MARBLEHEAD – There never seems to be a lack of interesting boatbuilding projects on the coast of Maine and many times the person responsible for the design does not get the credit due. Presently at Brooklin Boat Yard in Brooklin they have three new builds underway and two of these projects are off the design board of one designer, Jim Taylor of Marblehead, Massachusetts.
The one furthest along is a 50-footer for a local owner from Blue Hill, who presently owns the Eggemoggin 47 LARK. Jim added, “I did the appendages and rig changes for LARK and since, they have built three variations on this theme. This owner is building what amounts to a third iteration of DREADNOUGHT and BLACKFISH, both 49-footers. DREADNOUGHT is the first boat that I had built in 2014. They are Spirit of Tradition, with modern under bodies and traditional topsides. DREADNOUGHT was the first and BLACK FISH the second. BLACK FISH is the same hull, but with a different keel and the cabin house is exactly one shower stall shorter. So, the cockpit companionway bulkhead came forward 24½-inches along with the entire cockpit and the traveler, everything is shifted forward. They pretty much have the same speed potential. BLACK FISH is a little bit deeper keeled and presumably a little bit quicker up wind.”
On the new 50 the owner wanted the house top raised three inches and that meant that the sheer had to go up to match it. Jim added, “This also added to the bow and a little bit to the stern. These changes change virtually everything despite the fact that conceptually it is kind of simple but in the execution it is complex. All of the design and what Brooklin [Boat Yard] had to do all had to be updated. The first two are were 49s, and this one is actually 50 because as the sheer went out, it got longer.”
DREADNOUGHT is out sailing, much of the time singlehanded, virtually every day of the summer out of Southwest Harbor. This owner winters in Marina Del Rey, California where he has another boat. Jim explained, “The West Coast boat is called VA PENSIERO which is another Brooklin Boat Yard build that they took a chain saw to two years ago. They sawed off the appendages and put on new ones. He wanted to do more racing and he wasn’t doing very well so he commissioned DREADNOUGHT. When he built the new boat there wasn’t a buyer for the old boat so rather than give it up for nothing he decided to take it to the West Coast and sail it out there. Then he said, ‘Can you make VA PENSIERO more like DREADNOUGHT?’ I said, ‘Yeah we can.’ I drew up some conceptual drawings for what that would involve and showed them to Brooklin and I would not have been surprised that they told me that I was nuts. They did a beautiful job and the changes did work out really well. He’s had a lot of fun with the boat on the West Coast, but it is a varnished wooden boat that just gets cooked in the California sun. He was getting tired of maintaining the boat and wanted one more competitive so he decided on a race boat. It is not Spirit of Tradition. First, I wasn’t really quite sure what he was after. I sketched up some ideas that were kind of modern, contemporary full on race boats. Because he is not a young guy and he doesn’t have a professional crew I started to back off. I realized that I was ending up not too far from a really successful race boat that I did in 1998. A good description would be a gentleman’s day boat. She is 44 feet, but this one they have not started yet.”
There has been a change in the way designers have had to adapt to the way boats are built today. Jim explained, “The boats on the wall, which were built in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you pretty much designed the hull and the yard went off and started building the hull. Then you designed the interior maybe and certainly the deck hardware came along a lot later. The way Brooklin [Boat Yard] is set up, and the way that boat building works now, the hull is of a 3D model and so you can pre-fab all kinds of components and cut them and plop them in and they will fit. It changes the design process as it all has to be done and ready, almost from the get go.”
BLACK FISH, which is based out of Nantucket, mostly races in the classic yacht races held on the East Coast and does very well in the Spirit of Tradition class.
The Classic Yacht races start with the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta in Newport, RI. Then they come to the coast of Maine and compete in the Castine to Camden Race; Camden to Brooklin Race and the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta on the first weekend of August. Then it is onto the Corinthian Classic in Marblehead, the Opera House Cup at Nantucket; the Herreshoff Museum regatta and the IYRS regatta, both two-day events, in Narragansett Bay.
