Many would have given up on the Con­cor­dia yawl Co­ri­o­lis af­ter she was se­verely dam­aged in a fire, but not her owner, Dou­glas Ad­kins


Cut­ting a fine wake on the cobalt-blue waters of West Sound on Or­cas Is­land, Co­ri­o­lis sparkles like a di­a­mond. Her lovely sil­hou­ette is off­set by emer­ald forests that frame the ocean, within spit­ting dis­tance of the bor­der with Canada. Seen up close, this Con­cor­dia yawl is a sym­phony of ma­hogany, teak, spruce and var­nish that are all in­dis­pens­able to its ap­pear­ance—one of only 24 that are 41ft long over­all, one shoe size big­ger than the rest of them.

Since 1981 Co­ri­o­lis has been in the hands of Dou­glas Ad­kins, a part­ner in a pri­vate eq­uity firm in Seat­tle. Now in his early 70s, Ad­kins owns a price­less col­lec­tion of guy’s toys: classic cars, a vin­tage Po­cock row­ing sk­iff and an orig­i­nal Bateka dinghy. His dock is also home to a Ber­tram and a Bos­ton Whaler from the 1980s, both de­signed by C. Ray­mond Hunt, who not coin­ci­den­tally drew the Con­cor­dia yawls. All are dear to Ad­kins, but the crown jewel is Co­ri­o­lis, which once even caused him to tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend fis­cal pru­dence in or­der to res­cue her from the wreck­ing ball.

Con­cor­dia yawls, the say­ing goes, tran­scend time and place. Some call them “heav­enly works of art,” but those lines could just as well have sprung from a child’s fan­tasy—so clear, so bal­anced, so full of pur­pose. That most of these yachts were built in Ger­many, by the highly rep­utable yard of Abek­ing & Ras­mussen near Bre­men, be­tween 1950 and 1966, is an im­por­tant as­pect of their leg­end. Dove­tailed hatch frames and plank­ing so smooth that the edges all but dis­ap­pear are only two ex­am­ples of the ex­cel­lent crafts­man­ship that laid the ground­work for the longevity of these boats—most of which are still sail­ing to­day. A to­tal of 103 boats were built, 99 of them at A&R.

The story be­gan in 1938 when Hunt part­nered with Llewellyn and Waldo How­land, the prin­ci­pals at the Con­cor­dia Com­pany in Pada­naram, Mas­sachusetts, who were griev­ing the loss of their fam­ily yacht Es­cape, which had been smashed up with hun­dreds of other craft in a hur­ri­cane that just had rocked New Eng­land. Hunt had the rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a ge­nius who in­stinc­tively knew what made boats go. At the draw­ing board he was guided by the in­tu­ition of a suc­cess­ful re­gatta sailor, but he also had to con­sider the How­lands’ pre­cise ideas re­gard­ing equip­ment, per­for­mance and in­te­rior ar­range­ments. The gal­ley stove, for ex­am­ple, had to be in­stalled to star­board, to be more user­friendly for right-han­ders. The bunks had to fold up lest they be­come stor­age ar­eas for wet sails dur­ing rac­ing. The wa­ter tanks had to be re­mov­able for eas­ier in­spec­tion and main­te­nance, and the boat had to have a built-in aux­il­iary en­gine and a sep­a­rate head. Fi­nally, a yawl rig was nec­es­sary for a bet­ter rat­ing and to help keep her more sta­ble rid­ing at an­chor.

Be­yond that, when it came to aes­thet­ics and pro­por­tions, noth­ing was left to chance. “House di­men­sions and shapes were care­fully worked out, so that the sheer and the height of the house sides blended in with the whole hull design,” as Waldo How­land once ex­plained, and the re­sult was an ex­tra­or­di­nary yacht with a dash­ing sheer line, mod­est free­board and a dainty stern that is dan­ger­ously el­e­gant com­pared to the broad ends found aboard most of to­day’s pro­duc­tion boats. The cres­cent moon that’s carved into the aft end of the cove stripe may be eas­ily over­looked, but it is im­pos­si­ble to miss the five-point star that adorns the mighty bow. This bow also re­flects Hunt’s knowl­edge of Buz­zards Bay, the venue where Con­cor­dia yawls are most at home, a place that can cook up a snort and some chop in no time.

