Soundings - - Classics - french­ —P.V.H.

Todd French has been run­ning around. The prin­ci­pal of French & Webb in Belfast, Maine — known for its ar­ti­sanal ap­proach to boat­build­ing, pre­ci­sion join­ery and aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing yachts — has been cruis­ing around Florida, but he wasn’t on va­ca­tion.

He was show­ing off the French & Webb 30 Sport Com­muter. The Mark Fitzger­ald de­sign with a com­pos­ite hull (wood, Kevlar, car­bon fiber and RFP) launched ear­lier this year. French spent the re­main­der of the win­ter in the Sun­shine State at boat shows and yacht clubs, where the teak- and car­bon-fin­ished boat turned quite a few heads.

Turn­ing heads is noth­ing new for the boat­builder. For the past 20 years, French & Webb has turned out new builds and restora­tions, prob­a­bly none more spec­tac­u­lar than the restora­tion of Mar­ilee, the 1926 Her­reshoff New York Yacht Club 40. The 59-foot sloop needed her in­te­rior re­moved so she could, in essence, be com­pletely re­built. She was se­verely mis­shapen, with her deck line and sheer hav­ing dropped more than 4 inches over time.

The re­fit was com­pli­cated be­cause the owner wanted to race the boat in the sum­mers, so the yard cre­ated an ag­gres­sive two-phase restora­tion, first con­cen­trat­ing on re­build­ing the ma­jor­ity of the hull. The re­place­ment of in­ad­e­quate chain­plates was amongst the items de­layed un­til phase two, so French raced with the owner aboard Mar­ilee that sum­mer, but had some anx­ious mo­ments know­ing the boat’s rig was not as se­cure as he wanted.

The next win­ter, the yard spread the rig’s load with beefy bronze chain­plates and re­placed the pine deck with a teak one — in the process restor­ing the deck lay­out to the orig­i­nal con­fig­u­ra­tion. At the owner’s re­quest, French & Webb built an in­te­rior that paid homage to the boat’s his­tory, but also was more open and mod­ern. Us­ing 140-year-old

cy­press logs re­cov­ered from a river in North Carolina, the yard built bulk­heads, dis­tress­ing the sur­faces by beat­ing them with chains and tools. The fin­ished prod­uct was stun­ning.

Much re­search also went into main­tain­ing and restor­ing the boat’s ex­te­rior. Mar­ilee was found to be the only Fight­ing 40 to have both a Mar­coni and a gaff rig drawn by Nathanael Her­reshoff. Know­ing this, the yard built both rigs, and to­day, Mar­ilee can change out the rigs in less than one day.

Af­ter the sec­ond re­fit phase, Mar­ilee launched in time for the 2016 rac­ing sea­son and won best restora­tion awards at the Opera House Cup in Nan­tucket and the New­port Clas­sic Yacht Regatta.

French & Webb is now work­ing with de­signer Chuck Paine on the Paine 15, an up­dated ver­sion of the Her­reshoff 12½. She is slightly shorter, much lighter and built of mod­ern ma­te­ri­als and with a new un­der­body that makes her less ten­der. The yard has com­pleted the first boat, and there are plans to build ver­sions of other Paine de­signs as well.

Af­ter French’s Florida trip to show off the 30 Sport Com­muter, he flew to Ham­burg, Ger­many, to over­see in­stal­la­tion of a teak hot tub the shop had con­structed for a 400-foot­plus su­pery­acht be­ing re­fit­ted at the Blohm+Voss ship­yard. And while his crew is in Cal­i­for­nia in­stalling a deck­house on a large yacht, he is pro­mot­ing a film about the restora­tion of

Mar­ilee with nau­ti­cal pho­tog­ra­pher Ali­son Lan­g­ley. French is not sit­ting still. In that re­gard, in­no­va­tion con­tin­ues to be part of the French & Webb tra­di­tion.

Todd French of French & Webb in Belfast, Maine, has been build­ing and restor­ing spec­tac­u­lar boats for more than twenty years.

Mar­ilee hit the race cir­cuit af­ter her restora­tion.

The French & Webb 30 Sport Com­muter was de­signed by Mark Fitzger­ald and launched in early 2018.

Mar­ilee’s open in­te­rior was built out of 140-year-old cy­press logs re­cov­ered from a North Carolina river.

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