These classic yacht races became popular in the 1980s and it was the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta that led the way followed by the Classic Yacht Race, hosted by the Museum of Yachting in Newport and the Opera House Cup on Nantucket. These races have there own handicapping system, which is the challenging aspect of this type of racing as the competitors are very diverse.
A common question among serious pleasure boaters and people in the industry is boating healthy or not? There is no question that from the pleasure boat side of things, there are a lot fewer cruisers and racers then there were 25 years ago. Jim felt that cruising was doing okay, but in the sailboat racing world it was pretty sketchy. He said, “There are a lot of things that make sailboat racing at any level hard. It takes a lot of time. It’s hard to find a crew if you want to go sailing every weekend all summer long because they have families and everybody’s time is chopped up into little bits. That applies to one-design racing out here, it applies to super yacht racing. It applies to every level. It’s tough to find the time. The Rhodes 19 fleet here in Marblehead is very competitive and it’s been the healthiest fleet in town for quite a while. Part of the reason is we sail with two and the boats are relatively cheap, most of them 40 years old. If you need a big crew it’s a real issue. It’s a little like golf, which is struggling. You can’t just go out and play golf, you have to practice and learn how to play the game and it takes four hours to play 18 holes. Sailing is a lot the same. You can’t just walk down on the dock, hit the ignition and go off racing or even sailing. You need to have learned a lot. People don’t have that time.”
“Racing has gone kind of full circle,” added Jim. “When I started racing you raced around government marks and now all the racing that we do around here is around inflatable marks, windward leeward. This put the premium on tactics and that means you have to have a good crew. One thing that is growing is point-to-point type racing. The experience, the adventure part of it. The other piece is that the cost went nuts. In the 80s – 90s early 2000s professional guys, doctors, lawyers and business guys could afford to build boats and compete. However, the boats morphed into rather than boats that you could take the family for a week’s vacation into pure race boats. So, you had a 2 or 3 million dollar sailboat that you did nothing but race. That racing took you away from your family and you had to find crew. Early on in my career the crew would help get the boat ready in the spring and that all went away. Owners pay everything and so the costs went through the roof. The owners asked themselves, ‘Am I having that much fun?’ Too often the answer was no, which loops all the way back to the classic yacht world. In Grand Prix racing it was high-end, really competitive racing and everybody who didn’t go home with a trophy went home mad, because you failed. In the Classic boat racing world, there are all kinds of definitions for a successful day. In the [Eggemoggin] Reach Race 100 really cool boats come every year, by far the biggest event in the season and my guess is that 2/3 of the people who enter have no expectation of taking home a trophy. They are there for the experience. They are there to admire every else’s boats, and have other people admire their boats. People go away with a very different criteria for success.”
When asked who was his favourite designer, Jim said without hesitation, “Well, Nathanael Herreshoff was my hero because he did so many different things. He was way into engineering, did unbelievable engineering feats before everyone else. In all the time I have spent developing, tuning and refining the rating rule we use I have learned a lot about all these boats. Alfred Milne was a guy I hadn’t known much of. Clinton Crane or George Watson. Watson was the guy that after a whole bunch of tank testing in England and Herreshoff didn’t do any was quoted after an America’s Cup, ‘I wish he had a test tank.’ For me, both Herreshoffs are way up there. I never met L. Francis [Herreshoff] as he died a year before I got here. He was dyslexic to the point where his father thought he was never going to make it in the boat design world and he was sent off to run the family farm. He was actually a really good designer and aesthetically he had a finer eye than his dad. Nathanael the hulls, most of them are pretty, some of them are not, and the cabin houses were like mass production boxes. Get the boats out fast, at a profit. L. Francis, the boats are just way prettier, actually they are not all pretty, some had different goals, some particular objectives.”
Jim grew up on a farm on the Delaware River in New Jersey where he was introduced to a number of classic small sailboats. His mother’s family also had a summer house on a salt pond in Rhode Island where he learned to sail in a Beetle Cat. When asked about the Beetle Cat, Jim said, “It is a great boat for a kid, but probably the wettest boat I have ever been on. It is not very fast, but it is forgiving. You pull on the tiller and you learn a lot really quick.”
