The Her­reshoff Marine Mu­seum cel­e­brates the cre­ativ­ity of a nau­ti­cal le­gend

Soundings - - Contents - By Den­nis Caprio

The Her­reshoff Marine Mu­seum in Bris­tol, Rhode Is­land, cel­e­brates the gor­geous and ground-break­ing de­signs of Capt. Nathanael Greene Her­reshoff.

In the 1870s, Capt. Nathanael Greene Her­reshoff was hav­ing a bit of a wrestling match in his mind as he worked on a new mono­hull de­sign. He wanted to re­duce the wet­ted sur­face area im­posed by the deep keel of most sail­ing yachts from the era. A long, nar­row hull needed a deep bal­last keel to coun­ter­act the force of her tall rig, he rea­soned. In­creas­ing the beam and re­duc­ing the draft gained him form sta­bil­ity, but nei­ther so­lu­tion made a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in speed. A cant­ing keel was a wor­thy al­ter­na­tive in the­ory, but the ma­te­ri­als to make it light and the hy­draulics to ac­tu­ate it didn’t ex­ist in the late 1800s. So, in­stead of plac­ing bal­last to wind­ward, Her­reshoff put an­other idea out there. He sub­sti­tuted an­other hull for bal­last. He mount- ed a pair of hulls to the cross beams via ball joints, al­low­ing the hulls to pitch in­de­pen­dently. This fea­ture eased the wrack­ing that oc­cured in rough wa­ter when each hull was in a dif­fer­ent sea state. And to make the yacht tack faster, Her­reshoff de­signed a dif­fer­en­tial rud­der sys­tem that the helms­man could ad­just from the cock­pit. On April 10, 1877, he re­ceived a patent for the de­sign, which would go on to pop­u­lar­ize the sail­ing cata­ma­ran.

To­day, that patent model lives in the Model Room of the Her­reshoff Marine Mu­seum & Amer­ica’s Cup Hall of Fame in Bris­tol, Rhode Is­land, and the story of how it came to be is one of count­less tales Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Bill Lynn hopes pa­trons will learn. “The boat­ing thing is the medium through which the sto­ries are told,” he says.

“That’s what’s so much fun for me run­ning this place.”

The more you look around this charm­ing mu­seum that bor­ders Nar­ra­gansett Bay, the more you learn about the man known as “the Wiz­ard of Bris­tol.” For in­stance, the patent model for the de­sign with the dif­fer­en­tial rud­der sys­tem came with Her­reshoff’s creation of the cata­ma­ran Amaryl­lis, a replica of which was built in 1933 for K.T. Keller, the pres­i­dent of Chrysler Corp. That replica hov­ers above the “or­di­nary” boats on the hard at the mu­seum. There are so many boats here, and so many sto­ries about so many ideas, that mu­seum pa­trons can re­turn mul­ti­ple times and still find some­thing new to learn. “For a lot of peo­ple,” Lynn says, “Her­reshoff equals wooden boats, but in real­ity it is de­fined as both in­no­va­tion and en­trepreneur­ship.”

A stroll through the mu­seum also of­fers in­sight into the found­ing of The Her­reshoff Man­u­fac­tur­ing Com­pany ( HMCo), which started life in 1859 at the Tan­nery Shop on the water­front in Bris­tol. Nat ( age 11), his brother John (age 18), and their fa­ther, Charles Fred­er­ick, built Sprite, a 20-foot cat­boat that is now the old­est boat of its type in Rhode Is­land. Dur­ing the next 20 years, the com­pany grew into a ver­ti­cally in­te­grated giant, hous­ing a foundry, ma­chine shop, sail loft and spar shop. A dio­rama in the mu­seum’s store shows the cam­pus as it was in the com­pany’s hey­day.

That dio­rama is neat to see, as is just about ev­ery­thing here, but the Hall of Boats is the most pop­u­lar ex­hibit. Visi­tors not only can see Her­reshoff hulls, they can also touch them and in­hale the aroma of the old wood.

