Herreshoff 12 1/2 by N. G. Herreshoff
The Herreshoff 12 ½ is a sailboat that is typically owned by shore-dwelling summer folks in Maine, and for good reason. Beautiful, roomy, seaworthy and sweet-sailing, they are the perfect boat to send the kids off for the day without worry. Many are those who learned to sail in a 12 ½ (often called a Bullseye in Maine), and many are the yachtsmen who, perhaps having parted with a larger boat, sail them for the remainder of their sailing lives.
Buoyant and stable, with a ballasted keel, they cannot be capsized, and if they are swamped they can float on their integral ballast tanks or foam flotation, but they will take a lot of weather before that happens. Virtually the whole boat is a large, deep, comfortable cockpit that will seat a gang in comfort, and offers a great feeling of security for timid sailors. This would be the ideal boat for taking very small children along. The jib can be reached from the cockpit so it is never necessary to leave its security, making it very unlikely that anyone would ever fall overboard. The rig is small enough so a young child can sail the boat, but it is powerful enough to provide very pleasing performance under all typical conditions. They can be rowed after a fashion, in a calm. A roomy cockpit sole makes it possible for one person or two very friendly people to sleep aboard under a boom tent, and some ambitious cruises have been made in these boats, over the years.
Available with either a Marconi or a gaff rig, 12 ½’s are still actively raced in some locations, with the two rigs competing on an equal basis and without much evident difference in performance. We think the gaff rigs are particularly pretty, but we are happy to build either.
The utility of the 12 ½ is limited only by the fact that their draft is too deep for convenient beaching. They would come to no harm being grounded out on a suitable shore, but you’d have to get wet to get ashore when they first touch and you might have to wait quite a while for the tide to float you off. For this reason it is typical to tow a small dinghy and anchor the 12 1/2 off the beach, if going ashore for a picnic.
While the 12 ½ is powerful enough to tow a dinghy it doesn’t add to the experience. For this reason Joel White produced a design identical to the 12 ½, but with shallower draft, a centerboard, and increased beam. The Haven 12 ½, as she is called, has all of the virtues of the original design, but she can poke around in somewhat thinner water than the original, and is much more convenient to set on a beach. The cockpit sole is not quite so clear because of the presence of the centerboard trunk. Far too heavy to drag around on shore, either boat must be placed with some care and with an eye on the tide chart so you don’t get home too late for supper.
We often describe these 12 ½’s as “some of the world’s perfect boats”. We have never met an owner who disagrees.