Other Beauties

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

Well who can argue with that? This seems to be particularly true of boat owners. There are boats which are clearly a source of pride for their owners and that I would give away rather than own, most of them look like a cross between a Clorox bottle and a running shoe. Then there are the boats that I am instinctively drawn to, and which frighten sensible people away.

It should be obvious that I think the friendship sloop is a beautiful design, I keep track of Friendships whenever I see them and our boat is really a member of our family, but there are other boats that catch my eye and gladden the heart.

We were sitting on a mooring in Boothbay for the 4th of July this year, and two boats down was a Concordia 39. She caught the eye as soon as we arrived. I remember the first time I was introduced to a Concordia up close; it was in the 1970’s, I was a boy and we were invited out on the boat of a friend. I remember being unimpressed by the yacht club (pretentious without class), but the launch driver was obviously competent (I still tend to avoid yacht clubs like the pox, and am still prone to judge them by the quality of the launch and by the skill of the launch driver), then the Concordia came into view. I only remember thinking “now THAT is a beautiful boat”. That day on the water was the first of many over the years where a Concordia was a source of joy. Beauty and function, married closely with craftsmanship. Wow.

A Concordia 39'

Just last fall I shared a delightful sail with the woman who will voluntarily get up in the middle of a stormy night and stand an anchor watch, and her parents (my future in-laws), on a Concordia owned by a friend of theirs on lake Champlain. It was cold, but it was also a day dominated by bright October sunshine, and a stiff but not overwhelming breeze. I will admit to being loath to take the tiller for fear that my past delightful memories might turn out to be more colored by youthful interpretation than based in fact. I need not have worried, the feel of a balanced helm with those slight cavitations that accompanies a rudder perfectly in line with the slipstream of the keel, was everything I remembered. It was beautiful sail on a beautiful day.

Moonfleet, another 39'

One experience that I had with a Concordia out of the water involved our ship’s wolf. She and I had arrived at the yard that handles our launching and haul out. Our boat was on stands and I was readying the mast to be stepped. When we arrived I saw that the yard had placed next to us a beautiful old Concordia on stands and there was a guy painting the boot-top. Now, you need to understand that our ship’s wolf can be very standoffish with people she has not met, so I surprised to see her walk right up to this total stranger and sit down next to him. He commented on what a beautiful animal she is. I responded by saying that I had only seen her take to one other guy so quickly, a friend of mine who is a fish and game officer. The guy with the paintbrush looked a little surprised before he said, “I’m a fish and game officer.” Now it was my turn to be surprised. He asked next what her name was, and I told him, “Saxon”. Now he looked downright shocked. He said, “You’re kidding me!” (Actually he didn’t use the word “kidding”, he said something slightly different, but you get the idea.) I assured him that I was not, and he told me to go look at the name of his boat. I walked aft, and there it was painted on the transom: SAXON. Neither of us could believe it. We did not get to know one another too well as he was in the process of selling the boat, and in fact sold it within the year, but I was once again impressed by the beauty of these classic wooden treasures.

I keep track of Concordias whenever I see them, the 39s, the 41s, and the more rare Concordia 31s and 33s. I have only seen two of this last category, but in both cases, when I laid eyes on it, it was the only boat in the anchorage as far as I was concerned. There is one 31 that appears to spend time in the Fox Island Thoroughfare surrounded by a small fleet of Herreshoff 12 ½ day-sailors, certainly good company.

While on the subject of Herreshoffs, I should point out that the 12 ½ is a beautiful boat. Of the three most notable of the Herreshoff design and construction dynasty, John Brown Herreshoff, his younger brother Nathanael Green Herreshoff, and captain Nat’s son, L. Francis Herreshoff, it is to the work of Nathanael Green Herreshoff that I am most drawn. To my eye, the NY 30 and the Buzzards Bay 30 are two of the most elegant sailing vessels ever designed. I will certainly admit that neither design caters to the comfort of the modern sailor, in fact both designs are fairly Spartan in layout and require some muscle to sail, but then, both designs were the result of a time when luxuries (like an inboard diesel) and comfort were not considered an important part of recreational sailing.

Buzzards Bay 30, reconfigured with marconi rig

I mentioned launches, last weekend I was rowing the ship’s wolf ashore to do our evening inspection of the boatyard, and a lovely launch came put-putting into the cove. She almost looked like a slightly smaller version of one of the old navy double-ender launches, and it was clear she needed little power to push her along. She moved smoothly leaving little wake, and maneuvered beautifully. I was caught transfixed, and only wished I had brought the binoculars so that I could get a better look. The woman who will voluntarily get up in the middle of a stormy night and stand an anchor watch was still on our sloop at the time and did get a closer look and corroborated my impression of form and function.  How refreshing to see a launch that moves well without the aid of massive motors that need to be guided by hydraulics in order to overcome poor hydrodynamic design.

Another favorite designer of mine is Sam Crocker. I had the opportunity to buy two of Sam’s boats, Land’s End and Milky Way. I found both boats captivating, but at the time, each vessel needed more work and investment than I could afford, and I have always tried to stay realistic about what a boat is going to cost to bring back from the brink and then maintain. Still, Sam’s cruising boats stand out in a crowd as practical, functional, beauties.

S.S. Crocker sloop

And now a word about drop-dead gorgeous: Fife. I remember once making my way through the Stonington thoroughfare and thinking that we were a pretty special sight with all sail set, when around an island, on opposite tack and heading in the opposite direction came a Fife. She was about 55 feet on deck and looked delicate and fleet, swift, and yet almost predatory. We ghosted by each other in light air and I suddenly felt like a poor relation. I have only seen three other Fifes in my time on the water, and each time I felt like I had just bumped into the Queen of England in a grocery store. The woman who will voluntarily get up in the middle of a stormy night and stand an anchor watch once served as professional crew on a Fife, Halloween. The boat made a memorable impression on her, and we have several pictures of Halloween framed and hanging in the cottage. I believe Halloween is now registered in Italy and can be chartered for a measly 4,000 Euros a day….

As I mentioned in the third sentence of this post, there are boats that I am drawn to that scare other people away.

Halloween on deck

Halloween when she was named CottonBlossom IV

A Fife is now, and ever will be, out of my reach, but, I can appreciate the effort it takes to keep a Fife going, and I can admire the effort and the boat. That goes for a Concordia too, even though at heart I am a gaff-rigged sailor. I am sure that each time those owners come down to the dock, or glimpse their boats on the mooring they have a sense of awe for what they are keeping afloat and alive. I feel sure of this, because as far as our own boat goes, even after ten seasons, I still do.


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