There are designs that simply cannot be improved on. The Herreshoff 12 ½, the Herreshoff Fish Class, the Buzzards Bay 15, the Dark Harbor 17…. These are boats that fulfill their purpose perhaps more effectively and with more grace than any small boat designed before or since. If this blog were titled “The three best designs ever drawn,” or “My favorite three designs,” then perhaps the list would be different.
However, I would like to introduce three designs that beyond all else, I yearn to build:
The Belfast Lough One Design was drawn by William Fife III in 1898. The BLOD is 24’ 6” on deck, 15’ on the waterline, displaces 3000 lbs, and has 342 sq. ft of sail. If these dimensions sound vaguely familiar, it is because they are nearly exactly the same in every respect to Herreshoff’s Buzzards Bay 15 which was designed the same year. I have always revered Fife as having drawn the most beautiful sailboats in the world, but most associate him with large yachts such as those racing in the Mediterranean today. If fact, Fife drew many smaller boats as well, but most were influenced by the fishing craft of the day, and did not have the ethereal aesthetic qualities for which the bigger boats are known (ie overhangs!)
For me, the Belfast Lough One Design has all of the spirit and grace of the “big boats” but in a wonderfully small package. To the best of my knowledge, there are none of the original BLOD’s left in existence, and I’m sure no one has built a replica. The only changes I might consider would be a fixed Marconi mast in place of the split gunter rig, and a larger cockpit with bench seats. The heavier displacement and full keel would make the BLOD a much dryer and stiffer boat than the Buzzards Bay 15, yet still easily single handed.
It’s fascinating to me that the world’s two greatest yacht designers (Herreshoff and Fife,) would have drawn such similar boats at the same time, yet each is true to their own style and local sailing conditions. To me, the Belfast Lough One Design epitomizes the style of William Fife in a way that no other small daysailer does- and is at the top of the list of boats I would like to build.
The Buzzards Bay 18 is yet another design, of which no original example survives. Herreshoff designed the 18 in 1903, just a few years after the Buzzards Bay 15. She is 29’ on deck, 18’ on the waterline, displaces 4430 lbs, and has 472 square feet of sail. Similarly to the Belfast Lough One Design, the Buzzards Bay 18 captures the spirit of the “Big Boats” in a captivating way. She would be a good intermediate boat between the Buzzards Bay 15 and larger Buzzards Bay 25, and I would be tempted to lower the ballast keel and eliminate the centerboard in the same way Herreshoff did with the Buzzards Bay 15 when designing Flicker.
The Buzzards Bay 18 is one of the smallest designs of this type that have ample cabin space for occasional overnight use, and adequate displacement to accommodate either diesel or electric propulsion. She is very similar in size and shape to Sparkman and Stephens Dark Harbor 20, but her increased beam adds considerably to the available interior and cockpit space.
To me, the Buzzards Bay 18 is one of the most beautiful of all the Herreshoff designs, and she intrigues me because here is an opportunity to reintroduce the world to something that has been otherwise lost forever. I’m not even aware of any photos of original Buzzards Bay 18’s. To build a new replica of Herreshoff’s Buzzards Bay 18 would be a truly noble endeavor, and one that would have considerable lasting value to both the classic yachting community, and those who revere the Herreshoff legacy.
Few would argue that for a combination of looks, performance, and “feel”, nothing beats a sleek, long-ended, deep draft boat with plenty of ballast and sail area. The Dark Harbor 12 is about the smallest boat that delivers all of those things without compromise. BB Crowninshield designed the Dark Harbor 12 in 1915 for one-design racing in Islesboro. They are 20’ 2” on deck, 12’ 5” on the water, displace 1923 lbs, and carry 210 square feet of sail.
I grew up sailing a Dark Harbor 12, and raced every Wednesday and Saturday during the summers with my father and uncles, brother and cousins at the Bucks Harbor Yacht Club. I was the fourth generation in my family to race #14 in Bucks Harbor, and I believe the boat was on her fourth set of sister frames! When we weren’t racing, we were exploring- and before the days of cell phones and GPS, my brother and I would sail as far from home as the wind allowed- sometimes not returning before the sea breeze filled in long after dark. There was at least one occasion we slept aboard in the middle of Penobscot Bay, in a flat calm, with the sails up, and all the anchor rhode hanging straight down in case we drifted into shallower water. Later in my teenage years, there was a long weekend trip, with a girlfriend and a 100 lb black lab. The three of us covered several hundred miles of coastline, and pulled as many buckets of seawater from the bilge on an hourly basis.
Eventually there came a point that #14 required a rebuild that was beyond our family’s resources, and she was regretfully sold. Now, twenty years later, I would love nothing more, than an opportunity to build a new Dark Harbor 12 for a family that would cherish her the way we did #14.
Fast and wet, with only a small hatch accessing the forward compartment, this boat is essentially “a corked bottle” and can safely be driven without mercy for a truly spectacular sailing experience. They are exceptionally fast under all conditions, and are terrific ghosters in light air. I can’t imagine a better boat for a couple of teenagers to explore the bay, and I only hope this next generation is lucky enough to share in some of the unforgettable sailing opportunities that we had.
– Alex Brainerd