EIGHT BELLS: CYRUS HAMLIN (1918–2017), NAVAL ARCHITECT
Cyrus Hamlin, who died on March 17, 2017, may be the most influential yacht designer you’ve never heard of. Having chosen his profession at age 9, he was already working for Hinckley Yachts before World War II. In the 1950s, he designed the lightdisplacement Controversy and Amphicon series of trailerable cruising sailboats. In the 1960s, he created the Hurricane Island pulling boats used by Outward Bound, as well as the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, the project spearheaded by folk singer Pete Seeger. Those last two projects alone introduced more than a million people to sailing.
“I can tell you that Cy is a big reason the project was a success,” says Capt. Betsy Garthwaite, president of the board that runs Clearwater. “Without his wisdom and direction, the group might have wound up with a stunning replica of a Hudson River sloop, but one that never could have been more than a dockside attraction.”
Beginning with his Controversy series, of which more than 100 units were built, Cy advocated a gluedstrip building method that rendered light-displacement craft — at a time when the trend of production composite boat building tended toward heavy boats of resin-rich woven roving.
A spirit of generosity and joy runs through all of Cy’s projects. Beginning in the 1970s, with the United Nations and the World Bank, he worked with fisheries departments of nations on every continent except Antarctica. During the 1980s, he taught a generation of aspiring yacht designers at the Landing School in Kennebunk, Maine. His 1989 book Preliminary Design of Boats and Ships stands as a primary textbook on the subject.
Throughout his career, Cy was an innovator with a keen sense of history. When a 2014 interviewer pointed out that his boats were 60 years ahead of their time, he replied: “Well, I was part of a trend. Actually glued-strip had been used for I don’t know how long up in Canada, and some say the Egyptians and the Vikings essentially built strip boats.”
Cy Hamlin’s work was unbounded by both time and place. To learn more, watch “The Landing School — an Interview with Renowned Naval Architect Cy Hamlin,” August 19, 2014, at cruisingworld.com/cy-hamlin.
Cyrus Hamlin, at home on the water and under sail.