Jim went to college in Pennsylvania and ended up with a degree in engineering and English. He got into designing by doing the Yacht Design Institute’s and Westlawn’s design courses. Putting this altogether gave him a portfolio that got Ted Hood of Marblehead to hire him in 1974, which he terms ‘grad school.’ He really enjoyed his time working with Ted and said that he certainly learned a lot adding, “Ted was brilliant. One of the things that I really appreciated working with Ted was that if you had a good idea, it did not matter whose idea it was, go for it. Working with Ted was a fabulous opportunity because we designed boats, we built boats, did the sails, and did the spars all right there. You saw every piece of it.”
In 1974 Ted was involved in the America’s Cup, but Jim did not have much to do with that campaign. However, he did with the 1977 campaign when Hood designed from scratch INDEPENDENCE. Jim said, “I did most of the drawings for that boat. We also took on COURAGEOUS, which was supposed to be the practice boat skippered by Ted Turner. We had to convert COURAGEOUS because she was built before rule changes that required cockpits. It was a fabulous opportunity for me.”
When asked why INDEPENDENCE did not go on to defend the Cup, Jim explained, “We went through a whole bunch of tank testing and ended up with one pretty clear winner. It happened to be a boat that I drew and then kind of last gasp when you had to deliver the lines Ted came in and made a couple of changes that we hadn’t tested, that basically involved tipping the ends of the profile up so the boat got shorter and you got more sail area. It turned out to be a bad idea because in flat water here in the fall INDEPENDENCE was good, but in the slop off Newport the steeper ends weren’t as good. It’s hard when it’s time to deliver the lines. It’s hard to say that is it, because it is never it, there might be something else you could do. However, you have to be really careful not to do something stupid. That change turned what would have been a good boat, maybe not as good as COURAGEOUS, because COURAGEOUS was a really good 12 meter.”
Jim did a little bit of work in the next America’s Cup campaign in 1980, but his big break came with America3 in 1992. He was part of the design team that put together a racer that would successfully defend the America’s Cup that year. Jim added, “We designed and built four boats and the winner was the third of the four. The last one was basically an insurance policy for heavy air, but we kind of knew that was unlikely to be used much. Bill Koch headed this syndicate and he was really an interesting guy who was fascinated by the technology of sailing. One thing I always admired about him was we really didn’t have a budget. I remember him saying, ‘listen you guys, I am spending a whole lot of my personal money on this thing, I do not want to hear any of you ever say, well, if only we had an extra 10 percent we could have done this. If you find that there is something you want to pursue and you think is worthwhile, go ahead and do it.”
When asked what he favourite design is, he said, “That’s kind of like asking which is your favorite kid, because they are all different. One shares a lot of design DNA with the new 44, which was a really good, all-around sailboat. It was a good boat under IMS, which is what it was designed for and it was a good IRC boat. She had an amazing race record.”
This was SZFORZANDO, which was built by Goetz in Bristol, RI.
As he thought through his designs Jim added, “BLACKFISH is up there on the list. I have had a great time with that boat as it’s a nice combination.”
As we turned back to the industry again, Jim pointed out that he was designing for people who were in their 70s and that did not bode well for the future. He also pointed out that someone who wanted to become a yacht designer would not have the same opportunities he did. He added, “I used to get a lot of calls twenty years ago from guys asking ‘how do I get into this game?’ ‘Do you need any help?’ Nothing now because there aren’t any.”
“Millennials do not have money to buy race boats,” added Jim, “you can’t get a mooring here, joining the yacht club is really expensive so how do you bring kids in? One of the designers at Brooklin Boat Yard found some old glass boat and fixed it up, then they just took off and went sailing and that is one way to do it.”
This could be where the future of yachting is, because once some millennials find that they can boat and it will not make them broke and the experience they get from fixing it up and sailing it is way beyond the cost, maybe, just maybe, we will see a resurgence.