A CLASSIC REBORN
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