reference books

When I first delved into the Lulworth' s contemporaries, I quickly found something older and more extreme to read about: the Reliance. Her story, and that of her designer Nathanael Greene Herreshoff is well known and skillfully told by Christopher L. Pastore in his book Temple to the Wind. The chapter that most interested me was the first one, in which Herreshoff is described as having grudgingly taken commission of a new America's Cup defender for the New York Yacht Club. Then, setting himself to work a new design which might fend off British challengers, he chose a block of pine and spent the night on his attic workbench to shape his most extreme boat into a half hull. French yacht designer François Chevalier, whose drawings of the Reliance and her challenger Shamrock III are featured in the book, describes this relatively short amount of time as a moment when the hull, the scantlings, the frames, the weight distribution and all the intricate parts of the yacht were decided upon: a magic moment in which the "Wizard of Bristol" cast his spell onto the wood.

The drawings themselves are part of a larger work by Mr. Chevalier and yachting enthusiast Jacques Taglang, who have published a complete study of the America's Cup, and whose private collection is one of the largest in the field of yachting. Below is a review of their first books by Jon Wilson, editor and publisher of WoodenBoat magazine.

1851-1986 America's Cup Yacht Designs
by François Chevalier and Jacques Taglang

WoodenBoat magazine May/June 1988 — The history of the America's Cup has enjoyed considerable attention in the nearly one-and-a-half centuries since the schooner America crossed the Atlantic to her most famous victory under sail. But, until now, there has been no thorough, comparative study of the evolution of Cup contender designs from the beginning to the current crop of 12-meter sloops. One reason has been the daunting challenge of the research involved and of integrating and interpreting the information. The descriptions and drawings were not lost; they were simply scattered, and often inconsistent with other pieces of information crucial to new drawings. The dilemma was distilling the information in such a way as to enhance the numerous plans drawings, which are truly the heart of this book. When authors Chevalier and Taglang decided to put the information together, they created the first French-language history of the Cup (the text is in both French and English), and they committed themselves to making it beautiful.

With her 10,042 sqft of sail area, 140-ton displacement, 117'7" LOA, and 22'4" beam, Valkyrie II proved to be very fast in the 1893 race. The George L. Watson design was defeated, however, by N. G. Herreshoff's Vigilant. Before Valkyrie II could challenge the Herreshoff yacht again, she was rammed and sank.

That they have succeeded in the latter is undeniable. This is fine bookmaking: good subject, good paper, good printing, good binding. And it should be, at this price. The book measures 17" × 12" and weighs a hefty 16 lbs. It's a book to savor. The printing is entirely black and white, except for the frontispiece, which is a lovely Watercolor by Marc Berthier of America and Australia II sailing side-by-side.

The passion of the authors for their subject is obvious, and their short prologues contain hints of their characters. Naval architect Chevalier's begins: "Draw me a boat, and I will tell you who you are." But what he gained from creating this book is revealed in his closing question: "What have I become for having redrawn and thereby taken for mine all these superb yachts? Enriched with their lines, it is time for me to go back to the drawing board and start again." For those of us moved by the richness of our maritime past, these are sweet words.

Writer/modelmaker Taglang's prologue reveals his own lessons: in particular, the process by which individuals of accomplishment become legends in time. His gift is to make note of the also-rans, the individuals who themselves toiled for the chance of defending or challenging. He knows well that generally only the winners become legends, but that all who participate play a role.

The narrative and descriptive text is, of necessity, somewhat limited in length, the text enhancing the drawings. The only drawback to this approach for the scholar is that it occasionally encourages incorrect inference. A case in point is the text on L. Francis Herreshoffs Whirlwind. A brief reference is made to the fact that LFH did not get along with his father, Nathanael. Nothing more is said about this, and it is easy to infer that this was a true and permanent state of affairs, which was not the case. It might have been more appropriate to note that the two saw things differently and did not collaborate. Once again, this book does not pretend to be a scholarly treatise. On the other hand, it is not superficial, and the chapter notes add considerably to the reader's understanding of events.