Ini­tially, these yawls had an LOA of 39ft 10in, but be­cause de­mand was high and the Ger­mans de­liv­ered a good prod­uct at lower prices than any U.S. yard at the time, Hunt added a 41ft ver­sion. It is only slightly longer, yet re­tains the same pro­por­tions as the orig­i­nal. Be­lowdecks, a 41 also feels big­ger, be­cause of an added plank that in­creases vol­ume and head­room.

“We tend to for­get that the orig­i­nal 39-foot­ers and the 41s could race each other with­out hand­i­cap,” says Robert “Brodie” MacGre­gor, the semire­tired owner of the Con­cor­dia Com­pany who has

handed the busi­ness over to his son Stu­art. “It was im­por­tant at the time, and it has held true over the years.”

Co­ri­o­lis, hull #82, was im­ported from Ger­many as Star­sight in 1960 by Cor­nelius Woods and al­ways found own­ers who gave her the care she needed. Twice she was do­nated to ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions (Mid­dle­sex School of Con­cord, Mas­sachusetts and the Uni­ver­sity of Maine), which both turned around and sold her. Then, of course, there was the brief in­ter­mezzo with a flam­boy­ant ar­chi­tect from Ar­gentina. “He in­stalled a new en­gine and elec­tron­ics,” Ad­kins says. “But he also painted the coachroof green and put leop­ard-skin sheets on the bunks.”

To this day, Ad­kins can still vividly re­mem­ber that fate­ful day in late Jan­uary 2002, when he got word from his wife, Su­san, of a fire at the Seat­tle Yacht Club on Portage Bay, where Co­ri­o­lis was docked for the win­ter. When he got there the fire was rag­ing so hot that Ad­kins re­tired to the club­house for din­ner and some Scotch, watch­ing the flames melt­ing and sink­ing var­i­ous fiberglass boats or set­ting off propane bot­tles and emer­gency flares.

Even­tu­ally, he and some gal­lant friends man­aged to pull Co­ri­o­lis to safety. But while she hadn’t ac­tu­ally caught fire, she re­mained an ugly sight: her cock­pit full of wa­ter and fire re­tar­dant, her spars charred, deck singed, port­holes and sky­lights blown out from the heat, and all her lines, sails, ca­bles and radome one melted mess. The in­surance com­pany that cov­ered her for her ap­prox­i­mate mar­ket value wrote her off as a to­tal loss.

“It was a painful check to write to buy her back,” Ad­kins ad­mits with a somber look, and in­deed, he could (and probably should) have walked away. But the thought was too much to bear. Too many fine years, too many great mem­o­ries were wrapped up in this boat: like win­ning his class at the Master Mariners on San Fran­cisco Bay, or trips to the is­lands in the Pa­cific North­west with Su­san and their two daugh­ters, who con­sid­ered Co­ri­o­lis some­thing like a sis­ter. Be­sides, who’d ever want an­other boat to re­place one that’s ab­so­lutely per­fect? In Ad­kins’s words, she “drinks eight, feeds four and sleeps two. What more do you want?”

Sev­eral even more sub­stan­tial checks re­sulted in Co­ri­o­lis re­turn­ing to the Con­cor­dia Com­pany in Pada­naram, where she ended up re­ceiv­ing both struc­tural and cos­metic surgery to put her to rights again. Gary Har­wood, a boat car­pen­ter cut from true New Eng­land cloth, is a man of few words. Af­ter sur­vey­ing the dam­age on a snowy win­ter day, he and Ad­kins were trudg­ing qui­etly across the yard, when all of a sud­den Har­wood turned to Ad­kins and said, “You know I talked to your boat.” “And what did you say?” Ad­kins asked. “Don’t worry, we’ll bring you back. You’ll be fine,” Har­wood said, sum­ming up the “con­ver­sa­tion.”

In re­cre­at­ing the dove-tail joints of the new hatches and re­plac­ing the king plank on port, Har­wood had to dig deep into his skillset to repli­cate

the Ger­man work­man­ship of the 1950s. He even built a jig that helped him rout the piece of ma­hogany with pre­ci­sion that now cov­ers the charred cab­in­side. Even­tu­ally, Co­ri­o­lis went from wreck to beauty with a per­fect coat of var­nish cov­er­ing her ma­hogany planks. Af­ter that, she was the toast of many gath­er­ings and re­gat­tas the Ad­kinses at­tended while cruis­ing her in New Eng­land the fol­low­ing two sea­sons—al­though not be­fore some tears of ap­pre­ci­a­tion were shed dur­ing the recom­mis­sion­ing over a gift from Har­wood: a charred clamp mounted on a var­nished piece of ma­hogany from the old deck and a bronze plaque en­graved with the words “Co­ri­o­lis, may she find joy in dis­tant har­bors,” which is ex­actly what she did, first Down East, and now back home on the limpid waters of the Pa­cific North­west.

