FRENCH & WEBB
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.