed", in Watson's words. Called the "Plank-on-Edge" design paradigm, colloquially "lead mines", the cutter of this period was often six times longer than she was wide, with ballast often placed outside the keel, a concept first developed to great effect by Watson. And the boats were growing longer, deeper, heavier and narrower, producing an extreme type of boat that was ill-suited to cruising and would have unsafe offshore behaviour.

Though not a versatile boat at all, the British cutter proved on occasion to be deadly efficient against the sloop type of American waters. The Yankee sloop of the same period can be described as the opposite to the cutter, being wide and shallow, with a centerboard, efficient in closed waters and light winds, and by no means an oceangoing vessel either. Captain Nathanael Herreshoff's 37ft sloop Shadow (1871) reigned supreme over other American boats for ten years, until the Scottish cutter Madge (George Lennox Watson design) ended her winning spree in 1880. In 1885, the 20-tonner Clara (William Fife, Jr. design, 1884, captained by John Barr) and the crack yacht Genesta (John Beavor-Webb design, 1884) were brought to the Atlantic Seaboard, and though the latter lost the America's Cup races, both took many prizes over Yankee sloops, proving to be nigh unbeatable, in particular the Clara, which won all races in her first and second seasons. If the Yankee sloop and British cutter of this age did not resemble each other, they did have the straight bow in common, as the following lines show (drawn by their respective designers):

body plan, sheer plan and half-breadth plan of the 1886 America's Cup challenger Galatea (John Beavor-Webb) and defender Mayflower (Edward Burgess)


In 1887, George Lennox Watson was chosen by a Scottish syndicate from the Royal Clyde Yacht Club to design an America's Cup challenger, and he borrowed extensively from the Yankee sloop, making his design Thistle wider and shallower than his previous cutters. Both the Thistle and her opponent the Volunteer featured clipper bows, and a much cutaway forefoot which greatly reduced wetted surface. In effect, the Seawanhaka and YRA's new rating rules did not tax beam at all, but simply Length & Sail area, and brought greater attention to the design of efficient underbodies. Most yachts would henceforth feature clipper bows, like the 1889 cutter Minerva (William Fife, Jr. design, 1888, captained by John Barr's brother Charles), which was bought in the UK and brought to the Eastern Seaboard. There she topped the 40-foot class in her first year. America's favoured yacht designer Ned Burgess never produced convincing sloops to beat her until 1890, and even then she was not an easy contender for his designs Mariquita and Gossoon.

body plan, sheer plan and half-breadth plan of the 1887 America's Cup challenger Thistle (George Lennox Watson) and defender Volunteer (Edward Burgess)


The action was taken to a larger scale in 1891 when the 46-foot class was created, which accompanied Captain Nat's great comeback from steamyachts. He had lost his steam license in 1888 due to a lethal accident with a boiler, but he would immediately produce trend-setting designs for sailing yachts. Ned Burgess died in 1891, so Captain Nat. may also have been seen as a timely blessing for American yachting. In 1891 he produced for Edwin Dennison Morgan the 46ft sloop Gloriana, of which a simple diagram (centerline buttock and midship section) may be found in William Picard Stephens' book American Yachting:

The Gloriana featured a distinctive deep fin keel, a relatively narrow body and with very much the first spoon bow, albeit rather straight, and extremely long overhangs. Her wetted surface was very small and she dominated the 46 foot class from the onset. The Gloriana retired from racing that year after only six races, which she won soundly. Herreshoff repeated his success in 1892 with Archibald Rogers's 46ft Wasp, with a more pronounced and deeper fin keel. The Wasp served as a model for his 1893 America's Cup defence candidates Vigilant and especially Colonia. Starting with Gloriana and Wasp, then with his huge America's Cup boats, Captain Nat. set yachting into a new quest to seek the longest sailing length and overhangs to cheat the rating rule of the day.

I have juxtaposed a drawing of counters by Joseph Manston Soper and a drawing of cutwaters by George Lennox Watson to describe the increase in overhangs during this period:

the Gloriana (Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, 1891) in her first season.
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