“She’s one of the best equipped Con­cor­dias you’ll ever see,” Ad­kins tells me, as the boat is be­ing read­ied for a spin on West Sound, point­ing to her many up­grades, which in­clude larger Bari­ent pri­mary winches; an elec­tric an­chor wind­lass, handy for the long, hard hoists in the deep an­chor­ages here; and wheel steer­ing that turns a spe­cial tri­an­gu­lar-shaped rud­der de­signed by Ted Hood for more ef­fi­ciency. The boat even has a huge emer­gency tiller lashed to the main bulk­head down be­low.

Then there are all the other stan­dard Con­cor­dia touches, still very much as they were orig­i­nally, like the flip-up backrests at the aft end of the cock­pit, the but­ter­fly-wing sky­light on the fore­deck (pretty, but prone to leaks when green wa­ter comes on deck); the fold-down bunks in the sa­loon; and the man­ual wa­ter fix­ture in the gal­ley sink. Hunt and How­land even found an in­ge­nious way to stash the head into a closet on the port side, where it turns into a mid­ships bath­room when the doors open to block the pas­sage­way to and from the sa­lon and the for­ward cabin. Fi­nally, there are a few other ex­tra spe­cial ad­di­tions Ad­kins proudly points out: like the cus­tom cabin stove with the cres­cent moon and star, the vise that adds util­ity to the work­bench in the fo’c’s’le, and the flag locker be­hind the com­pan­ion­way lad­der that ac­com­pa­nies a copy of the 1969 edi­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Code of Sig­nals. To a prac­tic­ing vex­il­lol­o­gist that’s a mat­ter of high im­port. Ad­kins’ fa­vorite mes­sage? “SN,” as in, “You should stop im­me­di­ately. Do not scut­tle. Do not lower boats. Do not use the wire­less. If you dis­obey, I shall open fire on you.”

Un­for­tu­nately, head­ing out for a sail a few min­utes later, the breeze did not ex­actly open fire, but came on only gen­tly. None­the­less, Co­ri­o­lis made the most of what we had, with Su­san as­sist­ing as crew along with Miles McCoy, 86, who for­merly cap­tained the 1907 BB Crown­in­shield schooner Martha and ap­pre­ci­ates ship­shape wooden sail­ing ves­sels. De­spite be­ing some­what un­der­can­vassed with a self-tack­ing jib, Co­ri­o­lis still heeled to the build­ing south­west­erly, at the same time demon­strat­ing how her flat, hard bilges pro­vide form sta­bil­ity when the puffs come. In ad­di­tion, some ex­tra horse­power comes from the mast Ad­kins had built by Ste­wart McDougall in Seat­tle af­ter the fire, which has 5ft more hoist and a slightly larger main.

It also, un­for­tu­nately, pro­duces some weather helm up­wind, which now has Ad­kins think­ing about adding a bowsprit to in­crease the fore­tri­an­gle. How­ever, this too is not with­out prece­dent. In fact, Ray Hunt tried this ex­act same thing aboard his Con­cor­dia 41, Har­rier, which had a bowsprit and was rigged as a sloop, just as Co­ri­o­lis was in her early days.

For the record, shortly af­ter tak­ing de­liv­ery of Har­rier in Ger­many in the sum­mer of 1955, Hunt not only went on a fam­ily cruise around North­ern Europe, but scored an up­set win in his class at Cowes Week. It looked like he might also nab the Fast­net Race that year, but a bum turn­buckle forced him out. None­the­less, Har­rier more than showed what a Con­cor­dia Yawl can do, which is be equally fun to cruise and race—the same as Co­ri­o­lis con­tin­ues to do to this day. s

Free­lance boat­ing writer Di­eter Loib­ner cov­ers all as­pects of sail­ing from his home base in the Pa­cific North­west

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