The plans themselves are beautifully drafted, and consist of lines and sail plans for all of the yachts covered. They are elegantly simple and informative. The sail plans are near perfect in their detail, and would make fine framed prints. The lines plans provide scales in both feet and meters, and M. Chevalier has added an interesting touch: in his layout of waterline and overall length scales, he has noted the lengths of overhangs, allowing some interesting quantitative comparisons. Most important, the plans drawings are all source-attributed, so that one may follow the draftsman's paths, if one desires.

Plans were drawn to nine different scales for the book, so that each group drawn provides for as large a plan as possible. The result is very agreeable throughout; it is perfectly natural to see the lines for the enormous Reliance filling the same space as those for Australia II. A few boats, unfortunately, are absent altogether, due to the unavailability of reliable information. The authors acknowledge this absence, and conclude correctly that it is better to have a few gaps than to include speculative drawings.
Each chapter covers a campaign, beginning with a narrative of events leading up to and through the races themselves, followed by the results of each of the races. Next is a group of plans, with descriptive text, for the defender and challenger and many of the yachts that also vied for the opportunity to challenge or defend. For each of these, sail plans and full lines are included, and, where possible, a small photograph or drawing of the designer as well.

This process works through 27 chapters (through the 1987 races in Australia) but although there is data on Stars & Stripes '87, and on Kookaburra III, the book unfortunately includes no plans for either of these. Plans for other candidates in this campaign are presented though, and it is very interesting to wind up the book with these modern machines.

An appendix contains additional technical data on all the boats in the book, as well as the formulae for the various measurement rules that dictated the design parameters over the years. There is a fine bibliography and an index. In the picky-picky department, the Conversion Table defines "knot" as one mile per hour, as opposed to one "nautical" mile per hour, and attentive readers will find a variety of misspellings throughout, but these are small matters.

Who will buy this book? Well, every serious student of yacht design will find the desire for it undeniable, and the need for it irresistible. One would spend long weeks and months finding the resources that would allow him or her to study this evolution at all, to say nothing of the convenience that the book's consistency of scale and line provides. Any library with an interest in things maritime would certainly do well to acquire it. But the audience who will undoubtedly go wild for it is the modelmakers, for here is an opportunity to devote one's life to the building of half- or full-models that represent 135 years of America's Cup racing. The absence of decks in plan view will slow them down, but the presence of structures in the profile will spur them on.

Charles E. Nicholson designed and built Shamrock IV for Sir Thomas Lipton's fourth Cup challenge in 1914. "The ugly duckling," as she was called by her designer, had long, flat, lopped-off ends and a sliding centerboard in her keel. When she was halfway across the Atlantic on the way to the races, World War I broke out, and she was put in drydock until the end of the war. When the match against N. G. Herreshoffs Resolute was finally held in 1920, Shamrock IV lost in spite of an early lead. Sir Thomas said he never wanted to see the boat again, and Shamrock IV's bronze hull was sold for scrap and her timbers cut up for firewood.

The price of this book is high, and there is no denying it. On the other hand, there is no denying its unique value. It is not for everyone, by any means. There is an endless number of books an impassioned student of history "wants", but for some, this could be the only book they'd ever need.

1870-1887 American and British Yacht Designs
by François Chevalier and Jacques Taglang

WoodenBoat magazine January/February 1994 — To the student of the evolution of American and British yacht design, there is perhaps no period more extraordinary than the latter half of the 19th century. To be sure, there have been many exciting designs produced in this century, but their evolution has been much more subtle, as designers seemed to create within fundamentally common themes. They were not, for the most part, inventing whole new forms, although they were certainly refining basic forms in exquisitely delicate ways. As a field of study, the history of 20th century yacht design deserves deep and focused research, but it cannot possibly be understood without a complete comprehension of its foundations in 19th century design.