“It’s a scratch- and- sniff mu­seum,” Lynn says, adding that Her­reshoff devo­tees love to in­ter­act phys­i­cally with the boats. “They think ev­ery­thing in this place is beau­ti­ful,

even though Capt. Nat never had aes­thet­ics any­where on his list of what he was try­ing to ac­com­plish.”

Lynn spec­u­lates that the mu­seum has a larger fol­low­ing out­side the United States than among Amer­i­cans. On a busy day of tours, you can ex­pect to hear un­fa­mil­iar lan­guages—and many of these visi­tors, no doubt, are hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions about the man­u­fac­tur­ing di­ver­sity that’s high­lighted in the ex­hibits. To cap­i­tal­ize on that in­ter­est, Lynn and his staff are cre­at­ing an ex­hibit be­hind the Hall of Boats. Among other things, it will house steam en­gines, with a steam launch done as a cut­away to re­veal com­po­nents of the propul­sion sys­tem. Lines for the launch are from Her­reshoff de­sign No. 94, and the en­gine is the orig­i­nal triple-ex­pan­sion unit that pow­ered de­sign num­ber 95. It be­longed to a gen­tle­man from Lou­i­si­ana who was re­luc­tant to sell it to the mu­seum—un­til “we made him an of­fer he just couldn’t refuse,” Lynn says.

Although Capt. Nat didn’t in­vent the triple- ex­pan­sion en­gine, he re­fined the con­cept, de­vel­op­ing a more com­pact and lighter ma­chine to fit into small launches. To­day, the en­gine is un­der cover at the back of the build­ing. It’s not part of the reg­u­lar tour, but plead with a do­cent for a peek back there.

Dur­ing Lynn’s ten­ure, he’s re­ar­ranged the Hall of Boats to im­prove vis­i­tor ac­cess. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant when view­ing the boats from the se­cond floor. Belis­ar­ius (de­sign No. 1,266), a 56-foot cruis­ing yawl built in 1936, rests in her cra­dle di­rectly be­neath the se­cond floor. A stair­case leads to her deck. She’ll be open for board­ing as soon as the vol­un­teers fin­ish re­hab­bing her in­te­rior.

The Re­liance project alone is worth a visit to the mu­seum. A hand­ful of ex­perts vol­un­teer­ing their time are fin­ish­ing con­struc­tion of a one-sixth scale model of this 201-foot, gaff-rigged cut­ter that was launched in 1903. The fin­ished model is 33-feet long and 37-feet high, and fully rigged with sails and deck hard­ware. Lynn says all of the model’s fea­tures have been made “the Her­reshoff way.”

The Her­reshoff Marine Mu­seum is a non­profit cor­po­ra­tion. It ac­cepts dona­tions, but does not rely on them to stay sol­vent. Rev­enue for op­er­a­tions comes from the ma­rina, store, ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams, lec­ture se­ries, sum­mer seamanship pro­gram, boat shop and men­tor­ing pro­gram, field trips and an in- school pro­gram called Clas­sic Yacht Sym­po­sium. Some money also comes from com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial rentals of the spa­ces. (The venue is draw­ing in­ter­est from cou­ples in search of a unique lo­ca­tion for wed­dings—at this writ­ing, 20 nup­tials had been cel­e­brated in peak sea­son.) But it’s the ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams that Lynn likes to talk about.“The ed­u­ca­tion thing is so ex­cit­ing,” he says. “Then you wrap that into the lec­ture se­ries, which draws up to 100 peo­ple at each event. It’s go­ing great guns.” Whether you’re a fan of Her­reshoff or in­no­va­tion in gen­eral, you won’t be dis­ap­pointed af­ter a visit here.

Hands-on fun at a youth pro­gram; por­trait of Capt. Nat; Re­liance un­der­way and a model on dis­play in Bris­tol

A new ex­hibit high­lights all that was man­u­fac­tured by The Her­reshoff Com­pany, in­clud­ing steam en­gines.

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