It is the two most intense decades of experimentation and development in that period – 1870-1887 – that the authors of 1870-1887 American and British Yacht Designs have turned their attention, through research, writing, and the creation of measured drawings. In fact, so focused is their attention that I wondered, as I examined their work, whether we at WoodenBoat would have been as determined to produce the book and magazine material we have on early yacht design if these books had been in print in 1980 or '81. For these authors have provided readers with a fairly broad look at some of the finest products of the period's naval architecture practices, primarily through the fine drawings (labeled in English) of François Chevalier. But of course we would have published. After all, our editorial mission has always been to provide a broader context for appreciating the evolution of yacht design during that and other periods. We were not always successful in finding good–or any–plans drawings, however, and it is here that these books surpass anything before them. For many yacht designers, and for historians who understand the principles of naval architecture clearly, 1870-1887 American and British Yacht Designs is a complete study, especially with the narrative work (published in both French and English) of Jacques Taglang which leads each chapter, and which accompanies each yacht's plans. Drawn from a variety of sources, the text is necessarily brief and does not attempt to do more than place the type or design in the context of the others in the collection. Deeper understanding of individual yachts, or their place in time, would require more thorough scholarship, and the reference notes and bibliography offer an abundance of accessible resources. But this is not, I think, designed to be an intellectual experience. Rather, it is an emotional and romantic one, a celebration of the art and science of yacht design at the very time when rule-of-thumb principles were being displaced by more scientific ones. And many of the great examples are here. There are yachts included whose hull lines I've never seen, including most of the schooners, from the majestic Ambassadress to the lovely Gitana; a few sloops and cutters, notably A. Cary Smith's Priscilla and Cinderella, and William Fife's exquisite Ulidia. There are also many more for which no sail plans have ever been published. In these respects, there is much that is new here; some truly historic events, and certainly some drafting "firsts."

Among the most engaging of these for me are the hull lines of Nathanael Herreshoff's steam yacht designs Stiletto and Now Then. As most enthusiasts know, Mr. Herreshoff did not draw hull lines, but carved models of his designs, from which offsets were taken to scale and entered in so-called Offset Books, which were then referred to by loftsmen who laid down the lines full size on the floor prior to building the molds. Because of his ingenious methods, it's a virtual certainty that even Mr. Herreshoff himself had never seen the lines of these yachts drawn out. But because most of the original Offset Books and plans are available for research at the Hart Nautical Collections of the MIT Museum, Mr. Chevalier was able to develop the lines to scale with great fidelity, and the result is quite exciting. Other yachts' lines were created by painstakingly measuring half models in the extensive and impressive collections at the New York Yacht Club. (It's fair to say that, without these collections, we would have practically no idea of what the shapes of certain historic yachts were like, and it is fortunate that the Club has seen fit to preserve its heritage.) Additional research was conducted in the extensive Ships Plans collections of Mystic Seaport Museum, and each plan drawing is attributed to its source. The only mystery to me is the sail plan drawing of the cutter Madge, which is itself an exciting event. While the hull lines have been well documented, preserved, and published, I have never seen more than a small sketch of the original sail plan, and certainly never seen a complete drawing as beautifully rendered as Mr. Chevalier's. (The jib topsaill looks a little awkward in size and placement to my eye, but I'm no yacht designer.)

The authors were inspired in this endeavor by a rare and valuable book published in 1887 entitled American and English Yachts, which featured fine yacht portraits by photographer Nathaniel Stebbins, brief descriptions of the yachts – perhaps by Stebbins – and an essay on yachts and yachting by Edward Burgess. There were no drawings. At the time, Mr. Burgess had successfully designed three America's Cup defenders, and he was certainly one of the heroes of the yachting world. Because he had so little time for writing during his bright but brief career (cut short by a fatal illness in 1891), the essay affords a rare glimpse at his thinking. On the subject of his winning designs Puritan and Mayflower in 1885/86, his comments are particularly valuable. And, fortunately, the authors of 1870-1887 American and British Yacht Designs have chosen to include the Burgess essay, which helps to provide perspective on the book's contents, as the original had done. Interestingly enough, Burgess was resigned to the fact that, in the future, all cruising boats would be powered by steam, and in time by electricity. His hope remained that "we can at least continue the interest in sailing matches, even if we cruise in machine propelled craft." The whole idea of the auxiliary cruiser was yet to be developed. All of the yachts originally featured in American and English Yachts are included in these two new volumes, with 20 more yachts added to provide a broader view. Among the most significant, perhaps, is the ill-fated centerboard schooner Mohawk, which capsized in 1876 while preparing to get underway. Her anchor was hove short and her sheets were fast when she was hit by two squalls and laid over on her side. Her inside ballast shifted, as did some of the cabin furniture, and she sank, with several people trapped below. Because the period covered saw the intense pitting of shallow centerboarders ("skimming dishes") against deep cutters ("lead mines"), resulting in the emergence in this country of the "compromise" type, there are many examples of each type included. Mohawk was an extreme example in the large centerboarder category, and one look at her lines will show why she was so vulnerable. But where Edward Burgess would never have included a failed yacht among his selections, it is well for modern students to study such designs, lest we forget. Neither would Burgess have included sandbaggers, of which there are five splendid examples (including Annie, still preserved at Mystic Seaport), but they also help us to understand the extremes. There are several other yachts included that represent less extreme thinking, and which should be included in any study of the period in question. Fanny, an 1874 sloop built by D.O. Richmond of Mystic, is one, as is Schemer, whose model, like that of Madge, will be familiar to longtime readers of WoodenBoat. The yawls Florinda and Jullanar are included, and provide a welcome look at fine examples of a rig little used in yachts during this period.

As the authors note, there are a few plans omissions, due simply to the fact that no information could be found with which to draw them, but each of the examples is illustrated by some means, with a photograph where possible. There are several photographs I had never seen before, although I certainly should have. Perhaps the most ironic for me was the portrait of the sloop Fanny. When we published in 1989 our Fiftieth Anniversary Edition of W.P. Stephens's Traditions and Memories of American Yachting (indisputably the single most important study of the history of American yachting), we worked hard to find original photographs, or improved versions of those initially used in the book, and in large part we succeeded. Since Stephens himself had been forced to use a poor photo of Fanny in attempting to illustrate her original single-headsail rig, I searched widely but to no avail for a better one, and had to settle eventually for another – taken after she had been fitted with double headsails. In reading through Mr. Taglang's text on Fanny, I turned the page to see the very photo I had been wishing to find – showing her large single jib. Greatly enlarged from a rare, small Stebbins photo, it was perfect. Mr. Stephens and I had both completely missed it. (It will be found in our next edition, and so, perhaps, might some of Mr. Chevalier's drawings, if we can arrange it. They are that important.)

In all, there are 71 yachts that make up the work, including 14 schooners, 6 catboats, 5 sandbaggers, 1 catamaran, 8 sloops, 17 cutters, 4 yawls, 9 compromise sloops, and 7 steam yachts. Apart from the drawings themselves, which are beautiful, the authors have taken great pains to reproduce the additional photos and illustrations as faithfully as possible to the originals, utilizing a duotone process which adds richness and depth to each page. My copies contain a few juxtaposed pages, which I hope and presume was a single oddity in binding, but the production of the books is library quality, with the same kind of fine paper and binding used in Taglang and Chevalier's previous book, 1851-1986 America's Cup Yacht Designs, published in 1987, and reviewed in WB No. 82. Like the latter book, the trim size on these is 16½" × 12" (horizontal), which obviously makes them unhandy for browsing in the lap. But the format is dictated by the audiors' commitment to large-scale drawings, which any serious student appreciates. Of course, such a commitment must come at a price, and the price is no small matter. Yet for the serious, it may be an irresistible opportunity. To the modeler of traditional yachts, it may be a necessity, for many of these lines will be found nowhere else, and the story to be told in half or full models is a powerful one. There is not, nor has there ever been, anything quite like this book in the world. There have been large-format collections of printed plans (Kunhardt's Small Yachts) and books of photographs (Nathaniel Stebbins and Henry Peabody) from the period, and there is the above-mentioned Stephens, which provides much of the information and more, but in smaller format. There has never been such a focused combination of the two in such an elaborate and enduring form. It is unquestionably a labor of love, and for any owner, it will doubtless be an object of love. Yet, though it is prohibitively priced for most of us, it deserves our attention and admiration, and surely belongs in any serious maritime library.

The photographs in Nanthaniel Livermore Stebbins' book American & English Yachts are published on Wikimedia Commons.

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